Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Tag: Ionia

Open for business

Two big announcements this time around.

The first one: we’re now officially open and taking bookings via Airbnb! Rooms one and two are ready for guests, and the cafe will be close behind.  Anyone and everyone is welcome to book from June 30th onward.

Ready for guests at last

Our site has been rearranged a little, too — www.ioniaguesthouse.com is now a front page for the hotel. The blog has been pushed down to become one of the main menu items. We’ve added Airbnb links and a photo collection, as well as updating our “how to get here” and “local attractions” pages. If you have the time to browse around, please do. We’d really appreciate feedback on how the site flows, whether it looks OK on different devices, how easy it is to find important information, etc.

Room 1: like room 2, only mirrored!

There’s been a big rush to put the finishing touches on the room interiors, as you might imagine. We’ve shown off our handmade beds previously, and now we have more furniture in a similar rustic style.

Sofa and coffee table.

Everyone needs a wardrobe.

And the second big announcement? After being sworn to secrecy for months, we can finally tell you that we’ve been visited by a British TV crew multiple times over the past year. Our project is going to feature as part of the Channel 5 series “Our Dream Hotel”. Think “Grand Designs” but with hotels and B&Bs instead of houses. Our episode goes out at 9pm on Tuesday the 27th of June. If you’re in the UK, we hope you’ll watch it. It definitely covers both the highs and the lows, and does a fantastic job of condensing our adventure down to 40 minutes or so.

Huge thanks to Vikki, Tim, and Jonnel of TwoFour Productions for being such consummate professionals.

All right Mr. DeMille, I’m ready for my close-up.

In fact we were surprised to find we’ve already been broadcast on the Dutch version of the show (“Ons Droomhotel” on RTL4). For those of you not in the Netherlands or the UK, we’re waiting to hear about whether there will be other ways to watch it. We’ll certainly let you know.

Pool weather approaching — why not book now?

Ephesus

More from our backlog of tourism activities…

The ancient city of Ephesus is around 3000 years old and around 30 minutes drive from our place. It’s by far the biggest tourist attraction in this part of Turkey. I read somewhere that it’s the third most visited site in all of Turkey, after Istanbul’s Hagia Sophia and Topkapı Palace. With all those visitors, it does tend to get a little crowded; especially in summer when there are multiple cruise ships per day docking at nearby Kuşadası, disgorging Ephesus-bound passengers by the coach-load. Still, all those people visit for a reason: it’s utterly spectacular. It’s also, I think, one of the best places to get a sense of what everyday life might have been like in the ancient world.

So if you come and visit us, assume that we’re going to devote at least a day to Ephesus.

Ephesus is surrounded by dry Mediterranean hills. This used to be the shoreline, before the harbour silted up.

Ephesus is surrounded by dry Mediterranean hills. This hill would once have looked out over the city’s harbour, before it silted up.

It’s a big site, and it can be hot, so it’s important to bring some water. There is, however, no shortage of shops willing to sell you freshly-squeezed pomegranate juice (or pretty much anything else) at either exit.

The view down Curetes Street: the ruins of baths, shops, private houses, temples, etc.

The view down Curetes Street: the ruins of baths, shops, private houses, temples, etc.

Like most of the tourists, we started at the upper entrance and worked our way through town. It’s quite a walk: about two kilometres. In some places you’re looking at tumbled stones with an archaeological sketch suggesting what once was, and in other places there have been painstaking excavations and reconstructions. You get to see both the big, spectacular stuff — the theatre, temples, the famous library, two different agoras — but also smaller things like houses and even the remains of a public bathroom. For me, the smaller-scale buildings made it easier to imagine what life might have been like here. There’s also impressive tile-work and sculpture all over the place.

I wish I was enough of an expert to tell you what this frieze is depicting.

Bas-relief sculpture. That’s definitely a sheep so I am assuming he is a shepherd. [Correction! A sharp-eyed and historically knowledgeable reader has pointed out that the winged sandals and winged staff mean this is the god Hermes. In my defence, he is at least the god of shepherds.]

Mosaic tiles. I don't know for sure, but I think this might have been the porch of someone's house.

Colourful mosaic tiles. I don’t know for sure, but I think this might have been the porch of someone’s house.

Stone arch featuring Medusa?

Stone arch: look at the detail!

Pomegranate trees among the ruins. I'd like to think the tree is a descended from the original Ephesian orchards.

Pomegranate trees among the ruins. I’d like to think the tree is descended from the original Ephesian orchards.

The library of Celsus is Ephesus’s most famous landmark. Being a photographer who embraces cliché, of course I had to get a picture of it.

Ephesus was founded around 1000 BC by the Ionians (Greek colonists) but the library dates from the much later Roman period, around 100 AD. You can imagine that the original building was very imposing.

The reconstructed facade of the Library of Celsus.

The reconstructed facade of the library of Celsus.

When I first saw the library, on a previous trip to Turkey years ago, I thought that the builders must have done very well given that it was still standing so many centuries later. And in an earthquake zone, too! The truth is more complicated: the library did indeed fall down in an earthquake in 262 AD. Only the facade remained, but that collapsed too in a later quake. The columns and sculptures of the facade are so well preserved because they were buried for many years, before a faithful reconstruction was carried out during the 1960s and 1970s.

Looking back up Curetes Street. More people than Magnesia, that's for sure.

Looking back up Curetes Street. More people than Magnesia, that’s for sure.

The agora.

The larger of the two agoras, close to the old harbour.

Stone pillar with inscriptions; 25,000 seat theatre in the background.

Stone pillar with inscriptions; 25,000 seat theatre in the background.

That was our day at Ephesus. Afterwards we took our visitors for dinner and a swim at Pamucak beach, which is just down the road. (The Küçük Menderes river used to flow into Ephesus’s harbour, but after centuries of silt deposits it now reaches the sea five kilometres away at Pamucak.) History followed by a beer on the beach seems a good day out to me.

Magnesia underestimated

We’re still feeling pretty low after the events of last week — and thanks, everyone, for all the support. Fortunately, I guess, we have a backlog of earlier activities to talk about.

In August we visited the ruins of Magnesia for the first time. We were especially interested because it’s the closest of the many ancient sites around the Menderes valley. That first visit we were impressed, but we missed out on seeing the stadium and the theatre as a walk up into the hills didn’t feel like a great plan in the heat. We should have been more adventurous…

In mid-September we went back with our visiting friends Berkan and Sofie. I was struck again by how the road and the railway line cut right through the old city walls, making for strange pairings of ancient and modern.

Truck driving through ancient Magnesia.

Truck driving through ancient Magnesia.

The honey-coloured stone is at its best as the sun sets.

The stone is at its best as the sun sets.

Don't blame Berkan for this: I asked him to pose like that.

Don’t blame Berkan for this: I asked him to pose like that.

It turns out that you don’t have to walk up into the hills to see the stadium. There’s a dirt access road that’s separate from the official entrance to the ruins, so a) you can drive in, and b) you can do it any time. The road goes past orchards and farmhouses and then you park by a massive wall of stone blocks. But nothing prepares you for the scale of the place as you walk around the corner and see row after row of stone seating dug out of the hillside. It’s an experience that will stay with me for some time. (Here’s the spot on Google Maps, if anyone is curious.)

Forgive the cheesiness, but in the three photos below I’ve circled the human figures in red. It was the only way I could think of to get across some sense of scale.

Taken from up on the western side of the stadium. That's Sirem sitting inside the red circle.

Taken from up on the western side of the stadium. That’s Sirem sitting inside the red circle.

Parts of the stadium are still buried; that huge ramp of dirt is what remains for the archaeologists to dig out.

Parts of the stadium are still buried; that huge ramp of dirt is what remains for the archaeologists to dig out.

The open end of the stadium looks out to the north, across cotton fields and towns.

The open end of the stadium looks out to the north, across cotton fields and towns to the hills beyond.

Half-buried column showing the fantastic colours in the stone.

Half-buried column showing the fantastic colours in the stone.

So, Magnesia is even more amazing than we thought, and we’re lucky to live so close to it. We spent nearly an hour wandering around the stadium, and the four of us were the only people there the whole time. I think that shows just how rich Turkey is in archaeological treasures: if this sort of structure was in most other countries, there’d be a crowd and a queue to get in.

The theatre was not quite on the same monumental scale, but was very beautiful, and also totally devoid of people. Unfortunately it was dark by the time we got there, so no photos yet. But that just gives us an excuse for another visit.

Rest and recreation

We can’t pick figs and tile floors all the time, so a few days ago we took the afternoon off and went to Pamucak beach to have a swim and watch the sunset. It’s a great beach that has avoided the let’s-build-a-giant-hotel-here problem because it’s down-river from Ephesus and so is protected for archaeological reasons. There’s a small beach cafe providing cold beer and shade, and the beach itself is wide and clean with perfect yellow sand. A great spot for a swim.

A quiet day at the beach

A quiet day at the beach

Three of the great features of the region in one shot: beaches, sunsets, and tractors.

Three of the great features of the region in one shot: beaches, sunsets, and tractors.

One of the fun parts of our project is that we kind of have a responsibility to get to know all of the tourist attractions in the area, so that later we can give people good advice about which ones they should see if their time is limited. With that in mind, we took another day to visit our closest attraction: the ruins of ancient Magnesia. It’s an evocative place, and must have been a spectacular sight when it was inhabited.

The ruins of Magnesia-on-the-Meander

Part of the ruins of Magnesia-on-the-Meander

Five lira to get in, which is about £1.40 or €1.75 or $2.35. Pretty reasonable! (We should have walked up into the hills to get shots of the amphitheatre and the stadium but the heat made us a bit lazy.)

Quite mournful to see all that impressive stonework lying tumbled around where it fell, perhaps in an earthquake.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair.

Look upon my works, ye mighty, and despair…

 

Moving to Turkey

Photo of us Hi, and welcome to our blog. Some of you will already know us, and will have heard about our crazy project in great detail.  For those who haven’t met us before, we’re Jason and Sirem.  We’ve had enough of our jobs in the UK and are about to move to rural Turkey to build a hotel.

Semi-detached Southampton house This is the house in Southampton we’ll be leaving behind. We’ve been here for seven years and it’s been a great place to live, but it’s time to go.

And here are some photos of where we’re going.  We bought a small farmhouse and about an acre of fig orchard on a hillside near the village of Hıdırbeyli.  Which is near the town of Germencik, just inland from Turkey’s Aegean coast.

The orchard as it looked in March 2014.

Sunset from the orchard, looking towards Mount Mycale.

Looking out across the olive groves.

We’ll be about half an hour from ruins of Ephesus, with many other archaeological sites only a short drive away (e.g., Priene, Magnesia, Miletus, Didyma, and Aphrodisia). We’re also about half an hour from the beach.

All that archaeology gave us the idea for what to call the hotel.  We’re right in the middle of what was once Ionia, one of the colonies of ancient Greece.  So our place will be the Ionia Guest House.

The plan is to build a small hotel with about six rooms around a central garden courtyard and pool.  We want it to work as a base for visiting the attractions of the Aegean coast, and at the same time give people a taste of the Turkish countryside. We plan to grow our own fruit and vegetables, to use great local food, and to raise chickens for eggs.  We want to build the place in a sustainable way (timber-frame straw bale construction, covered in local clay plaster). It’s going to take us a couple of years to get it all up and running, so the blog is for keeping people up to date on our progress.

Thanks for stopping by.

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