For some time, we’ve wanted to explore more of the Aegean coast of Turkey. The beautiful coastal town of Çeşme (meaning ‘fountain’), seemed like the perfect place to use as a base and continue those explorations.
We already knew a little about the Çeşme region and its reputation.
Beautiful beaches, crystal clear waters of the Aegean Sea, water sports, vineyards, and not forgetting the famous Çeşme Kumrusu.
And the wonderfully pretty streets and stone houses of Alaçatı; home to one of Turkey’s most famous festivals, the Alaçatı herb festival.
We’d also been told by numerous Turkish friends that Çeşme is expensive – but we quite enjoy a budget challenge so we weren’t going to let that little hurdle dissuade us from going.
That was as much as we knew, then.
Obviously, we did a bit more research before we set off.
We only had four days and three nights to play with so we wanted to make the very most of that time.
And we did!
Things To Do In Çeşme Peninsula
The varied landscapes of this amazing country are just one of the aspects of travel that is so rewarding.
Travelling in summer, we left the intense heat and humidity of the mountainous Mediterranean coast and arrived to the sight of gentle rolling hills, clear blue skies and refreshing breezes.
No surprise then that wind turbines are a feature of the skyline of the Çeşme Peninsula.
We don’t often travel in the summer months. But if you’re travelling in the country and looking for somewhere to escape the intensity of the Turkish summer heat, then Çeşme is a great place to head for, for a few days.
And whilst you’re in the area, what can you do to while away those days and evenings?
Visit Ceşme Castle
Çeşme centre is right on the coast; it’s a small town of narrow streets, cobbled lanes and low-rise historic Greek and Turkish buildings.
Obvious then that Çeşme Castle is going to dominate.
It dwarfs its surroundings and is a really impressive site to visit.
Already on the UNESCO Tentative List, it’s hoped the castle will eventually become a permanent UNESCO World Heritage Site.
The castle was built at the beginning of the 16th century atop an existing 14th century Genoese fortress during the reign of Sultan Bayezid II in the Ottoman Empire.
Its walls and the castle itself climb up the steep hillside – which means you will need to do the same if you are keen to explore!
Your reward is fabulous 360 degree views: over the old, restored Greek dwellings of Çeşme; out along the pretty stretch of the harbour, across the Aegean Sea and over to the Greek island of Chios and down to Çeşme Marina.
The castle is also home to Çeşme Museum, housing archaeological finds from the ancient ruins around the area.
We’ll write more about the museum and the castle in a future article.
Take A Peek At The Kanuni Kervansaray
Çeşme was (and is) a major port. And, back in the day, merchants and their caravan of camels would have been no doubt been pleased to rest here before their goods were loaded onto ships and transported onwards.
The caravanserai was built in the 16th Century during the reign of Süleyman the Magnificent.
And, these days, is restored and operating as a hotel with a pool in the central courtyard.
There’s a bar and restaurant open to non-guests and you can tour the building for a small fee and view the Sultan’s room – if it isn’t occupied, that is.
The restored Pargalı Hamam (historic Turkish baths) from the same period is just behind the hotel.
Stroll Through Award Winning Çeşme Marina
If there’s one aspect of coastal towns that are almost guaranteed to fail to impress us, it’s the local yacht marina.
Mega yachts, super yachts, designer-clothing-clad promenaders – just not our bag.
They’re often newly built and soulless.
However, Çeşme marina goes against the grain. We loved our little strolls through this area.
The setting for the yachts is unimposing and there are fabulous vistas over to the castle.
And the marina has been incorporated into the original harbour which has stood here since ancient times.
Low-rise, historic whitewashed stone buildings are framed with fuschia-coloured bougainvillea.
Cafes and restaurants line the water’s edge.
And yes, the designer clothes shops are all there – but they’re all housed in those oh-so-pretty stone buildings.
It’s a lovely area to stroll through as part of your wanderings and easy to see why it’s won so many awards, including a Green Apple Award for Environmental Best Practice.
And it is home to what has got to be one of the prettiest – if not the prettiest – kumrucu joints in the country.
Well, in our opinion at least!
Take Delight In A Çeşme Kumrusu
But what is this ‘kumrucu’ we speak of?
Another great aspect of travel in this country is the varied cuisine. Lots of traditional Turkish dishes – but also regional cuisine.
Çeşme is in the Izmir Province. And this whole province is famous for ‘kumru.’
A sesame seed coated cob with various fillings; most commonly white cheese, tomato and green pepper.
The famous Çeşme Kumrusu, however has lots more filling.
If you’re travelling on a budget, this is one of the famous local street foods that you can fill up on for a good price.
And if you want to enjoy a more leisurely kumru, the cute place photographed above in Çeşme marina is by the water.
And you also get the option to wash it down with a cold beer.
Follow It Up With A Sakız Dondurması
Eating dondurma (ice cream) is a popular pastime on summer days in Çeşme.
This is immediately obvious when you see the number of artisan ice cream parlours and street stands around the harbour and the cobbled streets of the old town – and the length of the queues of people waiting to be served.
The ice cream parlour in the photo lays claim to being continuously voted amongst Turkey’s top 10 ice cream parlours since 1945.
Other parlours entice customers with signs advertising the fact that they only use organic milk.
And others specialise in the local Çeşme Sakız Dondurması. Ice cream made from mastic gum.
The nearby Greek island of Chios supplies the world with mastic – a resin which is used for a whole host of purposes – foodstuffs, health, beauty and general practicalities.
In Turkish, Chios is called Sakız Adası – Mastic Island.
During the times of the Ottoman Empire, Çeşme also harvested mastic from their local trees.
Turkish NGO, TEMA began a project to reforest the area with mastic trees as only a few remain.
And apparently, this is the only known geographic area where mastic can grow successfully.
The General Directorate of Forestry took over in 2017.
Dine At A Meyhane
Whilst Çeşme might not be the most popular choice of destination for the many foreign tourists who come to Turkey, it is certainly a popular destination for domestic tourists; particularly those from nearby Izmir (just an hour’s drive away) and Istanbul.
This means meyhane culture is alive and well in Çeşme. Both along the seafront and in the side streets.
A handful of bars and meyhane-style restaurants make for a great low key yet lively nightlife.
The rakı and the beer will flow (mainly the rakı) whilst enjoying a wide selection of meze plates, seafoods and grills, sometimes to the sounds of live music.
Shout out to Damaki Restaurant from us because, whilst we love the food at places like this, we’ve never been able to drink much rakı.
As well as beers and rakı, the owner here also had some lovely local wines sold by the glass at decent prices.
Ayios Haralambos Greek Orthodox Church
You can’t miss this place; just sitting there along the main pedestrianised street, Atatürk Bulvarı.
Ayios Haralambos Church dates from 1832 and had fallen into a state of disrepair before it was restored by Çeşme Municipality in 2012.
Today, it hosts cultural events and temporary exhibitions and it’s free to enter.
On the day we visited, there were a few craft stalls to peruse. But the restoration means you can also admire the bright paintwork and church architecture.
Haralambos was a priest in Magnesia in today’s Aydın province and, in the Greek Orthodox religion, is patron saint of shepherds and their flocks.
Shop, Eat, Drink, Stroll Atatürk Bulvarı
At least for visitors to this resort town, this pretty cobbled, pedestrianised main street is where you’ll perhaps be drawn to when you’re not sunning yourself on the impressive beaches.
Tables and chairs spill out onto the pavements from cafes, coffee shops, ice cream parlours and patisseries.
If you love to sit and people watch for a while, this area is a great spot!
Artisan jewellery shops and fashion boutiques tempt shoppers.
It’s a lively place to be, both day and night. Because nighttime, of course, is when the bars and meyhanes come to life.
At the top of this street, just as it hits the main road, there’s a handful of fast food cafes that do ‘meal deals’ offering kumru, toasties, pide and lahmacun with a soft drink included in the price.
Perfect for budget travellers!
And just across the road from here is where you can jump on the dolmuş that will take you to Alaçatı and Ilıca.
Don’t Miss Alaçatı!
Have you ever read about somewhere so often and seen so many photos on Instagram that you feel like it’s gonna be a bit of letdown when you finally get there for yourself to see it in person?
Can somewhere really be so pretty?
We’ll write a separate article for Alaçatı soon.
But we can tell you that far from being disappointed; it was everything we’d seen in the photos.
And more besides!
The term, ‘Çeşme Peninsula‘ is used as an umbrella for the three towns of Çeşme, Alaçatı and Ilıca.
The dolmuş plies the route between the three towns every few minutes in season and you can get on and off where you like.
We had a lovely day spending the morning strolling the streets of inland Alaçatı and then later heading down to the coast to Ilıca Beach.
Hit The Beach
If you know us, you know we’re not particularly beachy people.
But Çeşme is famous for its spectacular coastline and beaches.
And it’s easy to see why! Wow!
If you’re a beach lover, you’ll be in one of the best places!
Ilıca Beach is famous for its natural thermal springs so the water is pleasantly warm.
Altınkum (not to be confused with the famous holiday resort of the same name), on the other hand, has a more wild beauty.
Narrow winding roads – of varying quality – lead to different beach clubs where vibrant turquoise waters and fine sand tempt beach goers.
As we said, we only had three nights in Çeşme.
And when it comes to beach life, you really are spoilt for choice. Obviously, we couldn’t visit them all.
There are so many more to choose from – including those famous for kitesurfing and windsurfing.
In season, there’s a regular dolmuş service to the lovely beaches of Altınkum and Pırlanta that leaves from the road by the marina.
And if it’s just a morning dip in the sea that you’re craving, rather than a full-on beach excursion, the very top photo in this article is the small, pretty beach at the end of Çeşme harbour.
Take a swim from there. Or, as you walk along the harbour, there are steps leading into the water every so often.
Lovely to walk by, watching local residents and kids leaving their towels on the edge of the promenade whilst they climb into the water for a morning or sunset swim!
A Day On The Aegean With A Boat Trip
Living where we live in Fethiye, boat trips are part of the fabric of the area.
Popular with locals, domestic and foreign tourists.
The boat tour set up in Çeşme is a smaller affair with three or four larger boats going out onto the water to nearby islands and bays.
A famous stop on the trip is Eşek Adası (Donkey Island) and we’ve seen photos.
There are cute donkeys! It’s not just a name.
And Yet More Things To Do In Çeşme
There’s only so much you can see and do in such a short time.
So we did miss out on some of the things we wanted to see.
But we will be back to the Çeşme Peninsula area another time to visit places like the ancient city of Erythrai and the Dalyanköy neighbourhood.
Of course, a quick sail over to neighbouring Chios would be great, too.
As we drove up to this area, we took a driving break in Seferihisar – a Cittaslow town on the same Izmir Peninsula.
There are so many places to explore around the Turkish Aegean coast and the Izmir Province will be tempting us back for more soon!
Çeşme Peninsula – Useful Info
- Çesme is on the far western tip of the peninsula west of Izmir (see map below). It is in the Province of Izmir.
- The nearest airport is Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport, approximately 60 minutes away.
- If you are arriving by bus, there are regular buses to Çeşme from Izmir Otogar (the main bus station).
- There are some bigger hotel complexes on the Çeşme Peninsula but if you want to stay in or near the old town area, it’s all about family run boutique hotels and pensions.
- This area is very popular with wealthier Turkish holidaymakers, many of whom will arrive by car. In July and August during the school summer holidays, parking is a challenge, especially at weekends. If you are arriving by car, we recommend booking a hotel that has parking. Once we arrived, we left our hire car where it was and used public transport.
- And finally; is Çeşme expensive? Prices are constantly on the increase, these days. All we can say is, if you are familiar with prices along the Mediterranean Coast in places like Kaş or Fethiye centre, there’ll be no big shocks for you in Çeşme. And there are deals around, too, that can make life cheaper for you.