Coasting (2): The Aegean
In contrast, the Mediterranean coast can be overwhelmingly hot and humid in July and August. The Aegean -- or “Ege” in Turkish -- on the other hand can usually be relied upon to offer month after month of glorious summer sun with barely a drop of rain and not much humidity either.
The Aegean coast -- an overview: The Aegean coastline divides into two separate sections with İzmir, Turkey’s third largest city, as the breakpoint. North of İzmir the scenery is a little less dramatic and the architecture closer in style to that of the Greek Dodecanese islands frequently visible offshore. South of İzmir, the scenery gets increasingly dramatic, especially as it heads south from Bodrum. Happy beach hunting grounds can be found near Çanakkale and Assos, on Bozcaada Island, between Yeni and Eski Foça and around Bodrum. The Gulf of Edremit between Assos and Ayvalık is extremely built-up with holiday homes for domestic tourists although even here there is a particularly beautiful beach at Ören, near Burhaniye.
Çanakkale: Heading out of İstanbul the first big destination for visitors is usually the town of Çanakkale, the most obvious base for visiting the battlefield sites at Gallipoli and the ruins of Troy. Inland from the actual Aegean coast, Çanakkale is beautifully situated on the banks of the Dardanelles, also known as Hellespont, a strait that feels rather like İstanbul’s famous Bosporus and ensures lovely sea views only ever a short walk away from your hotel. Çanakkale is very popular with domestic tourists, which means that its lavish hotel stock comes under strain over summer weekends. That’s apart from the additional strain created by ANZAC (Australian and New Zealand Army Corps) Day on April 25, when it would be extremely unwise to show up without a reservation as Australians and New Zealanders pour in to attend dawn services at the battlefield sites. In 2015, the centenary of ANZAC’s Gallipoli Campaign will bring in yet more visitors, making 2014 a particularly good time for a visit.
Bozcaada and Gökçeada: Only two of the inhabited Aegean islands belong to Turkey. Of them, Bozcaada is the more immediately bewitching with a huge castle looming over a picturesque harbor ringed with fish restaurants and backed by a small settlement full of attractive old Greek houses. To the north of the island, yet undeveloped sandy beaches are shielded by high dunes, while the vineyards in the center of the island and the stunning small boutique hotels dotted about it complete a picture that amounts to touristic paradise.
Assos: Lovely Assos is a two-part destination, with a tiny picture-postcard harbor lined with hotels in beautiful old stone warehouses at the bottom of a steep hill and the remains of ancient Assos straggling up the inland side of the road. At the top of the hill, the modern village of Behramkale is full of attractive old stone houses marching even further uphill to the remains of a fine Greek temple to Athena that presides over a stunning view across to Lesbos, or “Midilli” in Turkish. Like Çanakkale, Assos is an increasingly popular destination with domestic tourists and school parties choke its narrow streets in late May and early June. Most of the hotels require guests to take half-board which means few good stand-alone restaurants. Sandy beaches ramble out east around Kadırga.
Ayvalık and Cunda: The untouristy small mainland town of Ayvalık once made a living from the cultivation of olives, and the chimneys of old olive-oil factories still loom above narrow streets filled with townhouses dating back to the period before the 1923 Greco-Turkish population exchange when it was an almost entirely Ottoman Greek settlement. The little offshore “island” of Cunda -- which is actually attached to the mainland by a causeway -- revels in more of a holidaymaking atmosphere. Narrow stretches of undeveloped beach fringe Cunda, or you can head south to Ayvalık’s rather overdeveloped resort suburb of Sarımsaklı, where large hotels gaze down on a wide swathe of sand.
Bergama: Since the introduction of a funicular to painlessly convey guests uphill to the Acropolis, a visit to the extensive ruins of ancient Pergamum has become a great deal easier, with the remains of the Asclepion medical sanctuary, the brooding Kızıl Avlu (Red Basilica) and an excellent local museum all within reasonable walking distance of each other. There’s still a fairly limited choice of places to stay, let alone fancy places to eat, so you may prefer to visit on a day-trip from Ayvalık or from the small nearby beach resort of Dikili.
The Foças: North of İzmir, Eski (Old) and Yeni (New) Foça have become increasingly popular with Turkish tourists and the supply of accommodation is barely keeping pace with the growing numbers, especially at weekends. At Eski Foça, a fine Genoese castle on a headland between two harbors is being beautifully restored, while Yeni Foça offers street upon street of pretty little 19th-century townhouses backing onto a small stretch of shingle.
İzmir: On a tight schedule you might want to give İzmir a miss if only to avoid the big-city agro of having to get to grips with an unfamiliar public transport system. That said, the coming of the İzban light railway has made the town center much easier to navigate than it used to be and drops passengers within walking distance of the impressive remains of the Roman agora at Basmane. Restaurants strung out along the waterfront between Konak and Alsancak make pleasant places to watch the sun go down over the Gulf of İzmir.
Çeşme and Alaçatı: West of İzmir, Alaçatı is second only to Bodrum when it comes to the favored summer watering holes of İstanbul’s more moneyed set. The small-scale charms of what was until recently an abandoned settlement of small Greek houses with jutting wooden cumbas (bay windows) are best appreciated in the shoulder seasons, when the crowds thin out before the hotels shut up shop for winter. On a tight budget, you can forget staying in Alaçatı, in which case it’s good news that the town of Çeşme is only a short bus ride away. Çeşme’s hotels also charge over the odds to stay within easy reach of a huge Ottoman castle overlooking a harbor but there are also plenty of cheaper backstreet pensions to pick from as well as cafes and restaurants aimed at a non-plutocratic, non-gourmet clientele.
Selçuk, Kuşadası, Şirince and Ephesus: If Pergamum is the most impressive ancient site north of İzmir, Ephesus is by far the most impressive ruin to its south. Inevitably, the remains of what was once the biggest town in Asia Minor are swamped with visitors, especially when cruise ships are moored in İzmir, which they usually are throughout the summer. Make life easy for yourself and stay within walking distance of them in Selçuk, the small town that was its successor and comes with a fine selection of medieval monuments of its own. Selçuk is also within easy reach of decent beaches at Pamucak and Yoncaköy. In the hills above Selçuk, Şirince offers a fine choice of hotels in restored Ottoman houses with great views. Kuşadası is party central with small built-up beaches easily accessible to north and south, and quieter, more appealing coves hidden inside the Dilek Peninsula National Park to the southwest.
Bodrum and the Bodrum Peninsula: At the southern end of the Aegean coast, Bodrum is very popular with Turks, for whom an ever-growing selection of pricy hotels, restaurants and second homes are being built, rather overshadowing the erstwhile small-scale appeal of the old town center, where whitewashed houses trip down narrow streets to a glorious water-side promenade dominated by a giant 15th-century castle. It’s the same story out on the peninsula, where the separate resorts come closer to merging into each other with every passing year. Gümüşlük to the northwest has the prettiest setting, with the slight remains of ancient Mindos dotting the sandy beach and running out onto Tavşan Adası (Rabbit Island).