Looking to experience a city with a mellow vibe? Head to southwest Turkey, away from the crowds, to the picturesque city of Muğla, located in the region of the same name. Muğla is an inland Aegean town near the Gulf of Gökova, surrounded by mountains and forest. Here you can experience a harmonious balance of urban life and nature.

Muğla stole my heart two years ago with its small-town charm and peaceful atmosphere. This city is often overlooked by tourists, making it even more of a treasure and all the more reason to go for a visit. It’s a great place to explore and take a break from the big city.

Getting There: You can go by car, bus or plane. I’ve only taken the bus, which is a long 12 hour stretch on the road but takes you right to the heart of the city. There are many bus companies that go there and a ticket will run you around 80 lira one way. Traveling by plane will get you there in about an hour, so if you want to save time, this is the better choice. There are two airport options: Dalaman or Milas-Bodrum – both offer a bus service to Muğla city center, roughly one hour away from both airports.

Where To Stay: Fortunately, I have family there so I have not stayed anywhere else, though I can recommend a few nice places that offer quality accommodation. One place to stay is Mavi Konak bed and breakfast located near the city center with lush surroundings and great mountain views. İzzethan Hotel is another place to rest your head and is reasonably priced with an English speaking staff. Heck, they even have a pool! A third option is the Petek Hotel located in the center of the city. It’s a bit pricey, but offers dazzling views of the city and its close proximity to everything makes it seem worthwhile. For a more down to earth stay, Merkez Pansiyon is in a quiet neighborhood that is part of the old city quarter.

What To Do: Let yourself get lost in Muğla’s old city: a labyrinth of traditional white washed stone and wood houses with red tiled roof tops and chimneys typical of this region. Wind your way up the cobblestone streets that lead to a forest overlooking the city. It’s worth the effort to scale the slow, steep streets, since not many people seem to venture to the top and you will most likely have the woods to yourself. I spent an entire afternoon alone in the forest without a soul in sight. It was amazing, especially coming from Istanbul where there are people everywhere, all the time. The view of the city and beyond is spectacular but the ultimate reward was the peace and quiet.

A great place for a coffee break is Zahire Pazar, an open air square with a cafe and shops in the same neighborhood as the many artisan shops close to Saburhane Square. Just around the corner is the best helva I’ve ever tasted. I recommend you pay a visit to Ilkemek Helvacı and get yourself a little treat. There is much to discover around this area. Great little spots to grab a bite, look through heaps of hand woven kilims and admire the architecture. I like to just walk around and see what I can find, to pass through tiny wooden doors that seem to pop up when you’re least expecting them and see what’s on the other side.

If you want to brush up on the city’s history, check out the Kültür Evi (Culture House) and Sanat Evi (Art House). These are two beautifully restored Ottoman-style houses decorated with antique furnishings to create a sense of the past and give you an understanding of what it looked like back in the day. I like to imagine what it was like to live in such a place. If you’re looking for handicrafts, you can stop by MELSA, where you’ll find handmade items like scarves, linens and textiles – all made by local women. It’s all about keeping the spirit alive by supporting the preservation of cultural heritage.

Venture outside the city and spend a day near the sea in Akyaka, a tiny village-like setting nestled in the Gulf of Gökova. A quick jaunt by car or bus and in under thirty minutes you will be wading in the water. It’s a great place to visit in the winter months since it’s less frequented by visitors and there’s plenty of room to breathe. I equate it to a heavenly paradise; a place free from concrete buildings and just sky, mountains and sea. Once, I was lucky enough to see a double rainbow. Magical. A perfect place for a picnic, a swim and mental rejuvenation.

Muğla is a great place to visit any time of year with the mountains in your back yard and the calming energy of nature close by. It’s my home away from Istanbul, and the real treasure is found in just being there.

All images by Marga Patterson

This post was first published on Yabangee website.