Immediately adjacent to Çeşme, Alaçatı is a bohemian refuge, and the number-one choice of surfers.
“ If these mountains have a rival, it’s the wind; here the wind rules supreme,” says Sabahattin Ali (1907-1948) in his poem ‘Wind’. Convinced that it could wash away all human anger and greed, the great poet believed only in the wind. When a person believes only in the wind, its magical power enables him to elude the past and contemplate the future with hope. And Alaçatı is a chosen spot where the wind becomes an anonymous sough, caressing the skin of everyone without distinction. Alaçatı, home of the wind, miniature paradise where the wind vies with the gods, becoming synonymous with them.
Known in Greek mythology as the home of the wind god, Alaçatı is a haven of tranquility for ordinary folk fleeing not only Izmir but Bodrum as well. Thanks to the quaintly decorated, bohemian venues that have opened in the last few years, it is also a lively meeting place where holidaymakers adept at turning recreation into an aesthetic experience will feel right at home. Not to mention the surfing buffs. The town center is a monument of perfection where history meets aesthetics through the touch of modern architecture, while the shore is a must-stop for those who want to dance with the wind and the wave-tossed sea. One of the world’s seven most outstanding coastlines from the standpoint of surfers, Alaçatı, with its architecture, windmills, local handicrafts, boutique hotels, virgin beaches and easy accessibility, not to mention its fascinating geography, puts nearby Çeşme in the shade.
With its stone houses entwined in bougainvillea, its tiny shops, the coffeehouse with mosaic-paved courtyard, and narrow streets with surprise endings, Alaçatı strikes a person as refreshingly simple at first glance. The gumwood trees will catch your eye as you make your way down to the town. Another feature of Çeşme, touristic gateway to the Aegean region, is its proximity to the island of Sakız (Chios), which lies directly opposite it in full view from the shore. The gumwood trees, which were first discovered six thousand years ago at Çeşme, continue to produce fruit even today albeit in diminishing amounts. We recommend that you visit the special plantations where gum arabic is produced. The garden of Sakızlar Restaurant, in business since 1873, boasts 117 of these trees, which have formed the subject of a scientific study. As you stroll through the garden you can even sample the tart flavor of the resin that oozes from their bark. Besides its use in delectables such as jams, milk pudding, ice cream and liqueurs, it is also employed in the manufacture of various drugs used against rabies as well as diseases of the gastrointestinal system and of the lungs.
A FASCINATING ARCHITECTURAL FABRIC
A short walk brings you to the town center. The history of Alaçatı, from the older name ‘Alaçat’, which is said to derive either from the Anatolian Seljuk ‘Alacık’ tents with their distinctive conical tops made of elm or beech wood, or from the ‘Alaca’ or ‘dappled’ horses, again of the Seljuks, dates back to 1850. The grand vizier, who around that date ordered the draining of the swamp that was contributing to the spread of malaria, had Greek workers brought over from the islands for the job. Taking up viniculture on the land granted to them by the great Turkish landowners, these Greeks never returned but instead set up grape processing factories at Alaçatı harbor. More immigrants arrived from Salonica in the population exchange of 1924. Unskilled in the viniculture that was practiced in the region, the newcomers instead engaged in tobacco processing. Although both industries are history today, this poses no obstacle to your enjoying a nostalgic experience in the venues they have left behind. For smack dab in the center of the marketplace today stands a restaurant housed in an old grape and tobacco depot from the 1800s where guests are served in an authentic, unspoiled architecture. This establishment, which boasts neither garden nor dining al fresco, nevertheless offers a dramatic ambience thanks to the sunlight that seeps in through windows in the stone walls of its high-ceilinged, timber construction. Furnished with antiques, the restaurant on weekends offers tango and ‘milonga’ nights that are frequented exclusively by professionals.
The siesta is also an institution of many Alaçatı establishments today. As you wait for the cafes and restaurants to open in the evening, you can either stroll through the streets or have a seat at one of the refreshing coffeehouses. For Alaçatı’s architectural fabric is enchanting. The houses, built of cut stone called ‘Alaçatı stone’ that resembles pumice in appearance, have the advantage of being warm in winter and cool in summer. Despite being a porous stone, it reacts with the carbon dioxide in the air to form limestone, which acts as a heat filter. Indeed the entire region is covered with this stone. Restoration of the old Alaçatı houses has been a popular enterprise for several years now, and the gardened villas along some of the streets, lined with pepper trees, are of enviable beauty. Alaçatı, which has retained its historical texture despite being opened up for settlement, will capture your heart in an instant with its old, balconied houses, its windmills, its narrow streets covered with paving stones, and the smiling faces of its people, refugees from Bosnia, Albania and Salonica.
Antique buffs will also leave Alaçatı delighted. For an open air antique market is set up here on Saturdays and Sundays. The selection is vast, ranging from authentic icons and silver jewelry to crystal goblets and objects unique to the region.
DANCERS WITH THE WIND
And now for the sea. Leaving the town center and following the road where mimosas bloom bright yellow in springtime, you can go either to the surfing center at the bottom of the hill where wind energy is harnessed, or to the beach directly opposite. The choice is yours. And if you choose the beach, you can wander over the dunes and discover many a tranquil cove. Alaçatı beach has been a favorite with surfers for almost 15 years, its peak season falling between April and November. The reason for its popularity is a sandbar that extends some 700 meters from shore with water no more than a meter deep so that even non-swimmers can learn to wind surf here. Another key feature of this beach is the availability of every type of equipment imaginable as well as lessons with professional instructors. You can spend the evening either in the gardens of the old, balconied houses that have been restored in the town center, or at the restaurants and cafes that have opened inside them. Or, if you prefer, you can go to the gilt-head bream farm at Mersin Harbor, an extension of Alaçatı. Here, where fresh fish and seafood of every variety are served, don’t neglect to try the many dishes prepared in season from the tiny, tender artichoke-like fruit of the gumwood tree. As Sabahattin Ali said, you are going to be as mad as the wind, in love with this awesome force of nature, at Alaçatı.