(CNN) — A marching band fills the air with lively Turkish music as it parades down a cobbled street. Tourists and locals cheer and dance, packing the main square.
The musicians are dressed in turquoise uniforms with golden shoulder pads – colors that match the azure blue of the Aegean waters of Alaçatı, located on the Cesme Peninsula in western Turkey (or Türkiye).
With its rustic stone houses with brightly painted wooden doors, winding streets filled with upscale restaurants, modern art galleries and boutiques, Alaçatı has all the characteristics of a typical Mediterranean town, but with a Effortless Turkish charm.
Turkish holidaymakers have been flocking to this scenic destination, about an hour’s drive southwest of Izmir, since a revival took place in the early 2000s. But international visitors are only catching up.
Everywhere you turn, people are sipping Turkish tea in the city’s outdoor cafes, enjoying the fresh air and sunshine.
The cobbled lanes of Alacati are filled with brightly colored houses.
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And it’s not just holidaymakers who have been wowed – windsurfers have also become a must here due to the strong year-round winds from the nearby bay, making Alaçatı the self-proclaimed windsurfing capital of Turkey.
“The air you breathe here is precious,” says Perihan Akbulut, who runs the Kurabiye Hotel, which is a short walk from Kurabiye’s beautiful stone house.
“There’s always a breeze that makes you feel better, even though it’s so hot in the summer months.”
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The Kurabiye Hotel could easily be mistaken for a charming Aegean guesthouse thanks to its whitewashed walls and blue doors.
Akbulut moved here from Istanbul in 2009 and opened the hotel, which has a courtyard adorned with a lemon garden at its center, the following year.
She and her husband now live between the two destinations – enjoying big city life during the winter and retiring to the pretty town for the summer season.
“It’s so easy – or let’s say simple – to organize your life, here in Alaçatı”, she adds.
“But that’s exactly why it appeals to me; it’s a place where you don’t have to think too much about what to do and where to go.”
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The Alacati Herb Festival, which aims to showcase the region’s herbs, is held in the city every spring.
Alaçatı has seen many reinventions over the years. It was mostly swampland until the mid-19th century, when authorities had it drained to rid the area of swamps that harbored the mosquitoes that cause malaria.
Greek workers from nearby islands settled here to cultivate the vineyards and olive groves, and the area continues to be Turkey’s premier wine-growing and olive oil-producing region.
Like other towns in the region, Alaçatı was largely abandoned in the 1920s, after Turkey and Greece engaged in a religion-based population exchange. Many of its stone houses lay abandoned for decades and fell into disrepair.
But it has undergone a sort of drastic change over the past 20 years. Eagle-eyed visitors from across the country have spotted an opportunity to buy vacation homes here, breathing new life into the town.
Locals often boast of local produce and artisan food, and on Saturdays, market stalls filled with fruit and vegetables, fresh bread and seafood line the city’s main thoroughfare, Kemalpaşa Street. , and extend into many side streets.
Every spring, the Alaçatı Herb Festival, an annual event showcasing the natural herbs that grow in Alaçatı and the nearby coastal town of Çesme, draws hordes of visitors to the area.
“Everything is so accessible,” adds Akbulut. “Delicious food, fresh vegetables and fruits, natural herbs and seafood.
“It’s a good combination of local people and new settlers. You can never feel alone here.”
‘Heaven on earth’
Alacati is a short drive from the beaches of the Cesme peninsula, including the stunning Ilica beach.
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This region of the eastern Mediterranean is steeped in history. The ancient ruins of Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are just an hour’s drive south of Alacatı.
Located near the Aegean Sea and present-day Selçuk, it remains one of Christianity’s most revered sites and is home to some of Turkey’s best archaeological wonders, including the Temple of Hadrian, built in honor of Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Meanwhile, the thermal pools of Pamukkale, which literally translates to ‘cotton castle’ and can be mistaken for a cluster of angelic clouds if viewed from the right angle, are only a few hours drive away. .
The ancient city of Ephesus is undoubtedly one of the great wonders of Turkey. But a short drive away is a small village with lots of charm.
Tourists have been coming to this popular site of ancient travertines, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, for centuries.
The well-preserved ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis, once a center of healing, are among its highlights, along with the ancient pool of Pamukkale, also known as Cleopatra’s Pool, where the Egyptian queen Cleopatra is said to have once swum .
And for those who prefer to stay closer to town, a trip to the hot thermal springs at Ilica Beach, where the water remains shallow for the first 100 meters or so from shore, will not disappoint.
“We call this place ‘heaven on earth,'” Çesme Mayor Ekrem Oran told CNN while admiring the herbs at Alaçatı Saturday Market.
Judging by the faces of those around her, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who would disagree with that sentiment.