Weekend Break: Charming Alaçatı

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Alaçatı has long been a popular destination for windsurfers, but in recent years the town’s abundant charms have also helped transform it into a major tourist destination. This is certainly one of the most tasteful towns in all of Turkey, with its narrow cobbled streets and whitewashed houses, their wooden shutters painted various shades of blue and green, and a wealth of upscale shops and restaurants.

 

Located on the Çeşme peninsula, less than an hour from Izmir airport, Alaçatı’s star has risen as a tourist destination over the past decade. The town was originally settled by Greek migrants from nearby islands in the 1800s, who were brought over to drain the swamps in order to curb the spread of malaria. These Greeks settlers called the town “Agrilia”, and established vineyards and grape-processing factories. Many Muslims from Thessaloniki also settled here following the population exchange in the 1920s. However, most of the old stone buildings were eventually abandoned, and the town became an under-developed backwater.

 

This all changed with the opening of the Taş Hotel in 2001, which took an old crumbling Greek home and turned it into an upmarket boutique hotel. This project was a great success, and since then many others have followed suit. Today you will find dozens of boutique hotels housed in both new and renovated buildings. Many of the newer and slightly larger hotels are located on the outskirts of town, just a short walk from the center. They often have swimming pools, exposed stone walls, and lovely courtyard gardens. Alaçatı hotels are famed for their delicious breakfast spreads, which include tomatoes, olives, local cheeses, honey and clotted cream, homemade jams, and a selection of fresh breads and pastries.

 

Unlike many other resort towns in Turkey, Alaçatı is not flooded with foreign tourists. The area is a bit pricier than other popular tourist destinations, as it is not aimed at low-end packaged tourists, but at those who are looking for quality and are willing to pay for it. The majority of visitors are well-heeled Turks, mostly from Istanbul and Izmir. They come here either for a weekend getaway or for the entire summer.  Many new holiday homes have also been built to accommodate this demand. That said, some discerning foreign tourists have recently started to discover Alaçatı.

 

Although it gets very hot here during the summer months, the constant wind, for which the city is known, keeps things cool. Of course, one of the main draws remains the Alaçatı beach, which is located in a small bay about four kilometers from town, and is a great place for both windsurfing experts and novices. There is a sandbar that extends some 700 meters out from the shore, creating a shallow shoreline, so even if you’re not a confident swimmer, you can easily learn to windsurf here. A wide range of equipment is available for rent, with professional instructors on hand.

 

Nearby Çeşme is known for its beaches as well as its castle, and now has a sparkling new marina. For those who are not interested in windsurfing and just want to enjoy the water, Ilıca beach in Çeşme makes for an ideal day-trip. Unlike most beaches in Turkey, the color of the water here is light aqua, with fine white sand.

 

While the Alaçatı has no sights as such, keeping yourself entertained is no problem as there are many shops, cafés, bars, and restaurants. There are a range of stores selling designer clothing, olive oil soaps, an assortment of home décor items, and mastic, which comes from the nearby Greek island of Chios, and can be found flavoring local dishes.

 

Many of the best upmarket Turkish brands have opened shops here, including Yastık by Rıfat Özbek, with its assortment of colorful and unique pillows; Haremlique, which specializes in high-quality linens and textiles; BNG, which carries a range of designer clothes and accessories; and, most recently, Midnight Express, which specializes in clothing and jewelry by young Turkish designers.

 

There are also many independent shops, often run by owners who came here to escape big city life. Isla Bonita is one such shop, and sells a range of decorative and gift items, including high-quality peştemals (traditional Turkish towels), natural soaps, ceramics, and accessories, as well as jams and sauces from Agrilia restaurant (see below). Red Horse Red House sells chic home accessories, which make the perfect finishing touches for a weekend home. Ipekçe, which also has a branch in Bodrum, carries a range of unique decorative items and jewelry, often with a strongly ethnic look, as many of the items are custom-made for the store in India. As the name implies, Fash carries a range of stylish, high-fashion beachwear from the likes of Missoni and Diane Von Furstenberg.

 

There are also many antique stores, mostly located in the Haci Memiş area of town. This neighborhood is far less developed than the town’s main strip, and is an unexpected delight. Stray dogs pad about, cared for communally by the local shopkeepers. Wandering through the streets, you will find a number of stores selling a range of antiques, including furniture, vases, glassware, and decorative items.  You could easily spend hours wandering around and searching for little treasures.  Judging from the number of restaurants, shops, and hotels that have opened this year, this area won’t remain unknown for long. In fact, the neighborhood has become so popular that internationally acclaimed textile designer Lisa Corti even opened a shop here this summer.

 

In terms of restaurants, foodies will be spoiled for choice, as the standards in Alaçatı are very high. One of the oldest restaurants in town is Café Agrilia. Housed in an old tobacco factory, this local favorite serves well-executed Mediterranean dishes with a strong Italian influence in an elegant and romantic setting. Another local favorite is Kalamata, with its atmospheric courtyard garden. As well as fresh grilled fish, Kalamata offers a range of unusual mezes with Greek and Armenian influences, served with great attention to detail.

 

One of the newest additions to Alaçatı’s restaurant scene is Da Vittorio. After having established a strong following in Istanbul, Italian chef Vittorio opened a second restaurant this May in the La Capria Suite Hotel. Da Vittorio serves mouth-watering rustic Italian cuisine using the freshest regional ingredients. The menu includes freshly made pastas, local seafood, their legendary eggplant parmigiana, as well as an excellent wine list, making this a must-visit for food-lovers.

 

For an afternoon coffee and freshly baked dessert, drop by the always-packed Köşe Cafe – anything chocolate is highly recommended. In terms of nightlife, there are many popular bars and restaurants in Alaçatı, with Yaya the current favorite haunt of all the beautiful people.  In Çeşme, meanwhile, you can find the very popular Babylon Aya Yorgi beach.

 

Alaçatı has such a relaxed vibe that you could easily while away many days or weeks here enjoying the fresh air, beautiful beaches, delicious cuisine, and the town’s simple and unpretentious style. Alaçatı has much of the best that Turkey has to offer, all wrapped up in one tasteful and charming little package. 

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