A road trip is about the journey as much as the destination. Stopping and lingering when the scenery catches the eye…or deciding spontaneously to take a different route. Meanwhile, a road trip along the Aegean is filled with color and liveliness. Keep reading for more information on a magnificent Aegean driving route, from north to south.
The first stop is Assos, an ancient city within the borders of Behramkale Village in beautiful Çanakkale. On the coastline, south of the village, are the older structures. Go north for views of the picturesque Ottoman-era homes in Behramkale.
Assos Ancient City has two entrance gates, one of which is accessed via the village. The gently sloping path is lined with colorful shops and boutiques and, as well, visitors can stop by the Ottoman-era Hüdavendigar Mosque. Built in the 14th century, this mosque is one of the most outstanding works of early Ottoman architecture.
In Assos, the Temple of Athena offers panoramic sea views – on a clear day, Lesbos Island is visible. Wander through the Ancient City to the second entrance gate, which leads to the Assos Ancient Harbor. Along the way are the necropolis, the agora and the amphitheater. When you’ve finished visiting the city, enjoy dinner and the sunset at one of the fish restaurants dotting the harbor area.
For swimming, sunbathing and views of the Kaz Mountains, Kadırga Bay is just two kilometers from Assos.
Consider staying at least two days to fully enjoy Assos Ancient City and its surroundings. Accommodations in the area include boutique hotels, pensions and campsites.
If Kadırga Bay inspired you to swim, you’re in luck: the route leads to Akçay. A 55-kilometer drive on one of the region’s most beautiful roads, the town of Akçay features a lovely beach. It’s also about 73 kilometers from Kaz Mountain National Park. Visitors can hire a guide and take a hike in Kaz Mountain National Park, visiting the ice-cold Sutven Waterfall and the Şahinderesi Canyon. For a swim in warmer waters, nearby Zeytinli offers beautiful beaches and camping areas.
The next stop is Ayvalık. The Greek and Turkish heritage of this cozy town is reflected in its architecture, as well as its places of worship: Taksiyarhis Church and the Çınarlı Mosque, built in the 19th century.
When in Ayvalık, take a detour to serene Cunda Island. The winding lanes of the Cunda Market lead to the harbor, dotted with cafes and restaurants. Enjoy a Turkish coffee at the long-standing Taş Kahve and watch as coffee beans are ground by hand in a giant stone mortar. Şeytan Sofrası has wonderful views of the sunset and Ayvalık. You can set up camp at Sarımsaklı and take a swim in the clear sea.
Moving south, the next stop is Bergama. There are two routes, each is about 65 kilometers: the İzmir-Çanakkale road is along the coast, while the Kozak-Bergama road winds through forests.
Connected to İzmir, Bergama takes its name from Pergamon Ancient City and is rich in historical artifacts. Once home to the world’s second largest library, the first parchment was discovered in Pergamon. Bergama’s architecture also reveals a Greek influence, particularly those in Kale Mahallesi. The Ottoman Era is also represented in the Bergama Arastası, a former trade center that still houses carpet weaving ateliers.
Lovely Çeşme is next. The popularity of this charming town near İzmir is understandable. There’s the 15th-century Çeşme Castle, which features a museum with exhibits from excavations. There’s also Alacati, with cobblestone streets fragrant with the scent of bougainvillea and geranium. Sample the local kumru, a sandwich with cheese, sausage and tomato. There are many beaches in Çeşme and, for camping, Cleopatra Bay. For a different experience, check out the Maldives-like sea of Ilıca Beach.
Selçuk is next on the Aegean road trip. Selçuk is filled with history – including Ephesus Ancient City, just outside the town of Selçuk. Dating from about 6000 BC, Ephesus is listed among the UNESCO World Heritage sites. The Temple of Artemis, in Ephesus, is considered one of the wonders of the ancient world. The first settlement of Ephesus, Ayasuluk Hill –also known as Selçuk Castle – is also on the UNESCO list, as is St. John’s Basilica, the largest religious structure built after the Temple of Artemis. St. John’s Basilica is considered a pilgrimage site for Christians, along with the House of the Virgin Mary, also in the vicinity of Selçuk.
The pretty little village of Şirince is a former Greek settlement with steep, stone-paved streets and cafes serving local specialties such as stuffed pumpkin flowers and milk jam.
From Selçuk, the route goes to Kuşadası. A popular holiday destination, Kuşadası is more cosmopolitan but does not lack natural beauty. Kuşadası National Park is a habitat for approximately 250 bird species, as well as wild boars, lynx and hyenas. If you encounter wild boars and their young in the Park, you can relax: they are not usually dangerous. But don’t be tempted to approach the babies! The four coves within the park, İçmeler, Aydınlık, Kavaklıburun and Karasu, feature bays and campsites.
Leaving behind the bays and the national park of Kuşadası may be difficult, but Didim – the next stop – is fascinating. With thousands of years of history, Didim retains its rich heritage. Though slightly far from the center, the renowned Temple of Apollo is worth seeing; it was believed to be the third-largest temple in the ancient world. About 40 kilometers from Didim is Prienne Ancient City, home of Alexander the Great. Between Didim and Prienne lies the Ancient City of Miletus, once known as the city of philosophers. Accommodation in Didim includes boutique hotels, hostels, rental homes and camping areas. Tavşan Burnu, in particular, is nice for camping, while Altinkum is among the area’s most famous beaches and features golden yellow sand. For a more isolated experience, there’s Akbuk Bay, with camping areas, as well as facilities for sailing and water skiing.
The final stop on this road trip is Bodrum. Wildly popular among both Turkish and international tourists, Bodrum has history alongside its beaches, clubs and restaurants. In fact, one of Seven Wonders of the Ancient World is here: the Mausoleum at Halicarnassus. While the Mausoleum was destroyed, its foundation remains, and a museum is at the site. Bodrum Castle, erected by the Knights Hospitaller in the 15th century, contains some marble blocks from the Mausoleum. It is now home to the Bodrum Underwater Archeology Museum.
After touring historical sites, drive to picturesque Gümüşlük, an artsy fishing village, for a beachfront dinner. Or take a walk in Yalıkavak with views of windmills. Visit the Pafla, Tilkicik or Ağaçbaşı bays for a swim, or head to Bitez for windsurfing, canoeing or other water sports. Accommodation in Bodrum and the surrounding areas encompasses everything from luxurious 5-star hotels to rustic campsites.
An Aegean road trip that begins in the north, from Assos, and concludes in Bodrum, in the south, is a delightful holiday filled with rich history, stunning views, fabulous food and good roads. For more travel ideas, please see the blogs in the new normal holiday category, offering tips and ideas specific to travel during the pandemic. Bon voyage!