A trip into the magical town of Alaçati and its idyllic location a day trip from Greece and the lost city of Ephesus.
When we were dating long-distance, Henrique living in Brazil and myself in England, we planned strategic holidays to meet up, and our trip to Turkey was by far the best. Henrique on route to China, stopped off midway to meet me for a rendezvous in Turkey. It was a magical trip, characterized by copious amounts of aubergine & kebabs that has left me hankering for a return visit ever since.
Though, I believe to set us off we should derail some discriminatory myths. Whilst many holiday revelers jet off to party resorts like Bodrum, Turkey is actually fantastic for crafting an independent itinerary. I will set out the perfect seven day romantic retreat to the province of Çesme on the West Coast of Turkey.
That being said, first let’s have a laugh and show you nothing can go that wrong.
My first impression of Turkey left me a little bewildered. Especially when before setting foot into the airplane I was destined for a police interrogation.
I joined the snaking queue for Turkey checkin and see a man eyeballing me at the front desk. I look around me and conclude it must be the fact that my blonde hair sticks out like a beacon. Though, I was used to it after traveling throughout Latin America, his stare seemed far too prolonged for a casual curiosity.
Time ticks on and my anxious flyer syndrome kicks in. And his eyes are unbetrayingly fixed on me as the queue edges slowly forward.
I know it. He’s waiting for me.
I’ve done something wrong. I’m reliving all my steps. The time when I had to splash out for two Turkish visas because I got my birthday wrong… a possibility, idiot.
The time I was stopped in the US when they searched my swamp seeped bag for drugs…. improbable, but the US is a power hungry animal.
Traveling Latin America alone. Mexico, Honduras, Bolivia, which one of you grassed me up!?
Honestly, friends, I do not LOOK like I’m on drugs.
TELL ME WHAT YOU WANT STAREY MCSTAREY.
Sure enough, as I step up to the check-in desk he swoops in, snatching the passport, perusing my many stamps and critiquing my mug shot. I go through my plans, my job (or lack of), my hotels in Alaçati and Çesme and finally we edge on meeting Henrique.
He snaps the passport shut and ushers me through the check in desk faster than you can say “I plead innocent”.
He must have bigger fish to fry. Poor fellow passengers, prepare yourselves.
It turns out the norm is to flag up young single travelers. It caught me by surprise and it is reminiscent of the unjust hesitance many travelers have about visiting Turkey. The truth of the matter is, is that it is actually a gem of a country right on our European boarder, that deserves your attention and justly beckons your wallet.
On the other side, I rumbled into acquaintance with Turkey through the discovery that it ACTUALLY doesn’t use queues. There are those that say the French don’t respect lines, even Brazilians, however, Turkey (at least Instanbul Airport ) is another level.
It took me a good 10 minutes to rattle the courage to start elbowing those around me. Girl after girl would file past me, marching up to immigration man, who couldn’t care less. I was well and truly ruffled up by the time I met with the teenage boy, who jostled me to the awaiting shuttle van.
We sped through along the highway and start descending into the curving roads of Istanbul. It is almost Greek or Spanish, except for the curving silhouettes of the mosques and illegible Turkish signs. I’m enchanted, though a little perplexed, so settle down on the rooftop terrace to await my date, who is due in 10 hours time.
I’m bubbling with excitement.
Once past the hectic disorganization and the unjust suspicion of European power smucks (we’re looking at you UK), Turkey is more prepared for tourists than half of Italy. And trust me, I live there.
Moreover, you have the rare opportunity to wander a land that is the outcome of a fusion recipe of the Ottoman Empire, Christian Crusades and Greek citadels. What could be more delicious? Most importantly, it is all on our doorstep and it is safe, I promise you.
A mind-blowing fact for history buffs, is that about 60% of places named in the Bible are in Turkey. This includes Noah’s final drop off place of his ark, Mount Ararat. Turkey could literally be the centre of the repopulation of the Earth!
Parked strategically between Europe, Africa, Asia and the Middle-East, the country is chockablock with remnants of centuries of turmoil. A highlight in my own trip was the Hagia Sofia, nowadays a museum, it has jumped between religions belonging both as an Orthodox Cathedral, Roman Cathedral and a Muslim Mosque. Inside restoration projects have revealed plastered over golden images of Saints, Jesus and Mary that juxtaposition against the Arabic architecture.
Although Turkey remains a candidate for the European Union, I will argue it can more than stand on its own two feet. The culture is the material of dreams and it will envelope you in aromas of eclectic food, ancient and modern architecture and water sports that will make you feel a spritely teenager again.
Go on, what are you waiting for?
Itinerary in the Province of Çesme
Alaçati is located in a nook of land a five hour drive from Istanbul. The whole town emits laid back “Mediterranean” vibes and is inundated with pristine beaches on the Aegean sea.
Begin your trip from the central hub of Istanbul. You can spend a whole week exploring the cosmopolitan hive, but let’s whizz you over to more romantic spaces. From the Istanbul airport you can take Turkish Airlines or Pegasus Airline flights to Izmir airport. Then from here grab a taxi to your hotel, which should be on the coast of Alaçati. There are plenty of choices, from boutiques to resorts that cater for families, couples or groups.
What to Eat and Drink in Alaçati:
Alaçati is a wine producing region of a wine called Urla. Visit the winery or you can purchase the wine at most of the restaurants in town.
Kisir a spicy vegetarian side dish or snack. This is a spicy bulgar wheat mixture, with herbs, pomegranate molasses and tomato, all wrapped in a single lettuce leaf and eaten by hand. This blog has a fantastic Kisir recipe, which explains all the complex ingredients that make the dish shine. Our hotel served this as a snack by the side of the pool in-between meals.
Especially in the Aegean Sea region I would opt for seafood platters or barbecued fish. Delectably fresh and often served with salads and tomatoes sweeter than honey.
What to do in Alaçati – Windsurfing
Alaçati is a city world renown for its windsurfing scene. Given the near constant winds and an expansive shallow bay, the town has adopted to offering windsurfing lessons. Shallow waters go on for a long stretch so if you are catapulted off your board, you won’t find yourself flapping around out of your depth.
You can easily relaunch yourself and slowly edge towards the shore or just wade through the shallows dragging the equipment behind you to the rescue of your smiley Turkish instructor.
Now, I am no expert in the ways of the waves, but this nook of the Aegean sea is an icy basin. Therefore, you will need to bring or rent a wetsuit if you are to stand the waters for more than 10 mins. Likewise, it would be ideal to stay in a hotel with a sizable pool because you will generally not see other bathers soaking in the ice water.
Çesme is principally a harbor town with many hotel resorts close by. You can wander up and down the marina and gawk at the yachts with their flags from around the world. Directly in front of the harbor there is a stoned off courtyard area with a selection of restaurants and cute little boutiques.
On the promenade you can walk along and careful select from amongst the many touts a boat trip. There are numerous sailing boats, all with netting spread out on the deck for you to sunbathe in the blissful breeze, while you sail to private beaches.
Each boat differs in the package offered, but usually you are served or can buy food and drink onboard. They will whizz you around the seaside area and give you several stop offs to swim in crystal clear water.
It is really up to you which one you floats your boat 😉
Where to eat in Cesme:
Our hotel was just an average abode, but the hotel beneath had the SEAFOOD OF MY DREAMS.
If there is one place I reminisced about on a frequent basis it is Pasifik Restaurant, because they are literally fish/ seafood cooking wizards. Never have I mustered on more succulent morsels of fish. During this trip we also discovered a Fishermans’ secret that the best meat is in the fishes cheek.
I swear it is true, order the fish WITH THE HEAD. Not only does it mean it is fresh as a daisy, but you get gobble up the cheek too.
Each morning the fishermen arrive at Pasifik with fish so fresh their eyes are still blinking at you.
My choices: Octopus casserole and fish of the day.
Simply grilled and garnished with Mediterranean tomatoes. We dined all out here for three nights in a row and we regret nothing.
Day Trips from Cesme:
Island of Chios, Greece:
Everybody holds a secret desire to visit the romantic Greek islands and Çesme happens to be just a short boat ride away. There are regular ferries between Cesme and the Greek island of Chios, which lies between 20-35 minutes away.
You should buy your ticket from one of the tourist agencies that hover around the port and sea front promenade. Do not forget your passport!
The best way to explore the island is by car, since it is principally mountainous. We went with Eurocars and drove ceremoniously up and down the hills of the whole island without breaking a sweat.
The medieval walled city of Mesta is a treat. With restaurants hidden down alleyways and dangling vines to offer shade you can munch down on Greek cuisine that varies a little from neighbouring Turkey. Pork, feta cheese, greek salad and white wine, but get there during the lunch hours or you won’t see a soul in sight.
Prygi is a picturesque village where paintings cover all the buildings. Grab a drink in the square because it is awesome. We saw nesting swallows.
Nea Moni Monastery from the mid 11th century and is a World Heritage Sight. Hidden in the mountains, these monks know how to worship God with NO DISTRACTIONS.
Roots and peace, that’s how I like it.
Also, there are more private isolated beaches than I could ever name. Maybe you could swim naked…. who knows.. there’s no one to see ….
The ancient ruins of Ephesus are less than 2 hours from Çesme and Alaçati. Though there are many tours, it is often even easier to rent car and head up there yourself. That way you can have unlimited time at the site, (because it is ENORMOUS) and also drive to other nearby historical sites.
Ephesus was a booming Greek city built in the 10th century and is sited many times in the Bible. It is believed that the book of John was written during his time evangelizing in the city.
The city is the middle of the desert and it is hot as a pancake.
Even through my leather sandals my little feet were sweltering. Therefore, bring a hat!
Once you arrive you have two choices: either pay onto a tour or buy ourself a guidebook. We chose the latter and got a cracking deal on this personal guidebook that had holographic layovers to show you how the city used to be in comparison to what you are seeing. Just before you enter the site there are numerous stalls selling souvenirs guidebooks to set you up.
In the countryside nearby, you can pick peaches off the trees or buy from a guy’s street stall who does this for you.
Best peach of my life.
It was the only moment when I actually understood Roald Dalh’s “James and the Giant Peach” and how they were in bliss gobbling away at the sweet peach. Turkey knows how peaches are supposed to be, the UK does not, seize your chance to experience the real deal!
On arrival to Ephesus there is a leather outlet store that touts off jackets destined for Prada and Dolce and Gabana before the brand design has been sewn on.
Finally, close to Ephesus there are also worthwhile sites including the Basilica of St John and Meryemana, which is believed to be where Mary the mother of Jesus died.