Çeşme

With its golden sands, diamond-glinted sea, luxury beach clubs and crazy water sports, Çeşme is the Aegean’s rising star. And this summer it is more determined than ever to shine

Going to Çeşme is one of the most practical ways of escaping the urban stress and oppressive heat, as I quickly realized in the thick shade of a giant palm at the harbor. Little more than an Izmir backwater for years, Çeşme today is a serious contender with Bodrum and Antalya for summer tourism. A boon it perhaps owes to its infinite capacity to reinvent itself. So much has changed since three years ago when I spent one of the best vacations of my life in Çeşme. For one thing, there are the hotels and restaurants, which put the Spanish and Italian coasts to shame. The artsy crowd of urban escapees continue to flock here in droves. Florida photographer Charlie Ibrahim Duygulu for one, who has come here to build yachts at Alaçatı, says Çeşme is even more beautiful than the Greek islands. And there are many other entrepreneurs who have settled here for similar reasons. Long story short, Çeşme’s windy shore just a stone’s throw from Izmir looks like thriving this summer.

THE FLAVOR OF GUM MASTIC
Today’s Çeşme was the ancient Cyssus, a highly developed port city that once controlled the regional trade. In the Ottoman period it performed the key function of controlling the Aegean Sea, and two famous Turkish commanders, Çaka Bey and Cezayirli Hasan Paşa are among the first names that spring to mind at any mention of the town. ‘Çeşme’ means ‘fountain’, and you will of course encounter a host of lovely ones in this area of historic fountains for which streets and squares are named: the Hacı Memiş Ağa, Hafize Rabia Hatun, Kabadayı, Kaymakam Sadık Bey, Mehmet Kethüda and Mimar Mehmet fountains, to name just a few.  A pleasant stroll starting from the historic city center to the castle and museum is the best way to take in Çeşme’s traditional architecture. The 16th century caravanserai was built to meet the needs of traders coming from distant realms. Çeşme’s houses, the newest of which are a century old, exhibit an unique synthesis of Greek and Turkish architecture. And the legendary terebinth tree with its miraculous cure for all ills continues to grow here. Spearheaded by local nature lovers, a new project aims to turn the tree’s gum mastic to economic gain. Used to flavor everything from jams and coffee to rice pudding, gum mastic makes ice cream, served in a hollowed out Çeşme melon, irresistible. According to the local rag, over a hundred different herbs grow in Çeşme, which is at the same time the Aegean’s purveyor of artichokes. Indeed there is no shortage of products to appeal to the palate here. You can find everything from seafood and vegetarian dishes to world cuisine and diet menus, all at quality service, in Çeşme and its environs.

THE SEVEN WONDERS OF ÇEŞME
With fabulous beaches along its 29-kilometer coastal strip, Çeşme is known for its variety of sands, which rival its cuisines in diversity.  Among them, Ilıca is the most famous of Çeşme’s many touristic areas, including Alaçatı, Ilıca, Çiftlik, Paşalimanı, Şifne and Ildırı, all of which are in high demand in summer. At two kilometers in length, it is reminiscent of the Maldives with its dazzling white sands and turquoise waters. What’s more, a hot water spring that empties into the sea here transforms Ilıca into one big thermal pool, thanks to which swimming is possible on average six months of the year. To witness this natural wonder, often said to be therapeutic, you must go to Yıldız Burnu. The beach also boasts courts for beach volleyball buffs. Since the water is only waist-deep even a long way from shore, it’s ideal for families with children. Opened up for tourism in the 1960’s along with Ilıca, the ‘Golden Sands’ Altınkum beach is entirely covered with natural sand. Meanwhile Dalyan on Çeşme’s northern coast, famous for its yacht harbor, fish restaurants and mermaid statue, is one of the area’s most delightful coves. Its bass, red mullet, and sea and gilthead bream come highly recommended by seasoned Dalyan fisherman Cevat Aksu. Ayayorgi between Dalyan and Ilıca is another natural cove, shaped liked a half moon, where food and drink are served in the sunbathing areas on the wooden landings and grassy lawns. Known in the local parlance as ‘the sleeping sea’, this cove is the choice of those who prefer cooler waters. When it comes to tents and caravans, the lovely beach at Paşalimanı, where the forest meets the sea, is just the spot. A portion of its pebble beach is covered with fine sand. And the water here, where even stones on the sea floor can be seen from meters up, is sparklingly pure as at all the Çeşme beaches.

THE UNDERWATER WORLD
The mysterious underwater world is a key tourist attraction at Çeşme, where life is enhanced by the sea. You can experience memorable moments here, where unequalled diving opportunities await amateurs and professionals alike. The scuba diving points around the islands of Fener, Yatak and Eşek on Ildırı Bay attract divers with their underwater caves. And don’t be surprised to encounter a Mediterranean seal at any moment! But the real drawing point of the region is the wind surfing at Alaçatı. The cove at Çark Plage, one of the world’s leading wind surfing areas, is a virtual surfing pool.  Sports enthusiasts from around the world can be seen all four seasons here, where the wind blows almost 365 days a year and the sea is very shallow. All of this makes Çeşme a major wind surf area. If you need yet another reason to come to Çeşme, the Çeşme Festival, the Aegean region’s leading art and culture event, is on through July 3rd. Featuring a number of renowned musicians, the international song contest at this year’s 21st festival is scheduled for the last day at Çeşme’s Amphitheatre, with Bonnie Tyler as guest artist. But even if you can’t make the festival at the beginning of July, there will be many more things to please you later on in the summer. And that is why we say, ‘This summer Çeşme!’

HOW TO GET THERE

Turkish Airlines flies from Istanbul to Izmir and back every day of the week. The Izmir-Çeşme road is much shorter and safer now following construction of the new autobahn.

WHERE TO STAY

There is a wide choice of lodging at Çeşme, all the way from modest bed&breakfasts to five-star hotels. Alaçatı’s boutique hotels are especially popular.

WHAT TO BUY

Gum mastic flavored taffy, milk pudding and coffee, pistachio jam, hand-made decorative items, dried flowers, scented soaps and herbals teas are available.