aegean coast turkey

Turkey’s turquoise southern coast is popular among beach lovers, stretching from celebrity hotspot Bodrum down to divers’ haven, Kemer. The country’s Aegean coastline, however, is quieter and arguably more beautiful, with mountains rising up by the bay of Edremit in the north and ancient olive groves giving way to the crumbling Greek ruins of Ephesus. It’s a series of historic towns, islands and beaches which stretch from the WWI memorial site of Gallipoli to the blue lagoons of Fethiye, where it joins the Mediterranean.

An ideal way to experience the slow rhythm, biodiversity and Hellenistic culture of the Turkish Aegean is with a road trip along the coast, stopping off for a day or two in the region’s charming little towns, some of which are 3,000 years old. It is here that old mingles with new, reflecting Turkey’s status as a bridge between continents and civilisations, but also thousands of generations. While there are glittery resorts dotted along the coastline, a real sense of the place is best felt on the move, staying in locally run, boutique village hotels along the way. With roads in good condition and a summer season that lasts from May to September, heading north to south over a week is an ideal mix of relaxation, nature and culture. We’ve picked out the best places to rest your head.

Ida Costa Hotel Assos, Ayvacik

In what is possibly the most unspoiled stretch of the northern Aegean, you’ll find this seaside boutique hotel. It’s run by a retired couple, who you’re sure to run into in the grounds for a friendly chat. A handful of one and two-storey stone buildings house the few rooms, built on grounds of thick grass and ancient olive trees. There is a wood and glass open living room, as well as a multilingual library and cosy fireplace.

Ida Costa offers a traditional Turkish breakfast spread with a local twist – among the usual breads, homemade jams, feta cheese and endless black tea you’ll find darkest red Canakkale tomatoes the size of grapefruit and organic pine honey from Mount Ida. Dinner includes delicious mezze and local delicacies sourced from nearby farms, with an emphasis on mountain herbs and vegetables.

Though lounging by the clear, cool sea all day may be tempting, the nearby historic town of Behramkale (its Turkish name, used interchangeably with its name in antiquity, Assos) is a must-see, particularly the Theatre of Assos overlooking Greek islands in the distance. Rooms from £119.

  • +90 286 764 0010
  • Go to Website
  • Küçükkuyu-Assos Sahil Yolu Üzeri Kozlu Köyü Altı
    Assos
    17860 Ayvacık/Çanakkale

Zeytinbag Hotel Camlibel Koyu, Edremit

It is no surprise to see local women laying out their washing on large stone slabs (remnants of an acropolis) and farmers stringing up bell peppers to dry between gnarly old olive trees as you make your way along the winding roads of Mount Ida up towards Çamlibel village. Zeytinbag means olive yard and it’s immediately clear why this rustic two-room hotel is a paean to the humble olive. The farmhouse is owned by a couple who have retired from Istanbul’s theatre scene and is surrounded by olive trees, while the kitchen houses gallons of olive oil and is run by a well-known chef.

A simple and welcoming place to touch base while exploring Mount Ida, Zeytinbag is a short hike from a Zeus temple, the picturesque Camlibel village and the breathtaking Hasanboguldu waterfall. Dip into its clear, icy waters and when you’re ready wade up to its shallows and find a rustic lunch of grilled fish waiting for you at the top. Rooms from £79 a night.

  • +90 266 387 3761
  • Camlibel Koyu
    10390

Battalos Hotel Cunda, Ayvalik

A few hours drive along the Bay of Edremit you will find the island of Cunda, accessed via a short bridge from the mainland. A town of cobbled streets and beautiful stone houses with colourful shutters, Cunda’s main harbour buzzes with endless craft stalls and cafés, at dusk pulling tourists and Turks alike to its many waterfront eateries. Battalos, a series of stone houses, a conservatory, courtyard and a large olive grove, is only 300m from the beach. Hammocks, sunlit nooks, balconies heaving with ivy and an organic kitchen make it a calm bohemian paradise, deceptively close to the buzz of Cunda town, while bike trails take you to Cunda and Ayvalık National Parks.

Devoting half a day to an excursion is very much worth it: only an hour’s drive inland from Cunda is the unmissable ancient city of Pergamos, a UNESCO World Heritage site. A health retreat and fully fledged city at the time of ancient Troy, Pergamos is a stone’s throw from its modern Turkish equivalent, the village of Bergama. With breathtaking views of the Aegean sea, the form of the ancient city is still visible among the columns, roads and acropolis built into the clifftop. Rooms from £49.

  • +90 545 327 3271
  • Go to Website
  • Namık Kemal
    Çınarlı Çeşme Cd. 7. Sk.
    Ayvalık

Lola 38 Foca, Izmir

An undiscovered gem despite its proximity to popular Cesme, Foca mostly attracts holidaying Turks from the major cities of Istanbul and Izmir. Boutique hotel Lola 38 is right on the beach, in the historical town centre of Phocaea and offers a spectacular view of the surroundings. The decoration and attention to detail in the handful of rooms (some of which are separate stone houses, entered through the grassy courtyard) make this hotel a private oasis and perfect place to retreat after a busy day sightseeing. A family business with friendly service and a loveable dog, Lola 38 feels like staying with a local friend – albeit a friend who cooks you a bountiful breakfast spread every morning.

Foca is an ancient Ionian settlement and the layers of multiple civilisations include the Temple of Athena, with a sacred rock site below it associated with the Anatolian earth goddess Cybele. The real pull of Foca, however, is the day-long boat tours out towards the islands and rocks which used to be part of this Ionian archipelago. Don’t book ahead with tours advertised online – go with the flow as you meander up the harbour and find a boat which takes your fancy. Stopping as most do in pristine, secluded coves and beaches, there are plenty of chances to swim amongst the Sirens’ Rocks, a breathtaking formation of sea rocks mentioned in Homer’s Odyssey. Rooms from £73 per night.

Incirliev Hotel Alacati, Cesme

With Alacati’s whitewashed stone buildings, indigo-blue shutters, and pink bougainvillaea, anyone would be forgiven in thinking they are on Mykonos’ long lost twin. Previously populated by Greek families, these traditional Greek stone houses have been restored by Alacati’s many boutique hotels. Incirli Ev, or The House of Fig, is one such B&B. A family-run spot surrounded by lemon, mandarin and fig trees, it is a short walk from the Alacati centre, with its antique market, cafés beneath grape vines and small street bars which draw a cool Istanbul crowd. Alacati Bay and its crystal clear waters, famous for its fantastic windsurfing conditions, is just a short drive away.

Alacati has also fast become a culinary hotspot for the region, with many local producers and city chefs setting up restaurants here, serving rustic, back-to-roots Aegean cuisine. From the Alacati Herb Festival in April onwards – which introduces diverse dishes made with locally foraged greens – the tables and bar stools on the streets heave with a laid-back crowd through to September. Small art galleries, independent designer shops and music emanating from the nearby Babylon beach club bring a festival air to the village, but its owner-run establishments and distance from the resorts of Cesme keeps

the relaxed atmosphere intact. Rooms from £95 per night.

  • +90 232 716 0353
  • Go to Website
  • Yeni Mecidiye Mahallesi
    13074 Sk., 3
    Alaçatı, Çeşme
    35950

Ida Costa Hotel

Zeytinbag Hotel

Battalos Hotel

Lola 38

Incirliev

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