I never started this blog as a way to explore the world without racking up 78 credit cards (which sounds a lot like something I might have plotted whilst at university), but this year has seen my passport battering through more customs desks than ever before.
It’s also seen me pleading with the e-Passport gates to just recognise me more times than I care to admit – no but seriously, why can it NEVER recognise me? Hello, it’s me, Hannah Frances Gale, born 17/09/1989 in London. I’m a real person. A real citizen. Just let me back into my country, ok thx plz.
I obviously no longer look like the heavily eyelined 17-year-old girl occupying my passport photo, although to be fair, I no longer sit in passport photo booths in a JJB Sports uniform, or weigh 9 stone, so there’s that.
Just like with Egypt back in April (post here), it came across to me as just somewhere 45% of my Facebook friends went for budget sea, sand and swimming pools and not much else. I’ve kind of seen the allure of Istanbul, I liked the idea of the the Grand Bazaar and snapping up Instagram-worthy pieces that no-one else on my feed already owned, and I liked the idea that it wasn’t quite as overdone as Marrakech – but aside from that, it wasn’t high on my travel priority list.
Naturally, I was wrong about everything because I’m always wrong about everything.
We flew into Izmir which is a city nestled on the western coast of Turkey. And the first thing I noticed, aside from the fact my Google Maps was telling me we were less than 100 miles from the love of my life – Mykonos, was how damn clean it was. And green.
We spent the first evening wandering around the harbour, watching the sun set and eyeing up ice cream parlours and I couldn’t get over how much cleaner than London the city was and just how much luscious plant life there was for somewhere with a hot climate.
You know usually when you go on holiday anywhere hot and everything is that dull beige sand colour wherever the eye looks? Nope, not Turkey, it looked like someone had turned the saturation up in a photo editing app. And that, ladies, is my sort of place for photographing.
We stayed in the Hilton hotel which has a pretty prime city setting if that’s the area you want to explore (plus the waffles and omelettes from the breakfast bar are so divine you’ll end up with a could-be-5-months-pregnant bloat before 10am).
I was nestled up on the 20th floor with huge sprawling views of the rest of the city. At night I’d open my curtains wide and feel pretty astounded by the twinkling lights blinking back at me. The city is huge, it felt like I was looking out over London or New York city without the high rises and rivers interwining through. It felt especially magical after a couple of glasses of local Turkish red wine, which, just FYI was summin’ real damn delicious in your belly when paired with fresh seafood, warm bread and dips in every colour of the rainbow.
I was there for four nights with a travel writer, a digital editor and two Instagrammers (uh huh, I know – I love how much the world of content is evolving), having flown out with Pegasus from Stansted Airport. You can also fly out from London with Thomas Cook and EasyJet, just an FYI.
As much as I loved strolling along the Izmir harbour, wandering through the city bazaar and seeing the glittering city lights – it was the little gems outside the city that got me all excited and OMG I NEED TO TAKE ALL THE PHOTOS AND BRING CHRIS HERE IMMEDIATELY.
There’s the historical elements – the Roman ruins dotted about the countryside including Ephesus and Akropolis (go on, give ’em a search on Instagram – you’ll probs be as WHAT, THEY HAVE THINGS LIKE THIS IN TURKEY? As I was) and then there’s the beaches and quaint little villages that basically turn your social media feeds into the most beautiful versions of themselves.
Izmir used to be a Greek city back in the day, so the influence, both with the ruins that involve a tonne of pillars, amphitheaters and amazing statues of naked men, and with the general vibe, think plenty of blue and white buildings and winding little alleys, is pretty damn apparent.
I loved Sirince, a cobbled village that not only boasted the best lunch I had during my visit (at this restaurant) and boutique restaurants (we had a little tour of this place and it had some seriously incredible views), but tiny shops that sold everything from brightly painted ceramics to freshly squeezed orange juice and £1 fresh flower garlands.
But my all-time favourite place, the spot I will definitely return to, the spot I know you will all adore beyond everything – was Alacati. A place which sounds an awful lot like Alicante and that can be madly confusing on the brain. Like what, am I in Spain?
Whilst Sirince had a very low-key, laid-back vibe to it, Alacati was the place you could imagine watching the stars and people watching as you ate calamari and drank margaritas with your gal pals on a late summer eve.
Not only did it have the sort of bright turqoise seas and white sandy beaches that my pre-sleep thoughts are made up of, but it had such a bustling, irresistable charm to it.
There were ice cream carts and jewellery shops spilling out onto the streets, boutique hotels with fairy lights, luxury beach clubs with sea hammocks, tiny restaurants decorated in bouquets of fresh white flowers.
Basically, it was holiday heaven.
So naturally, I’ve already been busy looking at the prices for a few nights in September, maybe adding Istanbul on the end for a couple of nights.
Direct flights a couple of months in advance are around the £150 to £200 mark per person, whilst hotels range from about £100 to £150 a night for two people sharing, but that’s for the sort of hotels that you can scroll through on Trip Advisor and get heart palpitations over. Roll top baths in the middle of bathrooms, daintily lit pools at nightime and those pool-side sunbeds that are basically just a king size bed brought outside and wrapped in drapes.
I really feel like I can’t communicate how perfect Alacati was quite enough. If you love Mykonos, love Santorini, love perfect little Greek islands crammed with charm, then you’ll adore it with every little travel bug running through your bloodstream. Except well, it’s obviously not in Greece.
I find with Mediterranean summer holidays that it’s always so hit and miss trying to find somewhere that isn’t entirely made up of restaurants with photos of jacket potatos and burgers plastered all over the front and 17-year-olds trying to get hammered off cheap Sex On The Beach cocktails.
It’s surprisingly hard to find somewhere with actual majestic sandy beaches, or with that effortlessly sexy, cool vibe that makes for instantly sassy outfit backdrops.
But, Alacati’s that place. The place you dream about when you’re searching on LastMinute.com or LowCostHolidays.com (or TravelRepublic.com if you’re me – I’ve relied on this site since my first ever Magaluf galavant in 2008).
And the one other thing that totally shocked and surprised me about Turkey was the lack of hassling. Even deep in the depths of the local market, there was nobody trying to force you to look at their brown embroidered scarves or plastic souvernirs. The locals were so chilled and happy for you to just go about your day, which is something I’ve struggled with even in places like Crete and Spain.
I came back with a nice haul of dried chilli, a flower garland, two rings, two bracelets, four bowls and a pair of sunglasses. Except, well, I’ll be honest, the sunglasses didn’t *quite* make it back to the UK. I kind of rolled onto them during a beach nap, but whatcha gonna do, eh?
Morale of the story? Turkey is dreamboatin’ and I should stop napping.
Expedia is offering seven night holidays to Izmir staying at the 5* Hilton Izmir from £677 per person. Price is based on flights departing from London Stansted with Pegasus Airlines on Saturday 1st August 2015. For more information or to book visit www.expedia.co.uk
Turkish Culture and Information Office www.goturkey.com
Izmir Development Agency www.izka.org.tr/