Didim and its famous Altınkum (Golden Sands) waterfront neighborhood are a perfect example of how a former somewhat isolated cluster of villages and hamlets on Turkey’s splendid southern Aegean coast over time successfully managed to transform itself into a leading international holiday resort, complete with marina, without ever losing its charm.
Actually, some commentators, including this contributor, who as a part-time “Didimian” had the pleasure to closely follow the area’s development over a good number of years, would argue that incoming tourism and the related revenue not only created a sustainable tourism hotspot but helped make the town a better place to live, too. Think new roads where there were dusty pathways before. Consider the much-improved shopping facilities. Pay respect to an ever-increasing number of high-quality chefs in top restaurants. Furthermore, both Turkish and international homebuyers continue to find affordable dream apartments, often for well below TL 100,000.
At the same time, there are palm-tree lined avenues outside the more upmarket estates (easily twice the above price and more), and now six blue-flagged beaches. Didimians are hardworking, friendly and open to the people of the world. What’s more, the area has an aspiring young Turkish generation who are extremely well educated, because the local state schools are of a high standard. Besides, I must mention the outpost of a regional university in neighboring Akbük and a tourism management training school in Didim itself.
Turkish Aegean laissez-faire at its best
Getting here is easy. Didim is close to two international airports: Bodrum is considered its “home airport,” located just under 100 kilometers away, whereas İzmir (150 kilometers in the opposite direction) offers better year-round connections either direct or via İstanbul from an ever-growing number of destinations. A recent addition is direct flights to and from the Republic of Ireland.
For those of our readers already in the country, Didim is a mere two hours’ drive from İzmir. Didim can be reached by domestic plane, rented car, train via İzmir and direct coaches from many parts of Turkey including Ankara, Antalya or Samsun and of course İstanbul.
Day 1 (Sunday): Welcome
Since this is your first day you should take it easy. Familiarize yourself with your “temporary permanent” neighborhood, and go for an extended walk -- you will be surprised at how easy it is to navigate Altınkum. All three hotels introduced below have a pool as you would expect. If you are more into sea swimming than pools, you can choose between Altınkum Beach, Second Beach and Third Beach. Please remember to apply a sufficient amount of sunscreen: September and even October sunburns are not unheard of in this part of the country.
Day 2 (Monday): Five bays boat tour
A great way to appreciate Didim’s coastline is while enjoying a leisurely boat trip. Many tours stop over at up to five bays, some of which are only accessible by sea. Boats run every day during the season, leaving from Altınkum’s main beach, adjacent to the municipality’s teahouse. Departure time is 10 a.m., and you will arrive back on shore before 5 p.m. Food and drinks are generally available on an all-inclusive basis.
Day 3 (Tuesday): Yeşilkent
Didim defies the (un-)logic that mass tourism and peaceful, tree-lined residential neighborhoods cannot happily coexist. I suggest you board a minibus to Yeşilkent and get off at the last stop, Venosa Hotel. Turn around and enter one of the nicest parts of Didim. Villas galore, well-kept gardens, too, cars are only allowed to park in designated areas, and one of the entire region’s most beautiful beaches, Gaye 2, is just around the corner. A splendid view across a huge bay to Akbük, crystal clean water and another proper sandy beach, as opposed to what we all too often have to make do with in many Mediterranean or Aegean resorts. In other words, sand: no gravel or stones.
Day 4 (Wednesday): History lessons can be fun
Yes indeed, I do suggest combining days of lazing next to the pool or swimming in the sea with taking a close look at Didim’s Apollo Temple, a must-see. Visitors can walk amidst centuries-old columns and appreciate our forefathers’ architectural skills.
The road adjacent to the temple has now become a pedestrian zone except for the few village residents who may continue to use their cars; all trucks and tour buses are directed elsewhere, but there is a convenient bus stop on a road only a couple of hundred yards away.
Walk around Yoran village and stop over at the Yoran Restaurant, tucked away in a side street among impressive trees, where Özer Bey welcomes an eclectic mix of Turkish and international guests in a renovated farmhouse.
Day 5 (Thursday): The town
In order to fully appreciate the layout of Didim, why not take a walk in “downtown” Yenihisar, the commercial center of the former market town eventually turned resort. If this is your first trip to Turkey, this is your average Turkish main street, as all the chain stores and shops we would find in Ankara or İzmir can be found here, too, albeit in much smaller versions (think furniture, food, supermarkets, electronics, banks et cetera). Then again, you will also discover an old-fashioned tailor’s shop, a restaurant where time stands still but improvements in quality do not, a street vendor selling mussels and clams, and above all else you will realize that the majority of Didim shops continue to be proudly run by local families, not by multinational corporations. If you fancy something out of the ordinary that is possible to find, too, I once bought an evening party dress for my daughter in a local shop.
Day 6 (Friday): Off to Aqua Park
Aqua Park is a theme park for water enthusiasts and is exactly what Didim needed. It is located just outside of town, can be reached by minibus and means fun for young and old and offers a super-sized pool with a view over the Aegean Sea, too, as the park is build on a hillside. There is a separate game room for children should they tire of being in the water; there is a foam machine (health- and safety-certified) and a restaurant on site as well. Don’t forget to pick up a local newspaper or ask in the supermarkets as they often hand out Aqua Park admission coupons worth TL 5 per person per visit.
Day 7 (Saturday): Sunset time
One of Didim’s more residential neighborhoods, Mavişehir, now offers not only a fair number of waterfront eateries but what is perhaps one of the entire region’s best sunsets, too. You can walk along what is commonly known as the Aşk Gemisi, or “Love Boat” -- a promenade built alongside the small harbor, allowing for unobstructed views. Alternatively head to Sedefköy (just ask for directions), and after a 15-minute stroll you will find an outdoor café-restaurant, perfectly situated with its own small public beach, that has become another favorite spot from which to watch the sunset. Mavişehir can be reached from Altınkum by minibus every 20 minutes or so including late in the evening; there is no better way to round off your week in one of Turkey’s most desirable holiday resorts.
Where to stay:
Although there are 5-star all-inclusive hotels in Didim, why not from try a more traditional, family-run place, where Turkish hospitality is often at its best? My tried and tested choices: three comfortable yet affordable hotels -- +/- TL 120 per room in season for two adults, and ask for promotional offers. All offer a bar, hot and cold food and above all good-sized pools, and welcome families with children. Reservations prior to arrival strongly suggested.
Esra Apart Otel, Altnkum close to Third Beach: telephone 0256 813 73 83
Grand Didyma Otel, Altınkum center: telephone 0256 813 20 38
Star Apart Otel, Altınkum center: telephone 0256 813 12 79
Where to eat out in style:
Expect to spend TL 20 – 30 per person for dinner including one drink
Taxim Restaurant, Altınkum center: telephone 0256 813 58 00
Terrace Park Restaurant, Altınkum center: telephone 0256 813 23 22
Yoran Bar and Restaurant, Yoran village, five minutes’ walk from the Apollo Temple
TL 25 adults, TL 20 children: telephone 0256 825 52 00