First, a quick Turkish language lesson.
“Merhaba” means hello.
“Nasilsin” means how are you.
“Sirince” means pleasant.
And it is. So much so, in fact, that the original Greek settlers initially called this bucolic corner of western Turkey “Çirkince,” meaning ugly, just to keep visitors away lest they discover how beautiful it really was and try to steal it from them.
When the Mayan new year rolled around in 2012 and the world was predicted to end, this small village of about 600 inhabitants was inundated by tourists who believed its positive energy – due to its close proximity to the house of the Virgin Mary – would save them from an apocalyptic catastrophe.
All proof, of course, that this is God’s country. And didn’t we know it when we arrived at our first Sirince stop, Güllü Konaklari’s vineyard cottage, a ramshackle stone house surrounded by vineyards, olive and pomegranate trees and lavender bushes. We took a seat at a table laden with Turkish dips, baskets overflowing with grapes and figs and bottles of local Urla wine, and wished we’d booked a couple of nights’ stay here on this sun-soaked hilltop.
Alas, we hadn’t, so after a lazy lunch we headed back down the pine-covered hillside into the main village where we checked in our simple hotel Kirkinca House and started exploring the narrow cobbled streets.
We passed rough-hewn whitewashed stone houses covered in creeping oleanders and grape vines; stalls run by leathery-skinned women in the local uniform of baggy floral trousers with head scarves tied around their faces selling crocheted dolls and kerchiefs, white cotton dresses and colourful hand-knitted woollen socks; and small cafes squeezing out fresh pomegranate juice and serving up Susurluk Ayran (a local speciality that’s basically a frothy yoghurt drink). Some might find it twee, but for us it was all very charming.
As we moved further towards the village’s main square we came across stalls crammed with bundles of dried sage, sumac, thyme, lavender and rosemary, as well as hand-bottled olives and olive oils. There were dozens of small bars decorated with antique kilims serving up local fruit wines made mostly from peaches, plums and cherries, colourful handmade ice-cream carts, as well as the odd kilim and “antiqueche” stores. At one point we spotted a pair of newly weds – her in a simple white slip with a mimosa crown perched on her head and a bottle of Veuve in hand, him in all white linens grabbing onto her hand for dear life lest she slip on the smooth cobblestones.
Unfortunately this is not a corner of the globe that’s undiscovered by tourists, so we did occasionally have to muscle our way through a few small crowds. But thankfully the busyness hasn’t ruined the town’s inherent charm… yet (read: get there soon).
Eventually we reached our destination, Gullu Konaklari’s boutique hotel, tucked away at the far edge of town. There we sat in a courtyard surrounded by lavender bushes and sipped Turkish narince wine as we watched the sun go down.
Then it was an early night to bed. The next morning we were off at day break to explore the famous ruins of Ephesus, once the seat of power for the Roman Empire in the eastern Mediterranean, that’s worth the 20-minute drive if you can stomach big crowds.
Sirince, you’re lovely. I can’t wait to meet you again one day soon.