I love stories. I love listening to the tales and legends of Kings and Queens past, celebrated heroes, Greek Gods and Goddesses, and ancient cities that rose and fell through the times. And Turkey has it all. The country is so full of history, and so full of such stories. So I was excited to especially visit this part of Turkey — the part where all the ancient ruins are located. Where the tales of so many many centuries ago came from. Where the ancient wonders of the world once was. Where the myths and legends carry that much truth.
Traversing Turkey with Parlo Tours (Pt.3 of 4)
I was traveling on a 9 days 7 nights group tour in Turkey with Parlo Tours (click here for the detailed itinerary). The Aegean Region was the next place we visited after our exploration of Cappadocia (Pt.2); and the third part of this four part series of articles on my journey around Turkey. The other places that we (my Mum and I) visited were Ankara and Istanbul. As with all group tours, entrance tickets and fees are included; but my articles will include the prices to some of the local attractions. To find out more about Parlo Tours and the other different tours this Malaysian travel company offers, click here.
The Aegean Region
The Aegean Region is one of the 7 geographical regions of Turkey, and is located in the western part of the country bordering the Aegean Sea. This league of our journey took 4 days and 3 nights, stopping for a night in the three main areas that we visited in the region — Pamukkale and Hierapolis in the Denizli Province, the ruins of Ephesus in Selcuk in the Izmir Province, and the ruins of Troy in the province of Canakkale. Our tour guide, Gunes, told us that the region is a rich one, with costly land and growing some of the country’s finest produce such as cotton, olive, figs, apricots, and other fruits.
JOURNEY TO PAMUKKALE
From our previous stop in Cappadocia, we traveled almost 8 hours towards the west of Turkey to (the first stop) Pamukkale. It was an extremely long journey, and even though we started the trip before it got bright — it took almost the entire day! Of course, we had a couple of breaks in between to some see interesting sights, and food.
Almost two hours into our ride along the Konya-Aksaray Highway, we had our first stopover at the Sultanhani Caravanserai. A caravanserai is like a roadside rest stop during the ancient times, where travelers (and their transport animals) could rest and recover before continuing their journeys; and Sultanhani is said to be the largest one in Turkey. Built in 1229 (and extended in 1278), you can tell how significant this place was with its enormous and elaborate entrance gate. There’s a huge vacant covered area with lots of pillars (used for winter) and an open courtyard (for warmer months) with empty rooms and a small mosque in the middle — but it’s been uninhabited for centuries so there’s really not much to see.
Lunch & Desserts in Konya
Another three hours later and it was time for lunch. We stopped by a rest-stop restaurant just outside of Konya called Ozkan Dinlenme Tesisleri and had ‘pizza’. Honestly, I was expecting a good ole’ huge oven-baked Italian-style pizza, but what came was just a couple of pieces of beef pizza and cheese pizza. Wasn’t exactly what I had in mind, but I guess it was alright. However, the next pitstop had exactly what I needed — a delicious Konya dessert of Turkish yogurt with honey and poppy seeds. The yogurt was thick enough to be a meal of its own, and the honey (with honeycomb) and poppy seeds really complimented it. I think it’s called Balli Yogurt. Yum!
It was evening by the time we arrived in Pamukkale. We only had one stop in the city (and the most significant one), the ancient ruined city of Hierapolis. This Greek city was known as a hot springs city, and used as a spa from as early as the 2nd century BC. Our tour guide told us that the city was named Hierapolis after Hiera, the wife Telephus (son of Hercules) — who had a temple in the city. The city was later controlled by the Roman and the Byzantines; and though it was destroyed by earthquake many times, it was finally left in ruins and abandoned in the 14th century.
Now all that’s left of the Hierapolis for us to see are an expanse of ruined walls and columns, remains of temples, some reconstructed buildings and gates, and the restored theatre. We didn’t have enough time to hike around the area to have a closer look at some of the important structures — so we just followed the stone pathway that leads across the Hierapolis ruins to another popular section of the ancient city….
The Cotton Castle
The Cotton Castle translates to Pamukkale — which is the name of the natural site in which the Hierapolis is built on. And it really looks like a cotton castle with its white carbonate mineral terrace-like pools, left by cascading mineral waters flowing down from a height of 160m, and a length of 2,700m. The temperatures of these thermal pools range from 35°C to 100°C.
There are several areas where visitors are allowed to swim and dip their feet in — but it was super crowded so it was impossible to get a good spot to actually enjoy the warm waters. We decided to just take a couple of pictures and leave, resorting to just admiring the view from afar. With that amount of people, the Cotton Castle itself might be in ruins soon — I felt that it was pretty dry during my visit, with the lovely turquoise contrast to the white pools sorely missing (maybe its the season). Pamukkale and the Hierapolis were designated a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1988. Entrance cost T₺25 (~US$4).
Richmond Thermal Hotel
We stayed in the Richmond Thermal Hotel in Pamukkale that night. The luxurious hotel is rated 5-star — but I found the rooms pretty basic with not as many amenities for a luxury hotel. However, their buffet breakfast and dinner had quite a wide selection of international and local Turkish cuisine (and Baklava for dessert); but best of all, they have a thermal pool! Since we didn’t get to soak in the natural pools at the Cotton Castle; Mum and I knew we just had to go for a quick dip before bed. The weather that night was pretty chilly, so the warm waters of the thermal pool was oh-so-wonderful.
JOURNEY TO SELCUK
The next day, we were off again on our journey through the Aegean Region. It was time to head towards the coast to get a view of the Aegean Sea, and on the way, we were to visit a couple of biblically historical sites. And of course, as with all tours, a couple of shopping stops for some local produce too. It was a shorter trip on this league — 3 hours from Pamukkale to the city of Selcuk, and another half hour to our stop for the night at Kusadasi.
Caliga Pelle Leather
Just before arriving in Selcuk, we stopped by the Caliga Pelle Boutique to have a look at their leather products. This part of Turkey is known for producing fantastic quality leather, and the Italian Caliga Pelle brand has a factory here. Established since 1899, the brand is said to be popular amongst the Europeans — but since I’m from the hot and humid country of Malaysia, I have never heard of them before. I have to say that though the leather jackets were so comfy and so pretty; but I don’t stay in a cold country so I didn’t need to splurge.
While in the city, another shopping stop we had was at a store selling Turkish sweets and snacks, Gozbasi Lokum. One of the things I wanted to get my hands on while in Turkey was their famous Turkish Delights, or Lokum. I absolutely love this brand of Turkish Delights — it’s not too sweet, and they have a couple of different flavours like pomegranate and chocolate. My favourite was their signature flavour with kadaifi (shredded wheat with nuts and sugar), and I also bought a box of the traditional Turkish Delights with pistachio. The store also sells other local produce like olive oil and apple tea.
House of Virgin Mary
Our first stop after lunch in Selcuk was a Catholic Shrine located near the ancient city of Ephesus. It is considered to be the house where the Virgin Mary spent her last days, being brought her by Saint John, one of Jesus’ twelve apostles. The house was discovered in the late 19th century, according to the visions of a German nun called Catherina Emmerich. A small 2-room chapel now stands on the foundations of the house — it was built somewhere in the 1st to 4th centuries, with the latest restoration being in 1951. We were allowed to enter for a quick walkthrough to see the altar, and the small room where Mary is believed to have slept in. There’s also a drinking fountain and a wishing wall in the vicinity. Since this is a place of worship, silence and appropriate dressing is observed. Entrance cost T₺35 (~US$6).
And then we visited the famous ruins of ancient Ephesus. Built in the 10th century BC, this city was one of the main Greek cities of Ionia; then later further developed during the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman eras; and finally abandoned in the 15th century. It is said to be the grandest and best preserved of all the ancient cities and ruins in Turkey, and it really is magnificent. The entire city is huge, so a significant amount of walking is needed to explore the site — and I have to say that it really felt like I stepped back in time (on some Indiana Jones exploration).
Some of the notable buildings in Ephesus are the Library of Celsus (probably the most photographed exterior), the Temple of Artemis (one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World), and the huge theatre (that was under renovation during my visit). We also got to walk through what was once a brothel during the ancient times, as well as a communal bath and toilet! Ephesus was included in the UNESCO World Heritage list in 2015, and cost T₺72 (~US$12.50) to enter. Our visit took a little more than two hours.
Kusadasi and the Charisma Deluxe Hotel
We spent the night in the coastal resort town of Kusadasi, about half an hour away from Ephesus. Most people use the town as a base to visit the ancient city, and also to admire the beautiful Aegean Sea. We were based in the luxurious Charisma Deluxe Hotel — and boy, was the hotel gorgeous. We were given a huge corner room with all the modern amenities of a 5-star hotel; and an enormous balcony with a sun-bed facing the ocean. I absolutely loved it! I was extremely glad that we arrived to the hotel early so that I could spend the rest of my afternoon sun-bathing on my private balcony. At dusk, I even made it a point to head down to the over-ocean terrace to admire the most glorious sunset.
Dinner at the Charisma Deluxe Hotel was the best one of the entire trip — it was buffet style and they offered a delicious variety of Turkish and international cuisine. Buffet breakfast in the morning was equally good. And before bed that night, I went down to the lobby bar to quench my thirst with an assortment of the hotel’s signature cocktails.
JOURNEY TO CANAKKALE
I really wish we could have spent a longer time soaking in the views and the comforts of the Charisma Deluxe Hotel in Kusadasi; but it was out and off first thing in the morning. Our entire journey on this league was about 6 hours to our last stop in the city of Canakkale; traveling pass big cities like Izmir along the Aegean Coast.
Asclepeion of Pergamon
After 3 hours into our journey and passing by the city of Izmir, we arrived in the city of Bergama (known as Pergamon in the ancient times). It is the location of the ruins of Asclepeion, dedicated to the Greek demi-God of healing, Asclepius. He was believed to have great healing powers so temples were built in his name, and the people of the ancient times would make pilgrimages to these places for physical and spiritual healing.
The Asclepeion in Pergamon is said to have been a mental hospital, founded in the middle of the 4th century BC. Walking through the ruins, it was interesting to listen to our tour guide tell us stories of the treatment of these ‘mental’ patients — they were to walk a tunnel with soft music 2 times a day, and then drink from a sacred spring before heading to small rooms to sleep. During our visit, there were hardly any other visitors around. Tickets to enter cost T₺36 (~US$6).
The Ruins of Troy
Half an hour from Canakkale lies what is believed to be the ruins of the legendary city of Troy, located in the current area of Hisarlik. Yes, the Troy that was the setting of the Trojan War, the Troy that thrived in the Bronze Age’s 12th century BC, the Troy that took the beautiful Helen, the Troy that had walls so strong but was finally defeated by a wooden Trojan Horse, the Troy that is synonymous to other ancient names like the Spartans, King Agamemnon, Achilles, Hector and Paris. Though it is still debatable on whether the war really did happen or if this ancient ruin is that very Troy — I guess I still get to say I got to visit the supposed site of one of my favourite Greek stories.
Almost everything in Troy is in complete ruins. There is a small wooden pathway that runs through the area, with signboards explaining the different portions of the ruined city. I guess the most photographable thing is the huge replica of the wooden Trojan Horse at the entrance. The area was named a UNESCO World Heritage site in 1998, and tickets cost T₺25 (~US$4).
Trojan Statue in Canakkale
There’s also another replica of the Trojan Horse on display, and it is located in the centre of Canakkale at the Waterfront Promenade. This is the very Trojan Horse that you’ve seen in the movies — it was used in Wolfgang Petersen (and Brad Pitt, Eric Bana and Orlando Bloom)’s 2004 movie Troy. The Warner Brothers donated it to the city after the completion of the movie. This Trojan Statue is hugely different from the replica on display at the Troy ruins — so I do wonder how the real wooden horse actually looked like to have fit 30-40 people in it.
The Kolin Hotel
After our quick stop at the Canakkale promenade to see Hollywood’s Trojan Horse, it was straight on to our hotel for the night. The Kolin Hotel is located about 15 minutes away from the city centre — and even though it is situated by the sea, it was raining when we arrived so we didn’t get much of a view. Our room was located in the next building from the main reception area; and was a decent size for two people with the necessary amenities. Later in the night, we walked over to the nearby Kipa Mall for a little grocery (snacks and sweets) shopping.
… And Up Next on the Tour!
We were off early again the next morning — ending the third part of my trip around Turkey as we sailed across the Dardanelles Straits to Turkey’s Gallipoli Peninsula (from Asia into Europe). I really enjoyed my adventure through the Aegean Region, visiting all the historical ruins and listening to the ancient stories of yester-centuries. I would like to think that now, I know a little more about Greek Gods and Goddesses, ancient Kings and Queens, wars won and lost, and how the ancient people once lived and died.
And the next part in this blog series on Turkey is the last and final city on our trip — Istanbul. Lots of palaces and elaborate places of worship in this vibrant city. Read all about it here.
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*She Walks the World was a guest on a trip to Turkey with Parlo Tours. The ruins in the Aegean region was one out of the many stops on the group tour. And as always, all opinions stated here are my own.
*The ticket pricing to some of the attractions are stated, but it is all included in the tour package with Parlo Tours.