Alaçati: Discover the hidden gem of Western Turkey

(CNN) — A brass band fills the air with lively Turkish music as it marches down a cobblestone street. Tourists and locals alike clap and dance, filling the main square.

The musicians wear turquoise uniforms with gold epaulettes – colors that match the azure blue of the Aegean waters of Alaçatı on the Cesme Peninsula in western Turkey (or Türkiye).

With its rustic stone houses with vividly painted wooden doors, winding streets lined with upscale restaurants, modern art galleries and boutique shops, Alaçatı has all the hallmarks of a typical Mediterranean town, albeit with an effortless Turkish charm.

Turkish holidaymakers have flocked to this scenic spot, about an hour’s drive southwest of Izmir, since a revival took place in the early 2000s. But the international visitors are only playing catch-up.

Everywhere, people are sipping Turkish tea in the city’s open-air cafes, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Colorful city

The cobbled streets of Alacati are filled with colorful houses.

The cobbled streets of Alacati are filled with colorful houses.

Murat Topay Adobe Stock

And it’s not just holidaymakers who are excited, windsurfers have also become a fixture here due to the strong year-round winds from the nearby bay, making Alaçatı Turkey’s self-proclaimed windsurfing capital.

“The air you breathe here is precious,” says Perihan Akbulut, who runs the Kurabiye Hotel, which is within walking distance of the stunning Kurabiye Stone House.

“There’s always a breeze that makes you feel better — even when it’s so hot in the summer months.”

CNN’s Richard Quest travels to western Turkey to find out why Izmir is called the ‘Pearl of the Aegean’.

Kurabiye Hotel could easily be mistaken for a boutique guesthouse in the Aegean, thanks to its whitewashed walls and blue doors.

Akbulut moved here from Istanbul in 2009 and opened the hotel the following year, centered on a courtyard adorned with a lemon garden.

She and her husband now live between the two destinations – enjoying big city life in the winter and retiring to the pretty town for the summer season.

“It’s so easy – or shall we say easy – to organize your life here in Alaçatı,” she adds.

“But that’s exactly why it excites me; it’s a place where you don’t have to think too much about what you’re doing and where you’re going.”

Hidden in Izmir’s Kemeralti Bazaar is Synagogues Street, which is undergoing renovation

First class products

The Alacati Herb Festival, which aims to showcase herbs of the region, takes place in the city every spring.

The Alacati Herb Festival, which aims to showcase herbs of the region, takes place in the city every spring.

Berkcan Zengin/GocherImagery/MediaPunch/IPX/AP

Alaçatı has seen many reinventions over the years. It was mostly swampland until the mid-19th century, when authorities drained it to rid the area of ​​swamps where malaria-causing mosquitoes were bred.

Greek workers from nearby islands settled here to work the vineyards and olive groves, and the region remains the leading wine and olive oil producing region in Turkey.

Like other towns in the area, Alaçatı was largely abandoned in the 1920s after Turkey and Greece carried out religiously based population exchanges. Many of its stone houses lay neglected for decades and fell into disrepair.

But it has undergone a kind of profound change in the last 20 years. Eagle-eyed visitors from across the country found an opportunity to buy holiday homes and breathe new life into the city.

Locals often brag about the region’s produce and artisan foods, and Saturday market stalls selling fruit and vegetables, fresh bread and seafood line the city’s main thoroughfare, Kemalpaşa Street, and extend down numerous side streets.

Every spring, the Alaçatı Herb Festival, an annual event showcasing the natural herbs that grow in Alaçatı and the nearby coastal town of Çesme, draws hordes of visitors to the area.

“Everything is so accessible,” adds Akbulut. “Delicious food, fresh vegetables and fruits, natural herbs and seafood.

“It’s a good mix of locals and new settlers. You can never feel lonely here.”

‘Heaven on earth’

Alacati is just a short drive from beaches along the Cesme Peninsula, including the stunning Ilica Beach.

Alacati is just a short drive from beaches along the Cesme Peninsula, including the stunning Ilica Beach.

Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images

This region of the Eastern Mediterranean is steeped in history. The ancient ruins of Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are just an hour’s drive south of Alacatı.

Located near the Aegean Sea and modern-day Selçuk, it remains one of Christianity’s most revered sites and is home to some of Turkey’s finest archaeological wonders, including Hadrian’s Temple, built in honor of Roman Emperor Hadrian.

The thermal pools of Pamukkale, which literally means ‘cotton castle’ and, from the right angle, can be mistaken for a cluster of angelic clouds, are just a few hours’ drive away.

The ancient city of Ephesus is undoubtedly one of the great wonders of Turkey. But a short drive away is a small village with lots of charm.

Tourists have been coming to this popular site of ancient travertines for centuries, another UNESCO World Heritage Site.

The well-preserved ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis, once a healing center, are among the highlights, along with the ancient pool of Pamukkale, also known as Cleopatra’s Pool, where Egyptian Queen Cleopatra is said to have swum.

And for those who prefer to stay closer to town, a trip to the hot thermal springs on Ilica Beach, where the water stays shallow for the first 100 or so meters from shore, won’t disappoint.

“We call this place ‘heaven on earth,'” Çesme Mayor Ekrem Oran tells CNN while admiring the herbs at Alaçatı’s Saturday market.

Judging by the faces of the people around you would have a hard time finding anyone who disagrees with this view.