Ionia Guest House

Luxury accommodation in the Aegean countryside

Tag: mountains

It’s framing again

At the risk of never talking about anything except construction… it’s good to be doing timber framing again. Compared to detail work like making windows or furniture, it all goes very fast as most of the time you don’t need to sand or stain the wood. Just cut it to size, get it up there, and fire some nails into it. (OK, with some of the bigger beams it’s a bit more involved, but the basic story is the same.)

Framing the walls for rooms three and four.

And at the end of each day you’ve got something different to what you started with: it’s a great morale boost to see the skeleton of a building emerge from the concrete slab.

We’ve alternated our work on the two buildings (i.e., the bungalow that will be rooms three and four, versus our new house-to-be). First the brickwork, then the treated timber base plate, then on top of that the wall framing, followed by the central beams. Currently we’ve reached the stage of putting up rafters for building two. So a real roof is not far off. It’s going to make the straw bale work a lot easier this time to have the roof up first, the way it’s supposed to happen. We won’t have to panic and drag out the tarpaulins every time it rains.

Roof tiles will get used soon after a year of waiting around.

Treated timber bolted down to the slab for our new house.

Hopefully the pool pavilion will look a bit less lonely once building two is done. You can see in the shot below how close it is to the west wall of room three. Close enough to be partially tucked in under the eaves. And the solid wall of the new building will help make the pavilion a shady spot for a few more hours each day.

Rooms three and four main beam up.

The wall timbers are up for the new house, and now we’re just waiting on some of the larger beams and joists to arrive for the next push upwards. The house has a significantly taller roofline than the other two buildings, to make room for that mezzanine first-floor bedroom. So there’s a minor worry that it could look a bit overly imposing. On the other hand, it should help that it will be the one right at the back. We’ll see how it works out. Too late to change the plans now!

New house starts to take shape.

Sketchup diagram of the new house shows what we’re working towards.

View through the house from front door to back.

One day these will be the kitchen windows looking out onto olive trees.

Winter brings a huge proportion of the annual rainfall around here, so that means we get days where it really buckets down. Not much you can do while that’s happening except take the day off, or maybe do some metalwork in our little workshop under the pool deck. The day afterwards is tricky, too, as you don’t want to be climbing up on woodwork that is still slippery from the rain.

Rainy day construction.

Rainy day metalwork: cutting some angle iron for corner bracing.

Luckily it is never too long until the sun comes out again. Here’s a nice sunny day shot looking up the driveway. You can see all the new work happening in the centre distance there.

View up the driveway from the cafe area. Gate coming one day soon.

It struck me the other day that I probably haven’t taken a photo that wasn’t cats, dogs, or construction in more than a year. Which is a bit sad, but it’s hard to get away and take pictures when there’s still so much to do. So this week I did try to do something a little bit different. But more on that below. First let’s get the required animal photos out of the way.

Coco, pretending not to be interested in the camera.

Lucy is growing up to be a lovely half-cat, half-giraffe cross.

Suzie, who you don’t get to see much of because she is shy.

Fluffy — not really our dog, but an admirer of Zeliş’s who visits a lot. He’s very sweet.

So I did get away, just slightly, to take some different photos to the usual. I confess I didn’t get very far though, and really they ended up being construction photos after all, so I will need to do more to break out of this rut. Anyway, here’s a trail winding up into the hills on the other side of the valley from our place. (Not the big Meander Valley; I mean the little valley our village sits in.)

Trail in the hills.

I went up there because it’s a hillside we look at every day, and I figured if we can see it there must be a good view from there looking back at us. Very happy with the resulting shots, as apart from the aerial shots on Google Maps we’ve never had such a nice overview of the project in one photo before. From left to right, you can see the water tanks, the new house, building two, the pavilion and the pool, the original building, and then the driveway winding down and to the left, leading down to the old farmhouse. It’s also nice to see how much we’re surrounded by olive trees.

View back towards our place giving an overview of the project.

Wider shot for context.

In the wide shot we’re that cluster of buildings about a third of the way in from the right-hand side. I really like this one as it properly shows we’re in the foothills of those mountains in the background.

And one final bit of news: we were pleasantly surprised to find some people had made bookings for February. Weren’t really expecting guests until things warm up in April or May. But we’re grateful, and I hope the weather repays their optimism!

Edit: by special request, some more Sketchup views of the house. There’s a fair bit of detail so you can click on these four images for a larger view.

View from the south.

View from the north-west showing rear veranda roof. Might make it into a covered porch one day.

Structure of the mezzanine area and stairs.

Interior view showing kitchen / lounge area and catwalk leading to south window (view from up there will be too good not to build a catwalk).


Framing and planting

Apparently some readers worry that there won’t be any animal photos in a new blog entry. So this time I thought I would end the suspense and get the animal photo out of the way early. (Only one this week, sorry.) Here is Cezmi — our construction site manager in cat form — sampling the water of the swimming pool.

Cezmi by the pool

Cezmi by the pool

So we’re working pretty hard at the moment, doing long days six days a week. Rain is our only interruption, and it’s getting to the time of year when rain is a rare event. A couple of Sundays ago we gave ourselves the day off and went for a drive in the mountains. Here are Sirem’s parents posing at the side of the road. This spot is about twenty minutes up into the hills behind our house.

Sirem's mum and dad, Nadire and Dogan

Sirem’s mum and dad, Nadire and Doğan. We wouldn’t be making so much progress if they weren’t doing a lot of the cooking and shopping for us — thanks!

We had lunch in the beautiful village of Birgi, right next door to the ski resort at Ödemiş, about 80km northeast. And did a tour of the local garden centres, but more on that later.

View of Birgi

View of Birgi

Traditional Turkish architecture in Birgi

Traditional architecture in Birgi

The building work is progressing well. We’re roughly on schedule, but can’t afford to relax as there’s still a lot to do if we want to be ready for our first guests by the end of summer.

The first phase of the work was getting the bathroom walls up. (They’re made of brick so we don’t have to worry about water from the showers ever penetrating the straw bale walls.) We’ve learned to lay bricks pretty well, I think, although we are nowhere near as fast as Koray.

Bathroom brickwork

Bathroom brickwork and improvised sunshade

The next step was taking the 10cm x 10cm lengths of treated timber and bolting them down to the concrete slab to act as a secure base plate for the timber framing. This went a lot easier than I thought it would. Luckily we have a beast of a drill that makes holes in the concrete without any fuss at all. We then used a two-part epoxy to glue 14mm threaded rod into the holes. Incredible stuff and it’s all rock-solid now.

Putting down the treated timber base plates

Putting down the treated timber base plates: you can start to see the floor plan

After that it was time for the timber framing to begin in earnest. Of course it’s not something we’ve done before, but after watching some videos on YouTube how hard can it be?  :)



The walls have gone up fast, although there are still details to take care of, like completing the internal stud walls and finishing all the window sill and lintel boxes. We’ve currently moved on to the spine of the building and put up some columns and beams that will help hold up the roof. Lots of this timber will be exposed in the finished build, so we took a bit more time with it and sanded each piece before it went up.


View of the exposed column-and-beam arrangement in room 1, looking through to the kitchen and cafe beyond. Please disregard the blocks of scrap timber temporarily holding it together.


The spine of the building, looking the other way towards the pool. Note that the ridge of the roof will be about 1.6 metres higher again.


Detail of a wooden column with T-bar support for the beams


Our favourite local mountain shot through the framing

There has also been some progress on the landscaping front. The gardens still look a bit dry and sparse but hopefully as everything matures they will become beautiful.


The fruits of a trip to the garden centre


Trying to make the most of the slope by building lots of small gardens on different levels


Kumquat and some kind of grass thing


Bougainvillea that will one day be encouraged to wrap itself around a verandah post


Lily in the sun

The pool railings are finished and installed: welding by Koray, painting by Sirem. We like how the ferforje (curly bits) turned out. Ornate, but not too fiddly.


New railings in place


Terracotta pots seem to suit the pool area

Most of our photos are taken from the south side of the building site, perhaps because that’s where the driveway puts you as you come up the hill. Here are a couple of shots from the north side that give a different perspective. The first one is a panorama showing the current condition of the pool area. The seating on the left is going to be great once we render the brickwork and build a pavilion roof: it’s possibly a bit too sunny at the moment.


Pool panorama

This one is taken from across the road on the opposite hill. You can see the whole project from here. From left to right: slab for our house, slab for rooms 3 and 4, the pool area (behind the poplar), timber frame under construction, and the driveway.


Project overview shot

And finally, I know I take too many photos of this mountain, but forgive me.  It’s hard to resist, and I don’t get out much.


Mount Mycale and Mount Thorax in changeable morning light


Going up-river

We hit a minor milestone last Friday: we finished the tiling and painting work on the third of the farmhouse bedrooms. This will definitely help with accommodating future visitors, but it also gave us the space to unpack almost all of the remaining boxes from our move. It was good to see our books again, for example.

Our third and final farmhouse bedroom, tiled and painted.

Our third and final farmhouse bedroom, tiled and painted.

Two dogs means two dog houses.

Two dogs means two dog houses.

Zeliş needed a dog house to keep warm just as much as Zeytin did, so that was one afternoon’s construction work. Still needs to be painted though.

The kitchen is still not finished, which makes me feel guilty. But there’s progress all the time: here’s a shot of the new pantry, and you can see our rustic handmade drawers on the right.

Kitchen progress.

Kitchen progress.

We’ve reached the stage now where it’s time to lay the backsplash and countertop tiles. We already bought ornately decorated hexagonal tiles for the worktop, but we needed something complementary for the backsplash. Sirem had heard that there were great stone tiles to be had in Denizli, a city a few hours away up the Menderes Valley. It was time to take a drive up-river.

The Menderes valley looking from west to east.

The Menderes valley looking from west to east.

A brief geography reminder: we live on the north side of the valley of the Menderes river, which for the Ancient Greeks was the Meander or Maiandros. Nowadays the valley is known as a great place to grow figs, but in the ancient world it was the start of the main route from Europe into Asia. Most of Turkey is one big mountainous plateau, and the valley of the Meander gave an easy approach into the Anatolian interior, avoiding the steep mountains of the south coast. It’s weird to think that Xerxes, Xenophon, and Alexander the Great all travelled up or down the valley and probably within a few kilometres of our house. (For more historical background, if anyone is curious, we recommend Jeremy Seal’s excellent book Meander: East to West along a Turkish River, which two different sets of friends gave us as a very appropriate gift.)

On the map above, Denizli is right up at the top of the valley, near Pamukkale, which is a big tourist attraction because of its unique limestone terraces. We visited Pamukkale on  a holiday years ago, and we must have driven west down the main valley road as there’s no other way to get to Ephesus, our next stop. But we don’t have a clear memory of that drive, and this time around we have never gone further inland than Aydin. So the day felt like an expedition into new territory.

View across the Menderes valley near Pamukkale.

View across the Menderes valley near Pamukkale.

The mountains either side of the upper valley reach 2000 metres and more, so there was still plenty of snow on the peaks. We stopped at Pamukkale but it didn’t photograph well on an overcast day, so I have shamelessly stolen a picture from Wikimedia Commons. As you can see, it’s worth a visit in summer.

The terraces at Pamukkale. Not my photo: credit goes Antoine Taveneaux and Wikimedia Commons.

The terraces at Pamukkale. Not my photo: credit goes to Antoine Taveneaux and Wikimedia Commons.

After some searching we found the tile place we were looking for. I think the guy who helped us was maybe used to larger pallet-sized orders, but he graciously did not complain about helping us to count out several hundred individual tiles and load them into the back of the truck. In the rain. We’re very happy with them: the lighter marble squares are for the kitchen backsplash, and the chunky stone tiles are to make a kind of skirting-board in the oldest bedroom that should protect the base of the mud-brick walls.

Stone tiles from Denizli.

Stone tiles from Denizli.

And now I should go and feed some hungry dogs. Until next time!

Not in the script

We moved to this warm, sunny corner of Turkey partly because we were tired of UK winters. You can therefore imagine how thrilled we have been to get a blast of cold weather from Siberia. On the coldest day, the maximum was only two degrees, and at night it got down to minus seven. I know that’s nothing for readers from places like Canada or Scandinavia, but it felt pretty cold to us!  Very tough conditions for the local stray dogs and cats, too, so we’ve been trying to help them out as much as possible.

Snow on the peaks.

Snow on the peaks.

People in the village are telling us it’s the coldest weather they’ve seen for fifty years.  Neighbours have lost crops like spinach and broad beans, which is a shame — these weren’t crops for sale, but to make their winter diet a bit more interesting.

We switched bedrooms to help stay warm: we had been in one of the newer farmhouse rooms as it’s a bit larger, but moved back to the small bedroom in the old house. Compared to the basic breeze-block construction of the newer buildings, the half-a-metre-thick mud-brick walls of the old place make it so much easier to stay warm. Which is probably a good sign for what we can expect from our straw bale walls in winter.

The truck has coped well with some winter mud.

The truck has coped well with winter driving conditions.

I suppose the good news is that this was just a freak weather event, and not something we should expect every year.  And the dusting of snow on the hills and mountains did look great.

Not so much snow in this shot, but you can see how green the landscape looks from all that winter rain. That's the town of Selçuk in the distance, with part of the ruins of Ephesus in the left foreground.

Not so much snow in this shot, but you can see how green the landscape looks from all that winter rain. That’s the town of Selçuk in the distance, with part of the ruins of Ephesus in the left foreground.

Yesterday things turned warmer so we got some work done, but today there’s been a big downpour of rain: we’re expecting about 30 mm.  A great excuse to sit in a warm room with a coffee and write blog posts.

Sam looking fat and happy: the warm-milk ration has been increased because of the cold weather.

Sam looking fat and happy: the warm-milk ration has been increased because of the cold weather.

Marlowe drinking from a bucket and thereby doing his best Nosferatu impression.

Marlowe drinking from a bucket and thereby doing his best Nosferatu impression.



More local discoveries

It’s getting colder now. Late last night the thermometer went into single figures (9 degrees) for the first time. But most days are pleasant and sunny, and we’re pushing on with a long list of projects. Small steps, but we’re getting there. For example, we had a solar hot water system installed on the roof today, and I spent the afternoon pulling down the last of the old shed so we can re-use the bricks to make raised beds in the garden.

Still, that kind of activity doesn’t necessarily lead to good photos. So I’ve decided to use this post to show you more of the beautiful towns and landscapes we’ve found on our days off,  touring around what was once Ionia.

First, Şirince: this pretty town in the mountains is very popular and worth the drive up from Selçuk. Local mythology says it was founded by escaped slaves from Ephesus. Until 1926 it was called Çirkince (“ugly”) which was apparently a strategy to discourage too many visitors.


Distinctive Greek architectural influences.


View from the window of the old Byzantine church.


Looking across the rooftops as the sun sets.


Shop selling fabric.

On another trip we visited some friends who were staying in the much quieter village of Eski Doğanbey, on the south side of the Dilek National Park peninsula. This place has a similar Greek heritage to Şirince. Both villages were inhabited by Greeks during Ottoman times, and it was only in the earliest days of the new Turkish state, during the population exchanges of 1923, that Turkish farmers first moved in. In Eski Doğanbey those farmers found that they preferred working the flatter, more fertile land down in the Menderes valley, and so the town was abandoned for many years. In recent decades  people have started restoring the traditional stone houses, but the village remains a quiet place to get away from everything.


Looking south from  Eski Doğanbey to the mouth of the Menderes and the Aegean sea.


Restored house with fantastic bay window.


Streets of  Eski Doğanbey by moonlight.

We also returned to the mountains behind our house. We tried a different road this time, east to İncirliova (halfway to Aydın) and then north, across the hills to Tire. It is very special up there.


Pine forest, lake, and sweeping views in the mountains.


Top left shows geological strata in a road cutting; bottom right there’s a tiny farmhouse.

And finally, the latest animal-related drama: we always suspected that Sütlaç had had a litter of kittens in summer. They must have been under our noses all along, as the three of them are now living in the field across from our house, and we’re feeding them regularly. Aydın has a shelter for dogs, but there’s nowhere to take cats, so the responsibility is on us.

They’re just a bit too timid to allow themselves to be picked up (yet), but are very sweet nevertheless.


More kittens.

It’s a new car!

Well, not new exactly. More like 2007.

We were feeling increasingly guilty about borrowing Sirem’s mum and dad’s car. And we needed something capable of carrying a load of timber or tiles or plants home, but also able to pick up four people and luggage from the airport. So we bought a double-cab Toyota Hilux. We heard they were tough and reliable: you do tend to see them on the news being driven around conflict zones, for example. Very happy with it so far.

The new truck. Our transformation into proper rednecks is now complete.

The new truck. Our transformation into proper rednecks is now complete.

Better have a road trip to test it out, right? We had to go to Izmir anyway, to sort out some paperwork for our here-any-day-now container. So on the way back we got off the highway and drove to the town of Tire, in the next valley north of ours. Then home via some narrow, winding roads across the mountains.

It was a bit of a gamble, as we weren’t 100% sure there was a proper road going all the way across. But we’re so happy we took the chance: the scenery was breathtaking. We knew that our place sat in the foothills of a decent-sized mountain range, but we didn’t realize how beautiful and secluded it was up there.

Looking north, with Tire in the distance.

Looking north, with Tire in the distance.

The view across to the other side of the Kuçuk Menderes valley.

The view across to the other side of the Küçük  Menderes valley.

The first part of the drive we were climbing with views of the farmland around Tire. Then we got over the ridge and we were up into a different world. Steep hillsides covered with figs even at that altitude, and deep ravines sheltering villages of old stone houses. It was so quiet up there, and at least 5 degrees cooler than down on the plain.

Range after range of hills, looking east.

Range after range of hills, looking east.

You get the feeling they don't really need the fence. There was nobody around.

You get the feeling they don’t really need the fence. There was nobody around.

We have to go back soon…

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