For those who wish to venture through Turkey’s unexpected wonders, there’s a dynamic triangle of discovery within easy reach of Istanbul
Dynamic discoveries beyond Istanbul
Most travelers to Turkey head to Istanbul and for many of these travelers the ancient city of some 15 million souls is quite enough. The heart of the city, once Constantinople, stood as the beacon of power in the early centuries AD and showed its force in buildings still standing as marvels in the annals of architecture.
To be sure, traveling to and exploring Istanbul is its own reward. But beyond the pasha palaces, the religious iconography, the ancient bazaars and the thriving arts and fashion scenes of Istanbul are destinations of wonder, each bringing in its own stunning surprises.
Eye on Izmir
Just an hour’s flight (or four- to five-hour drive) south of Istanbul is Izmir, the gateway city to Alacati, the Çe me beaches and Turkey’s celebrated wine and food region. Izmir is worthy of a day on its own. Formerly old Smyrna, the port city of four million people dates back to the days of Homer, who is said to have been born here in the 7th or 8th century BC.
Now, Izmir has a wonderful walkable (and bike-able) 25-mile strand along the coast of one of recorded history’s oldest port cities, which is flanked these days by top hotels and restaurants. The bazaar of Izmir’s Old City brings the usual ancient stone buildings, narrow pedestrian corridors and sunny café courtyards as the centuries play out in bustling market places and unpretentious shops. Find all manner of textiles here – from modern wedding dresses to traditional celebration costumes to flashy, trendy boutiques selling fancy, designer pasha pants. It is not hard to find hidden stalls selling possibly the best coffee on the planet.
For those in search of dying cultures, a smattering of 17th century synagogues inhabit the Old City. A thriving Jewish population found safety in these quarters during the Spanish Inquisition. A few synagogues are still in use today and may be visited, starting with a small make-shift museum that tells the tales.
Out and About in Alacati
From Izmir, Alacati is a quick 45-minute drive through mountains lined with wind farms and pine forests. The village was once a Greek fishing village and most of the homes and shops – dating from the mid-19th century – still stand, but now they are remodeled, repainted, revived and if you don’t pinch yourself you think you have wandered into an accidental corner of Greek Town in Walt Disney World.
The narrow, pedestrian stone lanes that define the town’s charm are a labyrinth of blue and white domiciles flecked with the occasional red or pink geranium box. Shops, cafes and precious auberges line the streets that are mostly given to stray dogs that everyone owns, and old men playing dominoes and backgammon on olive treeshaded tables.
In the summer, the cobblestones are packed with tourists predominantly from Turkey, but also Europe and the Middle East. Eating is the thing to do in Alacati; ice creams, pastries and coffees are laced with
Right: Selling at the bizarre in Izmir