When I first arrived in Urla, it was right after a week spent exploring the magnificent, yet also exhaustingly hectic city of Istanbul. I was convinced that this will be the part of my trip where I simply kick back and do pretty much nothing. Well, this feeling didn’t last long. When I woke up in the morning and looked out of the window, the craving to explore immediately returned. The smells, the colors, the ambiance! I simply fell in love with this magical town in no time.
Urla is a beautiful little town in Izmir Province. Thanks to its close proximity to international airport (the 40 kilometers long ride takes less than one hour), this region is one of the most popular tourist spots in the region, but most of the visitors head straight to the beaches of Denizli without giving Urla a second thought.
But Urla has much more to offer than just convenient location. First of all, this place breaths history! Recent archeological excavations suggest that this location had significant importance even in the pre-Hellenic period, and some of the most enthusiastic researches show that Urla could be the oldest regularly used port in the world. But it’s not all about the past in Urla. Its charms are actually very present, contemporary and vivid.
My first rendezvous with Urla began in the beautiful Narimor Boutique Hotel, which is boasting a breathtaking decor and unique atmosphere. You could literally spend a whole day exploring all of the tiny details in this thoughtful place. But what I needed (and enjoyed!) the most at that very moment were their hearty breakfasts made of 100% natural and local ingredients. The day couldn’t possibly start better! A friendly reminder: If you’re not accommodated in the hotel, make sure to reserve your breakfast table in advance. From what I saw, it’s very popular!
With my tummy full and mood uplifted by wonderful Turkish coffee, I headed to the Urla streets. It took only several minutes until I discovered a tiny hidden gem called Kün Ceramics. Although I can hardly consider myself being an expert on local arts, you can tell by the instinct that this place is radiating creativity. Needless to say, I left with several gorgeous souvenirs for siblings. All of them survived the flight back home unharmed thanks to the thoughtful packing by the Kün’s lovely shopkeeper.
Little did I know how many artsy shops will I encounter just a little bit later! If you’re approaching the end of your trip and desperately need some sophisticated local souvenirs (like I did), make sure to find your way to the Urla Sanat Sokağı, or the Urla Art Street at Zafer Caddesi. It’s a magical cobblestone street full of local artisans selling souvenirs and crafts of all sorts. If you happen to be here during the weekend, you can also enjoy a lively flea market.
If you’d thought my Urla shopping spree ended there, you’d be wrong. On the Cumhuriyet street, I discovered an interesting place called Urla Kadin Ücretici Pazarı – Urla women farmers market, which immediately caught my eye with a vast variety of handicrafts, jewelry and fresh local food. While exploring (and tasting, yum!) all of the treats on offer, I also learned about how special and meaningful this place is for the local community. Women offering their products here every Saturday demonstrate their willingness and ability to stand on their own feet and provide for their families economically. I was glad to support their cause in exchange for some of the best cheese I’ve ever tried (check out the Miralem cheese stand, you won’t regret).
My curiosity then led me to the very heart of the Urla city, Malgaca Arasta. This is a historical and cultural center of the town, which serves as a meeting point for locals for at least 200 years. But don’t expect any “open air museum” – this place is very much alive and kicking! It has a mesmerizing ambience – I found myself sitting here and people-watching for about 30 minutes, soaking up the atmosphere of everyday life in the city.
It was a lunch time, and I was ready for some good meal. I discovered the wonderful Ömre Bedel Yemekler restaurant, which, as I learned soon, offers some of the best culinary gems of the Turkish Aegean region. This family owned business is run by Mrs. Ömür, and I swear I had the best Turkish güveç in my life in here.
A food for stomach and a food for brain.
After the lunch, my pace somehow slowed down. I craved for some inspiring little hideaway, where I could treat myself with a good coffee and some food for thought. I found one on the Kapan Camii Sokak, and it was actually a second-hand bookstore combined with a coffeeshop called Öte. I absolutely love the smell of old books, and this place has A LOT of them. There are books in many different languages too, so you’ll surely find something to read on while sipping from your cup.
This place got me somehow hooked up, and I left hoping for more of such experiences. That’s how I ended up in Urla Tasarım Kütüphanesi – Urla Design Library just a few blocks away. Located in the building from 1560, this place really has its character. It’s open only in the afternoons, so I was quite lucky to peek inside. Usually, it serves to workshops, seminars and readings for both kids and adults.
At this point, I decided to slowly head back to the center, where most of the thrills seemed to happen. And that’s when I came across a boutique shop offering the essence of what I love about the Aegean – olives and everything around them! It’s called Kekliktepe Olive Tree Products, and you’ll immediately recognize it by the temptingly decorated window. If you love olive wood like I do, you can’t go wrong with their trays, spoons, knives and other original crafts, which also serve as perfect souvenirs.
I couldn’t have imagined any better place to have my Urla dinner than Hic Lokanta ve Tadım Atölyesi. Not only it was a delicious foodie experience (I had a finger-licking pasta with vegetables and a glass of local wine), I totally adore the idea of a simplicity and minimalism represented by the concept of “Hiç” = Nothingness. You will get nothing but the best organic ingredients here, seasonal and locally sourced. I love it!
My day in Urla was turning into the night – and it was, sadly, the last one of my Turkish adventure. I spent the last hour wandering through the streets and watching the locals return back from their workplaces to their homes and families. For a brief moment, I felt somewhat “at home” here too. And I promised myself to return for this feeling to Urla soon again.
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