Alaçatı is a city that almost didn’t exist, and that’s part of its magic. Formed from a drained swamp in the 1850s, this small town on the Cesme Peninsula along Turkey’s Aegean coast flourished for a time as a sunny spot where vineyards flourished. But political upheaval and inhospitable winds drove its inhabitants out, and for most of the twentieth century it was little more than a ghost town.

But in the 1990s, locals say the same winds that drove people away started attracting windsurfers looking for the next great surf spot. Today, the transformation is complete and Alaçatı is now a thriving city fueled by tourism and its own renewed beauty.

Today, windsurfers still flock to this coastal town from April to October. But so do tourists from Turkey and abroad, who are looking for a lively place to relax, but still a little out of the way.

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On a recent visit, as I walked through a tangle of narrow pedestrian streets shaded by extravagantly pink bougainvillea, I tried to imagine what it was like 30 years ago, when people returned to the mostly abandoned city, dreaming of what it could become. Strolling the narrow lanes in the stillness of the early morning, when the community has more cats than people, it was easy to feel that smack of possibility in the earth-pink, two-story stone houses, the lush lemon trees and flourishing vines growing from every patch of dirt and bright- blue sky overhead.

street view in Alaçatı, Turkey
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

During my visit in September, the city was busy but not crowded. Like a slowly increasing volume dial, sleepy mornings gave way to midday as people filled cafe terraces and wandered the boutique-lined streets. As I traveled around the city, I stopped by jewelry stores, art galleries, and an antique shop (Ibrahim Bey Ataliesi) filled floor to ceiling with everything from serving spoons to old movie equipment and lanterns.

people hang out at an outdoor cafe in Alaçatı, Turkeypeople hang out at an outdoor cafe in Alaçatı, Turkey
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

In the afternoon I took a walking tour and visited the stalls in the open air market where I stocked up on dried herbs that I couldn’t identify but the aromas of wild mint and thyme beckoned from their little sachets, I tried the city’s famous mastic (rubber band) ice cream at Imren’s shop, and walked up the hill to the windmills to look out over the city—a sight that reminded me that this meadow of streets doesn’t last forever, and that the bustling world of cars and highways exists beyond its peaceful borders.

After dark, the languid atmosphere of sipping and strolling is replaced by a party atmosphere that feels deeply and distinctly Turkish. Everyone—adults and children alike—comes out in the evening, when music plays in the streets, people dance and smoke, and every table on the sidewalk in front of every restaurant is filled with couples, groups, and families. It felt like Turkey was at the crossroads of Europe and Asia, seeing women in sequined tops at one table and hijabs at the next, all swaying to the same beat of the music.

What to do near Alacati

sunbeds along the water at the Momo Beach Club beach near Alaçatı, Turkey sunbeds along the water at the Momo Beach Club beach near Alaçatı, Turkey
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)
  • Wine tasting: About half an hour’s drive from Alacati is the Urla Vineyard Route, a day-trip-ready mix of award-winning wineries, cycling routes, restaurants and historic attractions. The region’s millennia-old winemaking tradition continues today, with vineyards growing a mix of local grape varieties such as Bornova Misketi, Sultaniye and Bogazkere, as well as more familiar varieties such as Cabernet Sauvignon and Sauvignon Blanc.

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  • Beach clubs: The coast here is rocky, and the beaches are limited. But a beach club culture is thriving around the peninsula. For a cover charge, you enter a world that feels part beach restaurant, part well-maintained hotel beach and part day club. I spent the afternoon at Momo Beach where I relaxed by the water, played in the waves and then headed to a restaurant for lunch overlooking the sea.

Where to stay in Alachata

That sounds like an exaggeration, but I mean it. In Alachata, I found two of my favorite hotels on earth.

KestelINN Alacati

interior of a room at KestelINN in Alaçatı, Turkeyinterior of a room at KestelINN in Alaçatı, Turkey
(Photo: KestelINN)

If I had to stay in one hotel for the rest of my life, it would be KestelINN. The seven-room boutique hotel occupies a beautiful old stone house built around a courtyard. The hotel is the perfect size for a large family or group – everyone has their own room, but can gather in the courtyard or cafe. The hotel owner lovingly restored this historic house with the help of Turkish architect and artist Hakan Ezer. Every detail, from the original artwork to the Turkish linens, is elegant yet understated. The lobby is a cafe that uses local produce to create small culinary masterpieces – eat here if you can; every bite is a delight. Ovacık Hotel Farm is located a few miles from the city. You can visit for a tour or to eat if you plan ahead.

Alavia

the pool at the Alacati Alavya Boutique Hotel in Turkeythe pool at the Alacati Alavya Boutique Hotel in Turkey
(Photo: Christine Sarkis)

Bigger than the Kestell Inn, but still intimate, Alavya began life as an open-air cinema in an orchard. The hotel’s six buildings have 25 rooms scattered among the trees, giving this urban location a distinctly bucolic feel. Rooms combine contemporary design with original features such as rough-hewn stone walls. The beautiful swimming pool is hidden among the olive trees, its tiles reminiscent of the blue and green of the Aegean Sea. The hotel has a spa, restaurant, patisserie and a small shop with beautiful products from local artisans (I bought a tiny bowl that I use for olives). Notable for families: every night’s bedtime routine includes a teddy bear for the kids.

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I left Alacati, it seemed, too soon. But as I rolled my suitcase out the hotel door and onto the worn cobblestone streets, I received a strange invitation to return. It happened in a burst. The loud patter of drops falling on the rocks behind me. I stopped and turned, wondering at the sound on such a cloudless day. Behind me, several people from the Kestell Inn smiled and threw water in my direction. I was confused. The look of confusion on my face asked the question for me and they offered a key piece of missing information. “In Anatolia, we pour water on our guests when they leave. It is a wish that you go as smooth as water and return as smoothly as water.’ It is a hope I share to return to Alacati as smooth as water.

Get there

Alaçatı is an hour’s drive from the airport in the larger city of Izmir. There are direct flights from Izmir (many Turkish Airlines) to Istanbul, as well as dozens of European cities.

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