Tuesday, 17 August 2010

Swimming in the Aegean at Lost Paradise Beach

Lost Paradise Beach, 15 minutes beyond Ladies’ Beach in Kuşadasi ... it is worth taking the steep path down to the beach for a walk on the sand or swimming in the clear blue Aegean waters (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Patrick Comerford

Kind guidebooks and websites describe Ladies’ Beach, a few kilometres south of Kuşadasi, as the “Cannes of Turkey.” The Rough Guide to Turkey is less kind when it describes this resort as “a brash, mercenary and unpleasant Las-Vegas-on-Sea.”

But luxury cruisers continue to stop here every day, for Kuşadasi is the main port for Ephesus, and the resort is also popular with Russians wanting to buy low-price but good quality jewellery, carpets and furs. And classists and Biblical scholars alike love the place, for this is the gateway not only to Ephesus and the Artemision, but also to Priene, Miletus and Didyma, and it is possible from here to go on a day-trip to Hierapolis, Pamukkale and Laodicea.

Ladies’ Beach in Kuşadasi ... it may not be the Cannes of the Eastern Mediterranean, but it is a pleasant place for a walk on the beach, or for dinner in the evening (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

The Rough Guide speaks of Kusadasi being filled with touts targeting single women and “beer guzzling holiday makers.” It goes on to warn that while “Kadinlar Denizi (Ladies’ Beach) may suggest itself as a cheap and cheerful base ... accommodation here can be squalid, and the poor beach can’t compensate for its relative remoteness.”

However, I am staying in the Palmin Sunset Plaza Hotel, just beyond Ladies’ Beach, at the end of a short dolmus trip. The hotel staff are cheerful, but this is certainly not cheap. And, as this my third time here, so you can imagine I find both the accommodation and the location anything but squalid, poor or remote.

Each morning, I have breakfast looking out at the sea, with small sandy beach below. I have been able to swim in the pool every day. Most evenings, I have taken the five-minute dolmus run, costing about 75 cent each trip, down to Ladies’ Beach to stroll along the promenade, watching the sun set majestically in the water just north of the island of Samos, and to sit and dine, viewing the waves roll into the beach from a moon-lit Aegean.

But instead of going to Ladies’ Beach yesterday [Monday, 16 August], I took the steep path behind the hotel down a small beach the glories in the name of “Lost Paradise” (Kayip Cennet). The path is tough and difficult for anyone with my health problems, but the reward is wonderful, and I would have to be wallowing in self-pity not to want to walk down to this beach.

The temperatures were in the high 30s all day, hovering between 37 and 39 into the afternoon. I started reading Janet Soskice’s Sisters of Sinai, her account of Scottish twin sisters and their discovery of an early copy of the Four Gospels in Saint Catherine’s Monastery in Mount Sinai.

This is an historical work by the Professor of Philosophical Theology at Cambridge. But it is written with the pace and delight of a first-class novel, and full of people and places I know from stories heard and read in places I too delight in – from Cambridge to Greece, Turkey and the Middle East, and even with people I have met, including Father Justin, who once welcomed me to the Library in Saint Catherine’s.

I was on the beach at “Lost Paradise” when I came to the point where the young Smith sisters, Agnes and Margaret, arrive in Constantinople, and then move on to Smyrna, and find that they immediately like the Turks.

I could have sat there all day, reading this book. But I was also tempted constantly to, take breaks to swim in the clean, clear, aquamarine water, with sand beneath that seems to stretch for miles out into the sea.

Swimming is a pleasure in the clean, clear, aquamarine waters at Lost Paradise Beach, with sand that seems to stretch for miles out into the sea (Photograph: Patrick Comerford, 2010)

Eventually, but with a touch of reluctance, I left in the late afternoon, and climbed back up the steep path to the Palmin Sunset Plaza, to have a shower and to get ready for dinner in the back streets of the old walled town of Kuşadasi.