At 11am each morning, the Alacati fish auction plays host to local restaurateurs and hoteliers who crowd amicably around a large table where the catch of the day is laid out in batches, each one with a numbered raffle ticket attached, reminiscent of the lucky dip at a village fete.
The auctioneer starts the bidding and the action is rapid as each lot is claimed, then scooped rather unceremoniously with a blue plastic dustpan into a bag, and the new owner makes off with his purchase, with an optional stop for filleting carried out by a wizened local wielding the sharpest of knives with a speed and dexterity that makes an average tourist wince with admiration.
Such local scenes are a highlight of a short break to Alacati, considered by some as the St. Tropez of Turkey but that might be off-putting to those who view its French counterpart as an over-priced, over-commercial resort which lost its authenticity and charm many years ago.
Alacati certainly has all the ingredients: an unspoilt ancient town centre of exquisite narrow stone streets with elegant boutiques, local wine and produce, endless street cafes and bars, high quality dining, nightlife and an air of glamour. It has a harbour, sandy beaches, with incredible views sweeping across to the Greek islands, and is a popular holiday destination for native Turks who flock to their holiday homes from nearby Izmir and much further afield.
My stay began with an overnight stay at the Beyevi Hotel, an oasis of comfort and charm after a 50 minute drive from Izmir airport, reached by a direct flight from Stansted with Pegasus Airlines. It really could not have been easier and Alacati compares very favourably with other European destinations for a weekend or short break.
And upon arrival, what wonderful delights were awaiting. A welcoming cold beer in the charming courtyard and all of the essentials of luxury – a spacious air- conditioned room, a comfortable bed, high quality linen and towels, a fabulous shower, attentive friendly service and all in a perfect central location.
Turkish breakfast is a feast to behold – served between the most civilised hours of 9am and 12 noon, there’s no rush to enjoy the spread of cheeses, vegetable, jams, breads and endless cups of tea. And what a revelation: Turkish tea! A non-coffee drinker, I always struggle on trips outside of the UK to find a decent brew. And here is the answer. As I was reminded, we are close to where tea is grown so perhaps that is why a cup of Turkish tea is so refreshing and entirely satisfactory. Drink it with milk English style, and it’s better than PG tips – honestly!
Strolling the streets of Alacati after breakfast was a joy – still fairly low season in June, it’s a tourist town but tasteful and unspoilt. Climb up to the iconic windmills for stunning views, or simply relax and watch street life amidst the bougainvillea, brightly painted facades, music, and the occasional call to prayer from the local mosque – a reminder that we are on the threshold of Asia.
At the other end of town is the Hotel Chigdem, our second stopover, a family-run hotel with just 11 rooms each very individually styled by the charming owner, Batacar Baysal. Nothing is too much trouble at this hotel where the abundant staff are eager to please.
The highlight of this hotel has to be the rooftop restaurant with its open air dining and a view across Alacati which reminded me of being at the top of a Marrakech riad. Sitting under the clear night sky and stars over a candlelit dinner, in an oasis of peace is hard to beat.
The surrounding Urla region of Turkey is famous for its wine production which is some achievement given the government restrictions on marketing and advertising alcohol. Locally produced wine cannot be exported cost-effectively and so the producers are reliant on distribution and reputation. We had the opportunity to visit 5 different vineyards, from the recently established MMG Winery where the founding father has retired from his career as a brain surgeon to apply his love of detail and precision to the art of wine production. Contrasted with this was the highly commercial multiple award-winning Urla where wine is produced in air-conditioned cellars on a huge scale. And with a wonderful outdoor lunch at the much simpler Urlice where nature takes over and the barrels sit on the earth with ecology at the heart of the production process. Here they have been practising for many centuries using old-fashioned techniques with a café sitting amongst the vineyards and olive groves.
Our final destination for the trip was the simply perfect Hotel Incirliev , situated in a tranquil location on a back street of Alacati. This is a very special place – the owner, Sabahat Poshor used to live in the hustle and bustle of Knightsbridge but has now retired back to her home town, to run a gloriously refurbished boutique hotel with 10 rooms, each furnished in a clean and understated style to make a very luxurious stay. An idyllic shaded courtyard is the perfect place to relax and enjoy a breakfast fit for a king. Home-made jams are the speciality prepared by her husband (better than therapy she says!) – no fewer than 16 were on offer, each made with locally picked fruits and the jam-making process could be observed from the different trays of fruit drying in the hot sun to be found dotted about the tables of the courtyard, giving an ambience of wonderful artisan informality. From wild strawberries, lavender, lemon, and – my favourite, wild mulberries.
Then to Papazz for dinner – what a joy – to find ourselves in the company of a charming but highly accomplished chef. Courgette flowers, artichokes – all fresh food of the highest quality, exquisitely served. We had the pleasure to meet the owners and their daughter, just back from her studies in England in chilly Stockton on Tees – and without wishing to denigrate a British town, there could be no sharper contrast than sitting in her father’s restaurant courtyard enjoying fresh fruit and vegetables on a warm evening, while she told us about choosing between Burger King and TGI Friday in Stockton. Amusing but also thought-provoking as to British attitudes to food and indeed health.
Just a few minutes’ drive from the town is the coast, and guests staying at the Incirliev are able to enjoy free membership of the classy Babylon Beach Club. It’s the summer home for the eponymous (and world-famous) Istanbul nightclub, and the perfect spot to swim, relax and spend a few hours enjoying bar snacks and drinks served by hip young Turks to the backdrop of uber cool music (little of which I recognised, but hey I felt like I was down with the younger set).
Our final evening was to be a truly special way to end a perfect short break – dinner at the water’s edge of the Yali Balik Fish Restaurant at Germiyan. Watching the sunset over the mountains of Chios across the sea, whilst sampling the freshest of fish (probably directly from the auction that morning), created those perfect holiday memories to take back to Stansted with a jolt the next day. All good things have to come to an end.
Turkey has suffered greatly from a lack of tourism over the last couple of years, and needs to rebuild the confidence of leisure visitors who have been steering clear. The coastal resorts are far away from any troubles, and I would recommend and indeed urge Silver Travellers to book a stay now in this little piece of paradise: charming, friendly, modestly priced and with good weather virtually guaranteed from April until October.
For more information visit EXPLORE ALACATI and www.flypgs.com/en for flights to Izmir.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Sunvil for holidays to Turkey.