Business, Finance & Economics

The other side of an Aegean wonderland


BEHRAMKALE, Turkey — During the summertime pilgrimage of tourists to the picturesque Aegean coastline, cars and Mercedes buses jostle for space along a thin ribbon of road.

Chic Istanbulis merge with foreign tourists, all in search of the sunny beaches and rocky isles of Gokceada, Cesme and Bodrum.

Owing to its sheer beauty and increasing accessibility, the region has built its financial foundation on the bedrock of tourism.

The scene is decadent and colorful, a home for paparazzi and the celebrities they chase, and the populations of dozens of coastal villages swell tenfold during the high season.

In the off-season, this coastline — the scene of some of the bloodiest and most epic battles in history — becomes nothing if not more striking by virtue of its emptiness.

As the temperature drops and the pace slows, villages of thousands wilt to the few dozen locals willing to bear the harsh winds and loneliness of the season. One can drive for hours without finding a village with an open restaurant, let alone an open hotel.

Small fishing villages dot the coast, their cobblestone streets smooth from centuries of wear. There is an overwhelming feeling of wide-openness on the Aegean Sea; the current of brisk air seems to penetrate to the bone.

The landscape is rough and unrefined, farmed acreage appearing haphazardly between miles of brush and scraggly Judas-trees. Sporadically, a Roman arch or citadel will appear on the horizon, a reminder of the grand past this land has inherited, from the days of fabled Troy to the pivotal World War I battles at Gallipoli.

Even at the famed sites of Ephesus, one of the most visited sites in Turkey, there is a surprising solitude, with only the most intrepid tourists willing to bear the brunt of bad weather to see one of the seven churches of Asia cited in the Book of Revelation.

It is in the winter, after the beach blankets are discarded and the global party circuit moves on, that a picture reminiscent of life in Turkey hundreds — or even thousands — of years ago emerges.