Meze, markets and monk seals: the best of Turkey’s Aegean coast | Turkey holidays

It was on a visit to Cunda island that I realised the massive distinction between Turkey’s Aegean area and the glittering Mediterranean shoreline of the south. The Med resorts are crammed with overseas holidaymakers, flooding in by means of Bodrum and Dalaman.

Farther north, most guests are Turkish, so as a substitute of adapting to the wants and wishes of European holidaymakers, the cities and villages that dot the shoreline supply an genuine slice of Turkish life.

The Aegean area is totally different in different methods too: waves of immigration, a westerly dealing with side and the proximity of a number of Greek islands provides it a extra cosmopolitan really feel, with town of İzmir sometimes called Turkey’s San Francisco. Not the entire locations beneath are someplace to remain for per week, however knitting collectively two or three provides the possibility to essentially get below the pores and skin of this extraordinary nation.


An extravagant bougainvillea on a cafe in the foodie town of Alaçatı.
An extravagant bougainvillea on a restaurant within the foodie city of Alaçatı. {Photograph}: Kevin Hellon/Alamy

On summer season weekends, this picture-perfect former Greek fishing village throngs with {couples} from Istanbul and İzmir, lured by the idyllic mixture of hip accommodations, bougainvillea-draped streets and cocktail bars, housed in restored Ottoman homes and Greek-style stone mansions. Set barely inland, it’s a simple 10-minute drive or dolmuş experience to the small resort city of Ilıca, with its lengthy sandy seaside.

Alaçatı is legendary as Turkey’s favorite foodie city, with its personal meals pageant in March and about 200 eating places scattered by means of the streets. Many nonetheless cleave to the normal manner of ordering; no menu, only a journey to the chilly bar to pick out a alternative of meze (freshly made salads) and recent fish or succulent kebabs. My favorite is Papazz (mains about £17), run by the pleasant Murat and his household, who makes a splendidly moreish sourdough and succulent, tangy lamb, carefully adopted by Fava for its scrumptious, conventional meze (mains from £12), and Sota (mains about £20) for wonderful sushi, ceviche and oysters.

Resorts in Alaçatı come and go however the İncirliev (doubles from £104 B&B) is an establishment; two outdated stone homes with an oasis-like shady backyard, run by the charming Sabahat and her husband, Osman.


Cunda is known for its chic cafes and cocktail bars.
Cunda is thought for its stylish cafes and cocktail bars. {Photograph}: theendup/Alamy

It took 25 years of visiting Turkey earlier than I made it to this small island, linked by causeway to the beautiful city of Ayvalık – however it immediately grew to become a favorite. A Greek fishing village till 1923, many of the structure has remained untouched, pairing a Greek island really feel with an unmistakably Turkish environment. Cunda’s reputation as a weekend retreat from Istanbul and İzmir has given rise to a clutch of stylish cafes and cocktail bars alongside conventional eating places, specialist meals retailers – olive oil, cheeses, spices – and small boutiques.

With no seaside, Cunda is extra of a spot to spend a few days than per week, pottering throughout to Ayvalık for a day ramble across the vintage retailers, stopping for espresso and simit (a type of bagel-pretzel hybrid) below the vines on the Kahramanlar bakery – one of many oldest on the town. It’s within the evenings when Cunda is at its finest; it’s fantastic to observe the sundown with a beer at Taş Kahve on the waterfront, after which dip into the streets behind for dinner at Ayna (mains from £14), and a cocktail at La Fuga – at present the hippest spot on the town.

Among the many finest locations to remain is Otel Sobe (doubles from £150 B&B), a restored stone home with seven stylish bedrooms, a stunning courtyard backyard for breakfast and its personal seaside membership (albeit a half-hour drive away).


Çeşme Castle.
Çeşme Citadel. {Photograph}: Kayihan Bolukbasi/Alamy

Simply quarter-hour’ drive from Alaçatı, Çeşme has a really totally different really feel; a bustling resort city with family-friendly accommodations, an extended seafront promenade and loads of conventional, excellently priced eating places, catering to weekending İzmirians who drive down from town on Friday night time.

The dependable winds make the seashores round Çeşme ideally suited for windsurfing, kiting and winging, with Ilıca providing a shallow, sandy shoreline that’s ideally suited for all ages.

The city is dominated by the Sixteenth-century citadel, now an archaeological museum, which appears out over the marina to the Greek island of Chios. 5 miles throughout the Aegean, ferries take simply 45 minutes and run twice-daily, making a twin-country break a simple choice.

Çeşme can be ideally located for exploring the Urla wine route – a group of seven vineyards, together with a number of olive oil farms – all providing tastings and excursions.

A fantastic place to remain is the Eski Taş Otel (doubles from £55 B&B) within the picturesque outdated city, a renovated stone home with a small pool, simply 5 minutes’ stroll from the centre of city.


A fisher fixes his nets in Foça harbour.
A fisher fixes his nets in Foça harbour. {Photograph}: Oguz Dikbakan/Alamy

Certainly one of Turkey’s 22 cittaslowscities recognised for his or her gradual tempo and dedication to sustainable and natural dwelling – discovering Foça felt a bit like stepping again in time to the Turkey that I first encountered within the mid-Nineties.

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Set around a small, horseshoe-shaped bay, fishing boats line up along the waterfront, yachts drift in as the sun sets and there’s a strong chance of spotting monk seals, which make their home in the neighbouring two bays. Although the town doesn’t have its own beach, pretty Mersinaki beach is just a mile away.

The best way to explore the area around Foça is on a day boat trip, which will take in the nearby bays and some of the uninhabited islands, such as Orak Adası, that can be seen from the town.

On Sundays, the whole town comes together for the weekly market of organic produce from local growers, while fresh fish and seafood is delivered to the restaurants each day by Foça’s flotilla of fishing boats.

Hotels in Foça tend to be simple and a little old-fashioned, which makes the Navalia (doubles from £126 B&B) a great find; although it’s a 20-minute stroll along the seafront from Eskifoça (Old Foça), the location is lovely – it’s right on Karakum beach.


Şirince is set against forested slopes.
Şirince is set against forested slopes. Photograph: Angus McComiskey/Alamy

Tucked away in the hills an hour’s drive south of İzmir, Şirince village is a gem; a cluster of Ottoman houses, all terracotta roofs and jade-green shutters against whitewashed walls, set against a backdrop of forested slopes and towering mountains up behind.

In the heart of İzmir’s wine country, Şirince’s car-free centre is dotted with wine caves and olive oil shops, alongside handicraft shops and cafes, where coffee is still prepared the traditional way, in a pit of hot sand.

Şirince is just 20 minutes’ from Ephesus – Turkey’s most spectacular ancient site – which means it can get very busy with day-trippers. All the more reason to stay a night or two and enjoy the quiet mornings and tranquil evenings, and the restaurants dotted along its streets and alleyways, many with terraces offering gorgeous views.

For simple, local dishes there’s nowhere better than Şirincem (mains from £10), while the Artemis – one of the town’s oldest restaurants – offers excellent meze and wonderful views (mains from £12).

A lovely place to stay is Nişanyan Evleri (doubles from £96 B&B); two sympathetically restored 19th-century mansions overlooking olive groves and vineyards.

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