For hundreds of years, the stellar ruins at Ephesus have provided voyagers all the impetus they needed to justify a trip to this stretch of picturesque coastlands. Villagers and entrepreneurs of yore were not the first to recognize the commercial value of these scenic hills and crystal waters. Historically, the central and southern Aegean coasts were crossroads for ancient trade routes. Civilization evolved out of the convergence of Eastern and Western cultures; Hellenistic settlers who fled the Dorian invasions emphasized economic expansion and forged ties with people from Egypt, Nubia, Canaan, Mesopotamia, and the Black Sea region. Welcome to the original melting pot.
At one time, the region boasted some of the most illustrious addresses in the world. The Ionian cities of Ephesus, Bergama, Miletus, and Priene served as cultural incubators in the development of Western thought, home to such philosophers and scholars as Thales Anaximenes, Anaximendros, and Heraclites. Other famous ancient Greek guests to the Anatolian coastline of the Aegean were Aristides, Strabo, Pliny, and Homer. Later (according to tradition) Mary, under the care of St. John, settled in Ephesus, permanently altering the way an entire civilization perceived Christianity while contributing to the evolution of the religion itself.
The presence of the sea becomes more insistent south of Izmir, characterized by a coastline backed by olive groves, rocky crags, and pine woods. But in recent years rampant development has been the rule and many of the region's fishing villages and farming towns have been transformed by the irresistible lure of the euro, pound sterling, and yen. The open-air museum of Ephesus, for example, is a human parking lot in August, and Bodrum in high season (mid-June through Aug) brings competition for sand, surf, and sustenance to new heights. The information in this section strives to strike a balance between lesser-traveled areas while acknowledging the fact that no one is coming to this part of Turkey to do a drive-by of Ephesus.
The destinations mentioned in this section are all within 3 hours of one another, and buses run regularly between cities. For shorter excursions, the local dolmuses (minivan-type public transportation) are reliable, though they usually call it quits in the early evening. Driving is easy and the new highways provide choice for quick excursions or the scenic route. Time can be split easily between beach activities and visiting the ancient sights. This is the place to take as much time as necessary to decompress from the worries of everyday life.