The day before Angie headed back to Istanbul, we rented a car to explore the ancient ruins of Priene, Miletus, and Didyma, scattered along the Turkish Aegean coast. Despite the extreme sticker shock of a full tank of gas, it was one of our nicest days. Free to wander (and on my part wanting to use up all that expensive gas we’d just bought), we decided to take a detour and follow a random brown sign on our tourist map, maybe indicating a castle off the highway.
This landed us on a dirt road surrounded by cotton fields. After several turns, helpful pointing in the opposite direction from a farmer, followed by a long, rocky road through more fields, we realized that perhaps wandering takes some planning and a real map. Maybe checking to see if you have a spare tire. But did we learn? Nope.
Eventually we found ourselves confronting an unimpressive ruin of a castle on a small hill. There was a reason it wasn’t listed in our guidebook we decided. We took a few pictures that will never be shown to the world, scurried back to the car at the first sign of a barking farm dog, and were soon back on the highway and in route to explore the Lonely Planet approved sites.
Which we did, rushing through a series of dusty, ancient ruins under the baking sun. By late afternoon, I thought we should take a dip in a hidden bay in Dilek Pennisula National Park since, according to some lines on our tourist map, it was on our way back to Selçuk. Angie thought otherwise, but I was determined.
So we drove along a series of winding back roads, first landing at a beautiful deserted bay, where we should have stayed, but I thought the water was too shallow and warm, the bottom mucky, and we could find something better along the way. Of course there was no other way. The road ended.
Somewhere along Dilek Peninsula, Turkey
We tuned around, making several more attempts to find a road through the park but instead we kept landing near what looked like a ghost town nestled in the side of a small mountain. On our final attempt, we followed a dirt road toward the village, sure our car wouldn’t make it over the mountain if this turned out to be the route. But the dirt road was short and soon paved again, almost as if the paved portion had been deliberatively removed to keep people out. Once again the road ended, but this time it was at a pretty stone building—the national park tourist and information center, where we learned there were no roads through the park from the South. Problem solved.
We toured the park building with our eager guide who did not speak English, but was helpful in pointing out all the interpretive materials in Turkish and English and insisting we take photos posed in front of a stuffed weasel-like creature baring its sharp teeth. We also learned the ghost town was called Doğanbey.
According to the park signage, the village, previously known as Domatia, was populated by ethnic Greeks until the population exchange in 1923 when Turkey gained its independence. Note: population exchange is a nice name for what is, in other places, called forced expulsion based on religion, and in relation to the removal of Armenians from eastern Turkey around the same time, often called genocide. The Turkish government, however, disagrees with this term.
Ethnic Greeks along the coast were pushed out of Turkey (along with Turks living on Greek islands), which is why Turkey, although technically a secular state, is 98% Muslim. The non-Muslims were all asked to leave some time ago.
So in 1923, Domatia became Doğanbey and was eventually deserted and left to crumble. In the 1990s, parcels became part of the park and restoration of some buildings began. Today people do live there. The only we met were, surprisingly, Americans, just arriving to visit a friend who’d bought a house in the village sight unseen.
He picked well.
We followed the narrow, cobbled roads, past crumbling stone houses snuggling restored, boutique cottages, catching glimpses of sparkling bay through gnarled olive trees and draping bougainvillea. Just cats and silence. I wanted to curl up in a hammock on one of the verandas and stay. Maybe forever. It’s a perfect writing village. Or maybe a setting for a book set in the 1920s. Either way, well worth the price in gas and getting lost. And it wasn’t even in our Lonely Planet.