A home from home, in the sun


 I wrote these two pieces last July, after travelling to Kusadasi with Sunway Holidays. They never made it to the blog, for some reason – but in this weather they’re a nice reminder the sun exists!

“It’s a bit like being on the slab below at Kay O’Connell’s, but it’s lovely, like.”

Kusadasi has been a home from home for Cork people seeking sun for many years now – in fact, it’s Sunway’s most popular package from Cork.

It has a firm foothold on the area, and partners with Irish-managed hotels as well as a dedicated tour company, Travel4U, to cater for Irish tastes.

If proof of Kusadasi’s appeal to Irish people were needed, no sooner had my partner and I set foot on the plane than we ran into our neighbour, off for her annual two week jaunt with the girls. She’s been going to her favourite sunspot for years now and knows the waiters in the Sea Pearl by name.

Her description, above, of what it’s like to be laid out on a marble slab for a Turkish bath had us in stitches (and determined to check it out for ourselves), but she was also a mine of information about where to eat, what to see and where had the best bargains. An older lady, she laughingly joked as we got off the plane in Izmir that we’d see her on Bar Street, where all night table dancing is de rigueur, but her stamina must be better than ours, because we never made it to the centre of Kusadasi’s nightlife.

The Palmin Sunset Plaza, located at the popular resort of Ladies Beach, is managed by Irishman Seamus Glynn, along with the others in the Palmin group, the Sea Pearl and the Palmin Hotel.

The Irish influence is everywhere. Entertainment staff members at the hotel wear green white and gold t-shirts; GAA matches are broadcast live, and waiting staff even wear little shamrock badges.

It’s a thoughtfully laid out four star hotel with stunning views; the name comes from the ideal position to watch the sun setting over the Aegean. If you’re looking for a spot with atmosphere, this has to be it. With spacious rooms and suites located around a very generous figure of eight pool – and a kids’ pool – the Sunset Plaza is modern, spotless, and comfortable. It’s just the right size; big enough to have all the facilities, such as a shop, hair and beauty salon (where the service from bubbly local lady Sarah is super friendly and very well priced), and a Turkish bath; but small enough that nowhere is more than two minutes walk, and you’ll always be within shouting distance of the kids.

Breakfast is a buffet with all the staples of a Turkish breakfast – pastries, different breads, fruit, olives, delicious local honey, and various local cheeses – as well as omelettes, sausages and fried eggs.

The hotel’s dinner menu is varied and has something for everyone – the chicken fajitas were a highlight for me, cooked over a flame grill and with a real tequila tang, while the poolside bar’s lunch menu has the usual burgers, pizzas and salads. There’s also a weekly BBQ buffet night with a massive range of options, and a Turkish special night.

Staff are friendly and approachable, and greet guests like old friends – of course, many of them are old friends, because so many people return again and again.

While the hotel is approximately 3.5km from the centre of Kusadasi – but less than 1km from Ladies’ Beach, with its restaurants, bars and shops – it’s very accessible due to the extremely frequent and cheap local Dolmus bus service. Hop on the number five just outside the hotel, tell the driver where you want to get off, and hand over 2.25 Turkish Lira (about €1). However, it’s not a suitable location for people with walking difficulties, due to the lack of lifts and a steep walk to Ladies’ Beach.

Kusadasi truly is a home from home – you’ll find Barry’s Tea and Denny’s rashers in plenty of places, so if you’re not up to ‘foreign food’, there’s no need to deviate from your normal diet.

Our most informative neighbour also pointed us to the Mayflower restaurant in the town centre, which has a proud Cork heritage; well, sort of. The owner, Mehmet, is married “to Dino’s niece”, we were informed, and when we met him, he confirmed that he and his wife Pamela live between Cork and Kusadasi. The restaurant’s waiters dances between courses, although we were disappointed to discover the Dino burger hadn’t reached Kusadasi.

Cultural differences

If you’ve never been to an Arab country before, there are certain things to get used to. Turkey is predominantly Muslim, but it’s a secular republic, and you will see few women in burkas.

Alcohol is not cheap, due to government taxes aimed at discouraging drinking among the local population, and it’s hard to buy outside the main resorts.

The main cultural difference notable even in tourist areas is the incessant hawking of restaurant and shop owners. Then again, anyone who’s been to Croke Park on a match day can relate – just swap ‘hats, flags or headbands’ for ‘genuine fake designer handbag, good price’, and you get the gist. Any walk down the street is accompanied by banter and chats, but the difference in Turkey from my experience in other countries is that it’s all a bit of craic – a simple ‘no thanks’ will end any unsolicited conversation.

It’s almost like an Irish colony – so much so, in fact, that we were asked on at least three occasions how the recession was going in Ireland. You can tell that Kusadasi is hurting almost as much as Cork from the effects of the bank bailout.

With ongoing anti-government protests in Turkey, we saw two small protest marches during our week in Kusadasi – both uneventful.

If you’re looking for an uncomplicated break away with guaranteed sun, Kusadasi is for you. However, if you’re looking for a holiday with culture, sightseeing and plenty of activities… Kusadasi is also for you. See next week’s edition for a range of things to do in the area.

****

There’s a lot more to Turkey than sun, sea and sand. Turkey has been a major player in world history for thousands of years, with plenty of Biblical associations, right up to the regional dominance of the Ottoman Empire as recently as World War One.

Kusadasi itself is a good-sized town with far more going on than just tourism, unlike, say, Sharm el Sheikh (in Egypt) or Agadir (in Morocco). If you’re looking for a more authentic experience, you can find it, although it takes some searching.

Approximately 90 minutes by coach from Izmir, the town has stunning views over the Aegean, and you can see a number of Greek islands. Day trips to the island of Samos are available if you fancy some border-hopping.

Nearby sights include the ancient city of Ephesus, Our Lady’s House, where the mother of Jesus spent her last years, and even the Temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World.

There aren’t too many places mentioned in the Bible that are quite so accessible these days, due to the various conflicts in the Middle East, but all of these are just a short drive from Kusadasi and form part of trips organised by Sunway’s sister company, Travel4U.

History

We visited Ephesus on a half-day tour with Travel4U (€25 per person) and it was an incredible experience. The site contains the largest collection of Roman ruins in the Eastern Mediterranean. The well-informed guide told us all about Ephesus’s history as one of the biggest cities in Ancient Greece, with a population of 250,000, and later, the Roman empire. While our ancestors were squabbling over cattle, the Ephesians were enjoying the benefits of plumbing, public baths, theatre and paved streets.

Painstaking archaeological digs of the city, once an important port until the harbour silted up, means you can see some semi-reconstructed buildings, like the library of Celsus, and the Paul tower, from which an imprisoned Saint Paul is said to have written to the Corinthians. The most impressive structure is the theatre, which had a capacity of 24,000, and was until recently – when the vibrations threatened the structure’s integrity – used as a concert venue by the likes of Pavarotti, Sting, Elton John, and even our own Chris de Burgh.

If you’re looking for some spiritual sights, Our Lady’s House, near Ephesus, is something of a destination for pilgrims. Turkey has very few Catholics but the last three Popes have visited the house where the mother of Jesus reputedly lived out her last years, and this can form part of the Ephesus full-day tour, or can be done as a stand-alone tour.

Also nearby are the remnants of the temple of Artemis, one of the seven wonders of the Ancient World. Very little remains apart from a couple of pillars, but just seeing it – and the beautiful wetland it was built on, with astonishing bird life – is a great way of travelling back in time.

Temple of Artemis

Activities

Tours on offer from Travel4U include pony trekking and water parks, while the more adventurous will be interested in jeep safaris and a visit to the nearby national park for hiking or cycling. With temperatures ranging from 30 – 40 degrees in July and August, however, only seasoned outdoor pursuits enthusiasts would be advised to do anything more taxing than hanging out on a lilo in the middle of the day.

We went on the slightly misnamed horse safari with Travel4U (€30 each). It consists of about two hours pony trekking through a forest – a really enjoyable way of taking in the sights of farmers working on their vines and olive trees, and of watching the bird life and colourful butterflies. The trek leads you out to a beach where you have the opportunity to have a photo taken while the horse is bucking, in the water. Let’s just say the picture in the brochure is different to the rather uncomfortable reality!

Bucking aside, the trek is a lovely way to spend a day for anyone who’s even slightly outdoorsy – it’s billed as a half day on the brochure, but in reality you leave at 10 and return after 4, so mark it down for a full day. A simple lunch of chicken, rice and salad is included.

Food

Turkey is also a fabulous destination for foodies. Corkonians will think they know Turkish food from that post-pint kebab (and of course from the excellent, recently opened Nosta Turkish restaurant on Pembroke Street), but there’s a lot more to Turkish cuisine than the humble kebab. Having said that, however, it’s well worth trying out a proper kebab in its natural environment.

All the hotels and restaurants offer various takes on doner, shish and other types of kebab. If you’re looking for something catered to the Irish palate, the Sunset Plaza does a Turkish night each week and plenty of restaurants, including Seamus’s Place on Ladies’ Beach and the Mayflower, do kebabs.

If you want to eat what the locals are eating, however, you need to see where they’re headed. We found quite a few local kebab shops in the town centre where prices are low and the food is extremely tasty. The No 5 Dolmus from Ladies Beach drops you off at a roundabout which is effectively in the town centre – there are plenty of local shops and restaurants along this street, while the harbour area is more tourist-orientated. Local restaurants will first serve you pide, a type of Turkish bread, with three dips – one a type of tomato salsa, a yoghurt dip, and a feta cheese type dip. These are absolutely delicious, and along with the apple tea you will usually be offered after your meal, are normally complimentary when you buy a main meal.

The town is full of tiny bakeries where no English is spoken but you can pick up some delicious local bread to take away. We picked up some baklava for a couple of Lira – this sticky sweet Turkish dessert is a honeyed pastry with crushed pistachio, and you won’t get anything as good in Ireland. It’s delicious.

You can also stock up on spices, dried fruit and nuts in local supermarkets – they are far cheaper and a good deal fresher than what’s available in Ireland, particularly if you try and buy where locals are buying.

Turkey is famous for its cherries, while there are plenty of fruit stalls selling all types of fruit as well as freshly squeezed orange juice, which is well worth a try, as you can really taste the sun in these oranges.  No visit to Turkey would be complete without some authentic Turkish delight, and the best place to buy this has to be Tuqba. With a number of outlets in the town centre, the shop, which sells Turkish delight, spices, coffee, nuts and other delicacies, has won a host of awards and proudly displays its Lonely Planet review in the window.

Deirdre O’ Shaughnessy traveled to Turkey ex Cork, courtesy of Sunway Holidays and stayed in the 4* Palmin Sunset Plaza. Sunway is operating a weekly flight from Dublin, Cork and Shannon airports for summer 2013. 7 nights in the 4* Palmin Sunset Plaza on a bed and breakfast basis including flights, transfers, accommodation, 20kg baggage allowance and all taxes starts from €399. For this and other great Sunway offers to over 70 destinations worldwide, check outwww.sunway.ie or phone Sunway 01-2886828

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