Alaçati: Discovering western Turkey’s hidden gem

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(CNN) – The brass band fills the air with live Turkish music as they march through the cobbler’s street. Tourists and locals alike clap and dance, packing the main square.

The musicians wear gold epolets in turquoise uniforms – colors that match the sapphire-blue of the Aegean waters of Alakati on the Sesame Peninsula in western Turkey (or Turkey).

With its rustic stone houses with vibrantly painted wooden doors, upscale restaurants, winding streets filled with modern art galleries and boutique stores, Alacati has all the features of a typical Mediterranean town, yet has a simple Turkish charm.

Since the resurgence in the early 2000s, Turkish holidaymakers have been flocking to this picturesque destination, about an hour southwest of Izmir. But international visitors are just playing catch-up.

Wherever you turn, people sip Turkish tea in the city’s open-air cafes, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.

Colorful town

The cobbled alleys of Alacati are full of brightly colored houses.

The cobbled alleys of Alacati are full of brightly colored houses.

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And it’s not just the holidaymakers who have won – the strong, year-round winds of the nearby bay have also made windsurfers a fixture here, making Alakati Turkey’s self-proclaimed windsurfing capital.

“The air you breathe here is precious,” says Perihan Akbulut, who runs the Kurabi Hotel, a few minutes away from the stunning Kurabi Stone House.

“There’s always a breeze that makes you feel good – even if it’s very hot in the summer months.”

CNN’s Richard Quest travels to western Turkey to find out why he calls Izmir the “pearl of the Aegean.”

The Kurabi Hotel can easily be confused with the boutique Aegean Guest House because of its white washed walls and blue doors.

Akbulut came here from Istanbul in 2009 and opened the hotel, the courtyard of which is adorned with a lemon orchard in its center, the following year.

She and her husband now live between two places – enjoying the big urban life during the winter and retreating to the beautiful city for the summer season.

“It’s very simple – or let’s say simple – to organize your life, here in Alakati,” she adds.

“But that’s what fascinates me; it’s a place where you don’t have to think much about what to do and where to go.”

Hidden inside Izmir’s Cameralty Market is Synagogue Street and is being renovated

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The Alakati Herb Festival, which aims to showcase the region’s herbs, takes place in the city every spring.

The Alakati Herb Festival, which aims to showcase the region’s herbs, takes place in the city every spring.

Birkken Zengin / Pasture Imagery / MediaPunch / IPX / AP

Alakati has gone through many new discoveries over the years. It was largely a swampland until the mid-19th century, when authorities drained it to eradicate malaria from breeding malaria-causing mosquitoes.

Greek workers from nearby islands settled here to cultivate vineyards and olive groves, and the region continues to be a wine-making and olive-oil-producing region in Turkey.

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Like other cities in the region, Alakati was largely abandoned in the 1920s after Turkey and Greece engaged in a religion-based population exchange. Many of his stone houses had been demolished for decades and were in disrepair.

But it has experienced a kind of marine change in the last 20 years. Eagle-eyed visitors from across the country saw the opportunity to buy holiday homes here, breathing new life into the city.

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Locals often brag about the region’s produce and handicraft food, and on Saturdays, markets extend to the town’s main artery, Camelpasa Street, and numerous side streets, with fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and seafood.

Each spring, the Alakati Herb Festival, an annual event showcasing the natural flora grown in Alakati and the nearby coastal town of Casme, attracts crowds of visitors to the area.

Akbult adds, “Everything is accessible.” “Delicious foods, fresh vegetables and fruits, natural herbs and seafood.

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

‘Heaven on Earth’

Alaska is just a short drive from the coast of the Cesme Peninsula, including the stunning Ilica Beach.

Alaska is just a short drive from the coast of the Cesme Peninsula, including the stunning Ilica Beach.

Amin Manguarslan / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images

This region of the East Mediterranean is full of history. The ancient relics of Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, can be found just an hour south of Alacati.

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

Meanwhile, Pamukkale’s thermal pool, which literally translates as “Cotton Castle” and can be mistaken for a bunch of angel clouds if viewed in the right corner, is only a few hours away by car.

The ancient city of Ephesus is undoubtedly one of the greatest wonders of Turkey. But away from a small drive is a small village with a lot of attractions.

This popular site of the ancient Travertines, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, has been visited by tourists for centuries.

Among the peculiarities of the well-preserved remains of the ancient city of Herapolis, which was once a healing center, is the Pamukkale Antique Pool, also known as Cleopatra’s Pool, where Queen Cleopatra of Egypt is believed to have once swum.

And for those who prefer to live close to the city, a trip to the hot thermal springs of Ilica Beach, where the first 100 meters or so of water stays shallow from the shore, will not disappoint.

“We call this place ‘Paradise on Earth,'” Cassme Mayor Akram Oran told CNN while praising the herbs at Alakati’s Saturday market.

Giving an opinion from the faces of the people around you, you will push hard to find anyone who disagrees with this feeling.

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