This article has been previously published as a part of book Around Ephesus and Kusadasi: TAN Travel Guide by Izabela Miszczak
Many travellers find it hard to believe that Şirince, situated among scenic hills, surrounded by orchards and gardens, once bore the name Çirkince ('abomination'). The present name ('Charming') much better reflects the aesthetic experiences during a visit to this village.
The history of human settlement in Şirince area supposedly dates back to the times when the ancient city of Ephesus was abandoned by its residents. However, there is not much hard evidence of proving the truth of this assumption. Carefully seekers can find the fragments of the Roman-period sewer system by a local spring and note Roman funeral urns used as a fountain in the centre of the village. In the 15th century CE, the area was settled by Greek freedmen. Apparently, they named their settlement Çirkince to deter others from living in this beautiful settlement.
Until the 20s of the 20th century, the village was mostly inhabited by Orthodox Greeks. Despite the fact that these areas were under Turkish rule from the 14th century, Greek villagers kept a high degree of autonomy, had their churches and schools, and chose their mayor. In the 19th century, Şirince, called then Kirkinje, experienced the time of great economic prosperity, its income arising mainly from the export of figs and tobacco. From this period comes a beautiful school building, currently housing a restaurant and a small private museum.
During the Balkan Wars, in 1912, some Greeks from Kirkinje agitated for the annexation of this region to Greece. The Ottoman government responded with severe repressions, intensified during the First World War. When the Greek army invaded the western part of Turkey in 1919, many men from Kirkinje joined it, fighting against their Turkish neighbours. As a result of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923, the former inhabitants of the village were displaced to different areas of Greece. Their place was taken by the Turkish inhabitants of Thessaloniki. At that time, the village name was changed to Şirince, to reflect better its character. The descendants of the Greek inhabitants of Şirince now live in northern Greece, in particular, in the town of Nea Ephesos near Thessaloniki.
Currently, about 700 people live in Şirince permanently. They are the descendants of Turkish immigrants who were resettled here from near Kavala in Greek Macedonia. They have preserved many traditions of that region, including the craft of preparing fruit wines, which are the most famous product of the village.
The first two generations of immigrants experienced many difficulties and harsh poverty. Most of the 4,000 people who settled in Şirince, moved later to Selçuk and Izmir in search of work and a better life. Old rural houses fell into disrepair. The fate smiled to the people of Şirince only in the 80s of the 20th century, when first travellers arrived in the village. They discovered it for the world of tourism. In 1986, the road to Şirince was paved, and the telephone line was established in 1993.
In the 90s of the 20th century, first travel agencies began to transport to Şirince the holidaymakers to show them an 'authentic village in the mountains'. Since then the number of tourists has grown steadily, severely diminishing the authenticity of Şirince as such a place. Restaurants, hotels, boarding houses and souvenir shops sprang up. Residents began to reap profits from selling embroidered fabrics and locally produced wine and olive oil. The increase in revenues allowed the restoration of many historic buildings and stopped the outflow of young people who previously did not see their future in this village.
Today Şirince is hardly a forgotten village in the mountains, especially during the summer season lots of tourists visit it. In the middle of summer, the streets of the village are full of travellers seeking the lost charm of the village. Its main street turns into a promenade with the ubiquitous souvenir stalls. Therefore, it is far better to visit Şirince in spring or autumn and avoid weekends.
The village is a significant example of the synthesis of Greek and Turkish influences. The old Greek houses have preserved its traditional appearance on the outside, but their interiors are now decorated in Turkish style. Many of these houses can be visited, as some have been turned into hotels, restaurants or venues for the vacation rental.
In Şirince there is also an Orthodox church dedicated to St. John the Baptist, now nicely restored. In its interior, you can see the faded frescoes, which date back to the Byzantine era.
Right at the entrance to the village stands Artemis restaurant. It is located in an area that offers a magnificent view of Şirince. In addition to the dinner dishes, this venue sells fruit wines. The restaurant makes an impression of an expensive option, but in reality, the prices do not differ drastically from standard prices in other premises.
Opposite this restaurant stands its competitor - Şirincem restaurant, whose owner is also a fruit-grower. Meals can be eaten outside in the shade of the trees. The restaurant specialises in dishes of stewed meats and, of course, sells wine, both its fruit variations and traditional, made from grapes.
The most famous product from Şirince is fruit wines, produced locally from many kinds of fruit, including apricots, blueberries, mulberries and melons. The prices per bottle range from 10 to 20 TL.
Additionally, in Şirince you can buy many local products, manufactured using traditional methods. Among them worthy of recommendation are: olive oil, vinegar, honey, pekmez (thick fruit syrup) and nar ekşisi (pomegranate sauce).
By public transport: there are half-hourly minibuses from Selçuk to Şirince. The earliest one starts at 8 am, and the last one in summer departs at 8:30 pm. The journey takes just 15 minutes and costs 2.50 TL.
By car: turn off the İzmir-Aydın highway in the direction of Selçuk, in Belevi. Drive to Selçuk (11 km) and from its centre follow the signposts to Şirince. The last leg of the journey is a mountain road, narrow and winding, but of good quality.
Staying overnight in Şirince may be hard for travellers with a tight budget. Suffice it to say that the price of 150 TL for a double room is an incredibly cheap option in this village. If you want to spend such amount for accommodation in an elegantly restored, historic interior of the traditional Greek house, Şirince has some exciting offers.
The most famous accommodation options in Şirince options are:
- Nişanyan House boutique hotel (tel. 0 90 232 898 3208) - unfortunately, despite the historic appearance of the building it is actually a modern structure mimicking traditional stone houses.
- Güllü Konak boutique hotel (tel. 0 90 232 898 3131) - the minimal price per night is 340 TL.
- Kırkınca guesthouse (tel. 0 90 232 898 3133) - with stone terraces and rooms equipped in part with antique furniture.
- İstanbul guesthouse (tel. 0 90 323 898 3189) - curiously located in the former stables.