Monday, October 12, 2015



Urla Harbor (Photo: Pat Yale)

The sheer size of İzmir means that it serves as something of an obstacle to people traveling along the Aegean coast. Routes that bypass the conurbation usually whip travelers round it on the eastern side. That leaves the small resorts on the Çeşme and Karaburun peninsulas to the west more or less cut off from passing traffic.
Still, if you're spending a few days in İzmir, you might want to head out in this direction, especially now that the western bus terminal at Üçkuyular is finally accessible by metro.
Looking at a map, the biggest town west of İzmir is Çeşme (which is actually much smaller than you might expect). Çeşme can be reached by hourly bus from the main İzmir bus station as well as from Üçkuyular, but most of the other settlements are only served by buses from Üçkuyular.
Here, then, are the last places I recommend visiting in the İzmir area.


Çeşme and around

Çeşme is dominated by a vast Genoese castle that now serves as the local museum and offers spectacular sea views from its ramparts. In front of it stands a somewhat bizarre statue of Cezayirli Gazi Hasan Paşa (1714-90) with his pet lion. Other than that, Çeşme has little in the way of specific tourist attractions, although it's worth popping your head into what was originally the Church of Hagios Haralambos on the main road down to the harbor. Now used as a cultural center, it can usually be relied on to have something going on inside that will enable you to wander in and admire the sheer size and decoration of one of Turkey's many late 19th-century churches.
Many people come to Çeşme to catch the ferry to the Greek island of Chios, easily visitable on a day trip. If you plan on staying overnight, it's worth knowing that the vast Kanuni Kervansaray Historic Hotel (tel: 0232-712 0630), created out of a 16th-century caravanserai, is only 10 minutes' walk from the ferry. Prices drop dramatically off-season.
The Çeşme eating scene is pretty mediocre, although the coming of a marina has stirred a few Italian restaurants and café-bars into the mix. One option is to head out to Dalyan (not to be confused with the larger Dalyan near Fethiye), where fish restaurant after fish restaurant hugs the banks of a stream running down to the sea.
From Çeşme it's easy to bus-hop your way round the local beaches. The nearest is Boyalık, on the outskirts of Çeşme itself, but you can also catch a bus to the wilder sands around Altınkum. Alternatively, you can head for Ilıca, where a wide swathe of sand is overlooked by an enormous Sheraton hotel. This is an unexpectedly upscale spa resort with some fine residential housing just inland. If you can afford to stay at the Nars Ilıca Hotel (tel: 0232-729 0001), you're unlikely to regret it.



These days it's not so much Çeşme as Alaçatı that draws people west from İzmir. Let's be frank -- Alaçatı may be lovely, but it's also unabashedly expensive, so even if you would like to stay, a day trip may be all that you can afford. Once a small virtually abandoned Ottoman Greek settlement, Alaçatı has a picture-postcard beauty, with lovely stone houses, each with a jutting wooden cumba (bay window), fanning out from a central square dominated by a vast church, now turned into a mosque. Since 2001, most of these houses have been snapped up and turned into boutique hotels, gourmet restaurants and stylish shops that appeal particularly to İstanbullus in search of a sea break but reluctant to travel as far as Bodrum. In July and August, the narrow streets are so crammed with bodies that it's hard to appreciate the architecture. Travel out of season, however, and you will readily understand what it was that attracted the first-comers to this then-isolated corner of the country.
Not all of Alaçatı has been developed even now. The best thing to do is wander into the back street behind the church-mosque where you'll find an inviting mix of dereliction and gentrification with lots of antique shops and cafes thrown in.
Even without its man-made beauty, Alaçatı has another claim to fame, which is the nearby beach, a favorite with the windsurfing community. As you ride out there on the bus you'll pass the rather odd Port Alaçatı Marina development, an attempt to create something “Venetian” on erstwhile undeveloped land.



The main highway from İzmir to Çeşme slices across the Çeşme Peninsula, making movement between the other settlements in the area difficult. If you'd like to visit Urla, site of the ancient Greek settlement of Clazomenae, you're best off taking a bus directly from Üçkuyular. Once there you'll find an extremely pretty harbor dominated by the restored Customs Office that houses a nice café. Scant remains of Clazomenae can be seen on and around the hill above the harbor; closer to it you'll see the erstwhile home of the Greek poet Yorgo Seferis (1900-71), now a small hotel.
Urla keeps one more trick up its sleeve, which is the old town about one kilometer inland. Full of Alaçatı-style houses on a grander scale, some of them now restored, it is also home to a couple of pleasant mosques, including one with a lovely painted şadırvan (ablutions fountain) of a type more common around Amasya.

Karaburun Peninsula

On a map, the Karaburun Peninsula, jutting into the sea northwest of İzmir, looks as if it should be remote and wildly beautiful. Unfortunately, the usual concrete blight has been allowed to take hold, rendering the port towns of Mordoğan and Karaburun (both with summer ferries to Eski Foça) less inviting than you might have hoped. The prettiest village on the peninsula is Ildır, where attractive stone houses stand directly over some of the remains of ancient Greek Erythrae. Up above the village there are more ruins, not dramatic in themselves but leading inexorably upwards to a headland offering spectacular sea views. For the time being, tourism here is very low-key, although a couple of hotels and smart cafes have already opened, no doubt hoping to emulate the success of Alaçatı.


Sığacık, Teos and Akkum

Southwest of İzmir, buses from Üçkuyular run to Seferihisar, a town that has signed up to the Slow City movement and boasts a large statue of three intertwined snails accordingly. A city museum is in the planning. Until it opens, you are more likely to want to head straight to the harbor at Sığacık, something made considerably less simple by the opening of a new out-of-town bus station where you must exit the İzmir bus, wait for another to run you into town, then board a third to get to Sığacık.
Once you get there, however, you will find a quaint little settlement hunkered down behind stone walls, probably dating back to the Genoese days of the late Middle Ages. Inside the walls there's a small mosque complete with even smaller medrese and ruinous hamam. Otherwise, most of the housing here used to be pretty indifferent in design. A recent initiative has seen all the accumulated concrete and old paint stripped back so that the houses can be repainted in pastel colors. Once finished they should look a great deal more alluring.
From Sığacık, frequent buses ferry people out to the windsurfing beach at Akkum. If you'd like to visit the ruins of ancient Teos you will need to take a taxi either from Akkum or from Sığacık itself. Although Teos is thought to have been home to the largest temple to Dionysius in the ancient world, the surviving remains are fairly insubstantial; a new museum being built on the site should soon make a visit more worthwhile. Regardless, it sits in a bucolic setting amid ancient olive trees, a world away from the bustle of big-city İzmir.
Keywords: İzmir


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