Aegean coast road trip series: Istanbul to Bodrum
Instead of flying from Istanbul to Bodrum on your holidays, take the road less travelled and let the journey there become your main adventure. Follow the route and find out where to visit, walk around, eat, and stay.

The first stretch of road will take you to the areas of Istanbul you might have never had the chance to visit before. A former holiday destination located within the current borders of the city, Tuzla, is now home to a shipyard where some of the finest superyachts are being manufactured. To enjoy the tranquility of the area, head to Tuzla Yacht Club (EAT) for a waterfront breakfast. Travelling with kids? The restaurant has a little beach for them to play. A short drive away, you can also stop by Darıca (VISIT) for a tour of the zoo. Keep in mind that the property is large, so you’ll need at least a few hours to see all of it. From there, it is a quick ride down the road to cross the Osmangazi bridge. 

For those who want to get out of Istanbul as soon as possible, car ferries operating between Yenikapı and Bandırma or Yenikapı and Yalova offer arguably the most efficient and inexpensive way to get across the Sea of Marmara. There is an easy connection to the main highway, and on the way you can stop by Eskikaraağaç (STOP), a tiny village near Ulubat Lake and a member of the European Stork Villages Network. Unspoiled by industry, the location is ideal for a quick stop in nature during which you can observe low-flying birds or take a rowing boat tour for a closer look. The areas surrounding Lakes Ulubat and Manyas (VISIT) serve as large bird sanctuaries, where in addition to storks, you can observe pelicans, flamingos, spoonbills, and more than 200 other bird species. Don’t forget to take your camera! 

Eskikaraağaç

The next stop doesn’t need long introductions. Ayvalık (STOP), culinary mecca of the Aegean, is where more than three-fourths of Turkey’s olive trees have been growing for hundreds of years. Since the Aegean Sea is an embayment of the Mediterranean, the local culture, lifestyle, and especially the cuisine have many elements in common. When it comes to food, high nutritional value and positive impact on one’s health are among those factors. Olive oil-based dishes (zeytinyağlı) are the foundation of Turkish cuisine, not only for devotees of the meyhane, but also among vegetarians and seasonal produce lovers. We suggest you try them at Ayvalık Şehir Kulübü – Yörük Mehmet’in Yeri (EAT), which offers far more than just quality local cuisine. The menu at Bay Nihat (EAT) in Cunda has some of the rarest olive oil dishes in the area, often known only to locals. Having recently relocated to Ayvalık, renowned chef Şemsa Denizsel shares in-depth knowledge of regional cuisine via cooking workshops (TRY) organized at her Cooks Grove.  

There are several major historic attractions on the route, and if you haven’t been to Bergama or Selçuk, we strongly urge you to do so. The ancient Greek settlement not far from Ayvalık, Pergamon (VISIT)makes a great stop even during peak season. Located on top of a mountain, it ensures a cool breeze is coming your way in the summer, and there is enough space to accommodate a high volume of visitors without stepping on each other’s toes.

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Practical tip: Buying a museum card in advance will help you skip the entrance queue. Simply use it at the gates as your ticket, and you won’t have to wait the extra time. Find the details at www.muze.gov.tr

Pergamon

Selçuk is home to the largest ancient site in the Aegean, Ephesus, as well as the Byzantine Ayasuluk fortress and basilica of St John (VISIT). Both attractions provide a great opportunity to stretch your legs and admire breathtaking vistas of nature, even if historic sightseeing isn’t on top of your holiday to-do list. Conveniently located near places of interest and connecting routes is Cella (STAY), a tranquil boutique hotel with quality service and great facilities for explorers of the area. 

Şirince and the surrounding areas are a part of the Southern Izmir Vineyard Route (TRY), which includes medium to large wine producers such as Sevilen (STAY) (winehouse and restaurant in Gölcükler), Lucien Arkas (VISIT) in Torbalı, and Yedi Bilgeler (EAT) (hotel and excellent restaurant near Selçuk). The area is also home to Turkey’s largest open-air market in Tire (TRY), where every Tuesday chefs and cooks from all over the country flock to rediscover fresh produce of the region.

If you are familiar with the attractions of the area, a visit to Şirince village might sound like a major cliché. We found a better way to enjoy it. Stock up on local wine (TRY) supplies in the town center, and then head to Güllü Konakları’s secluded vineyard cottage (STAY), which offers unmatchable accommodation in nature, away from Şirince’s mainstream entertainment, and a true escape from any man-made madness. 

Yedi Bilgeler

Heading west in Izmir might seem like the biggest detour of this trip, yet the area provides enough alluring attractions to spend more time than you had originally planned. The region of Urla is known for its popular vineyards on the Urla Wine Route (TRY) (Urla, Usca, Urlice and Mozaik to name a few). Once there, you might also want to stop by Uzbaş Arboretum for a stroll among their impressively cultivated trees for some landscape architecture inspiration. While on the peninsula, stock up on everything artichokes,(TRY) drop by the village of Karaburun for a jar of traditional kopanisticheese (TRY), and dine at the coolest destination restaurant in this part of the country, Od Urla (EAT). If you’re wondering where to stay, Radisson Blu Çeşme (STAY). With access to thermal springs (TRY) and an extensive spa menu, you will be hitting the road feeling like a newborn. 

The nearby town of Alaçatı (STOP) offers a very wide range of well-thought out accommodations, as well as numerous dining options, so simply dive right in and enjoy the variety. Once there, we like staying at the Kapari Hotel (STAY), located at the quiet end of the marina. For lifestyle experiences, head to Hacımemiş (VISIT), the charming village neighborhood where restaurants, designer boutiques, vintage shops and artisanal product retailers reside side by side. 

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Hacımemiş top 10 must-visit places:
Alaçatı

If you have ever travelled to Bodrum by car, you must have seen Bafa Lake (STOP) from the highway. The detour we have taken towards Herakleia (VISIT) was one of the best ideas along the way as the northeastern coast of the lake is home to tranquility, movie-like landscapes, and picturesque hiking trails (TRY). Protected from the rest of the world by a terracotta-painted mountain chain, the area also has a lakeside camping site and less than half a dozen bed and breakfasts, should you decide to stay there for the night.

The wide road between Yatağan and Milas makes the ancient site of Stratonikeia (STOP) easily accessible with the entrance located just by the roadside after the Eskihisar village bypass, 75 kilometers northeast of Bodrum. The neatly cobbled streets lead past Ottoman-style houses, between them remain the remnants of columns and ancient stones, until the street diverges in two around the main excavation of the much older Stratonikeia city-state (VISIT), one of the most important of the ancient Caria province. The ancient city has been declared in various reports as the “City of Gladiators,” based on the size of the gymnasium where gladiator training and competitions took place. The whole Stratonikeia site has been listed as a “tentative” UNESCO World Heritage Site, as it is a rare example of a site continuously inhabited from the Late Bronze Age (1,500 BC) to the present day, as four families still remain in the historical village houses within the ancient city’s territory.

Bafa Lake

Due to its close proximity to the airport, Milas (STOP) is a name that often comes up in conversation. If you could never really think of a good reason to visit, make a stop in the town center en route to Bodrum to visit the newly opened Uzunyuva Arkeopark (VISIT), a complex comprised of several restored buildings turned into museums and workshop spaces. The historic center (VISIT) is dotted with Instagram-worthy architecture and is an ideal area where you can stretch your legs during a short stroll. 

Iassos has certainly seen much in the ebb and flow of human affairs, war, and peace. The site of Iassos (STOP) was occupied and fought over from 3,000 BC to the Middle Ages. Once past the caretaker’s gate at the base of the small peninsula and acropolis, with the small village harbor on the right, the excavated sites unroll before the visitor in an almost overwhelming mixture of eras. Wander alongside the water to where the breakwater stones lead out to the poignantly lonely remains of the harbor tower (VISIT) which once guarded the fishing port. Climb up to the acropolis (VISIT), fortified in the medieval era, and scramble around the rocks down the other side to visit the temple of Artemis site. 

Güllük (STOP) is the last stop before Bodrum, just a few kilometers away from Milas-Bodrum airport. This little coastal town has major unpretentiousness to it, having managed to protect its somehow naive personality from big resorts. The town’s symbol, Hermiyas, legendary little boy who swam on the backs of dolphins, is present on every corner to remind visitors about the importance of life in harmony with nature. Local fish (EAT), eel in particular, is another reason to make a stop here: either try to catch it on your own, or simply have it served to your table. 

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Güllük

Long-distance tips for electric car users

Although the concept of slow travel is all about getting lost and letting the path unfold before you, travelling on long-distance routes in an electric car requires a bit of advanced prepping. The Guide Bodrum tested Turkey’s infrastructure along the Istanbul-Bodrum route first hand. Here are some practical tips you might want to keep in mind before hitting the road: 

  • Join the network: Having a charging station at home makes your daily commute easy, however, outside of the city you will rely on public charging points available within two major networks: Zest and Esarj. Before hitting the road, make sure to apply for charge cards for both of them to be able to use their stations at any given time, cashless. 
  • Make the most of your car charging break: Rapid charge points are located along the main highways, as well as in Turkey’s biggest cities, so to save precious time you will want to take advantage of those in the first place. If you only have standard charger at your disposal, use the charging time for other necessary activities: schedule car cooling while plugged (new Jaguar I-Pace has such an option); grab coffee or a meal; stock up on the missing items such as drinking water for the road; or research your route. Do the math to make sure you have enough power to reach the next charging point. 
  • Stay close to nature without getting out of the car: Electric and hybrid cars are known for their low sound emission, which makes them the perfect way to get around nature parks without disturbing the local fauna. On the other hand, extra caution is advised, as some animals won’t get off the road on their own if they can’t hear the car coming.
Borusan Jaguar I-PACE

The Guide Bosrum would like to thank Borusan Otomotiv for the opportunity to travel in the Jaguar I-PACE, the brand’s first electric vehicle, that carried us to the Agean coast.