Aug 13, 2011

Time to say goodybe to Alaçatı

After my recent visit in 2014, it is very frustrating to observe that Alaçatı is falling victim to the Bodrum syndrome or the general Turkish idea of a summer resort in the sense of "discover, overbuild and destroy". Alaçatı was a small village in the Çeşme peninsula, known only by local Izmirites and dedicated wind surfers. However, when the “highway to the beach” aka İzmir-Çeşme highway has been built, it has been transformed to the most popular boutique destination in Turkey given its closeness to the İzmir airport. Then, to the dismay of İzmir’s locals who complain that Istanbulers ruined the placeJ, (who can blame them?), the opening of Taş Otel, now a classic of Alaçatı, changed the village forever. After that, many of the buildings that are examples of Greek masonry have been renovated to now serve as boutique hotels, restaurants and cafés.

Views from various antique stores in Alaçatı.

Thanks to a visionary municipal administration that forbade the use of plastic chairs and tables and enforcing the turning down of music after 12 at night Alaçatı was cool for a while. It did not fall victim to the usual concrete boom in coastal towns and mass tourism in general. However, the big rentier absorped from high prices of accommodation and restaurants served as a strong drive for the locals who are simple farmers and small shopowners. Tyring to benefit from the Alaçatı craze, they started to give their homes to investors who started to offer cheaper places to stay, eat and shop. Sniffing opportunity, big investors also built lucrative port projects. One is the Marina in Çeşme and the other is Port AlaçatıToday, it changed so much that it is possible to shop from the same chain towel and sheet stores in Istanbul in Alaçatı while enjoying a second class restaurant and staying in a second class hotel. In the late hours of the night, the main street of Alaçatı is inaccessible from all the chairs and tables of cafes. It is made all the more difficult as grandmas with crying children in strollers enjoy a suffocating walk among people. The crowds extend to the once quiet back streets of Hacı Memiş. All of this makes you think that Ildırı, 16 km away may be a better choice to stay.

You can rent one of these "lounges" at Fun Beach, Altınkum, Çeşme.

Stuffed muscles come with lemon, plastic bag
(for trash) and cologne towels.

This is Nusret from Ilıca, selling apple candy.

If you decide to ignore the crowds in Alaçatı and decide to experience the peninsula to the full, a car is a MUST.  My entourage in the peninsula usually starts with an arrival dinner at Dalyan north of Alaçatı. The place to go is Cevat’ın Yeri (Tel: 0232-7247045) located on the very left end of the tiny strait like “dalyan”. As you sit across the cutest Coast Goard office in the country and look at the lighthouse, you enjoy the freshest fish and tasteful mezes. Cevat’ın Yeri is not cheap but it’s a classic. On the way back, indulge in the pastries of Reyhan Pattiserie at Ilıca Hotel in Ilıca. 

The lovely café of Sailors Otel in Alaçatı.

Aqua at Şifne bay in Çeşme.

The famous mojitos of Aqua in Şifne bay, Çeşme.
You should be aware that while Alaçatı slowly loses its flair, given the small number of rooms in converted stone houses, it is still hard to find a place to stay in busy July-August without reservation long time in advance. During the day, there are various options for “beaching”. My favorite is Fun Beach in Altınkum, west of Alaçatı. Another great option is Kum Beach located further than the lucrative Port Alaçatı project. While Babylon Aya Yorgi itself may be nice and Babylon has been the live performance place in the night life of Istanbul, bringing its tunes to this summer spot in Aya Yorgi bay seems to have ruined the bay in the sense that it fuelled development there. In both of these places, while lying on the beach, street vendors selling corn and stuffed muscle will pass by. Beer goes extremely well with stuffed muscles that are like Pringles: Once you eat, you cannot stop. One must also head to Aqua in Şifne. This place is famous for its 38 degree thermal pool in which people enjoy afternoon drinks. If not the pool, its couches and hammocks on grass are extremely neat. In the night, the place is famous for its pool parties and electronica music.

Asma Yaprağı restaurant in Alaçatı,
probably the best dinner of my 2011 holiday.

The kitchen of Asma Yaprağı.

Picturesque detail from the kitchen
of Asma Yaprağı, in Alaçatı.

Afternoon cafés in Alaçatı can be enjoyed at Sailor’s Otel or Köşe Cafe in the main square especially if you are returning early from the beach. This is a good option if you want to party with electronic music at Otto or other types of music at Babylon. If you do not want to drive, late night drinks are great at Nar the menu of which includes black mulberry mojito, yummy! 
Local men in Alaçatı.

Since 2006, these men sit here at this corner in Alaçatı. In 2014,
there is a cafe at this corner . The men still sat there.

"Among the old, I remain here" says
this old local man in Alaçatı.

Every year, many places open in Alaçatı but not all of them endure. Roka Bahçe and Asma Yaprağı, have been hailed good but the latter is better than the former. Both cook dishes of Aegean cuisine which is very similar to Greek cuisine with lots of herbs and vegetables. Deserts in Alaçatı almost always include mastic. Head to Imren for mastic pudding or mastic desert. They are doing it since 1941!

Alaçatı mosque, converted from a Greek orthodox church.
Notice the lights at the minarette given ramadan.

Despite the gourmet restaurants, the antique stores, open air bijouterie sold, ever opening niche cafés, what I really like in Alaçatı is the hotel that I have been staying ever since I step foot there. Unfortunately it is now a different establishment  with a famous restaurant called Eflatun. The place is special for it has been converted from the grocery store of Yannis Pavitsos (Alatsata 1883-Athens 1946) whose picture decorated the dining room of the premise. Years ago, it has been given to the two sisters running the hotel by Pavitsos’ grandchildren that visited Alaçatı (or Alatsata as it was known then). I am not sure whether the new owners still keep the picture.

Entrance to my once home in Alaçatı, now Eflatun.

Hacı Memiş side of Alaçatı is still more quiet and local old men still hang out. Year after year, I found them always on the same spot exchanging stories of the day. Many being descendants of settlers from Greek islands themselves, one admires their easy going life style and is taken by their slow rhythm. Women still sit in front of their doors and chat. A quick gaze into their humble homes show the reason why they increasingly give away their homes to investors. Poverty is hard to escape. Maybe this is why we should support cafes like Sunay Kıraathanesi (on the way to Hacı Memiş) where you can sit elbow to elbow with local men and enjoy prices geared for them.

And let me introduce you to Yiannis Pavitsos in the picture,
former owner of Eflatun in Alaçatı.