As you make your way across Turkey’s Aegean coast, there are several towns that will briefly make you forget which country you’re in. Up until the early 20th century, the region was home to thriving Greek communities for hundreds of years. And while the original inhabitants may be gone, towns like Eski Foça, Çeşme and Alaçatı retain much of their original charm.
While the towns featured below can all be visited from central Izmir, they can’t all be seen on the same day. Eski Foça requires its own day trip, while Çeşme Fortress and Alaçatı are situated right by one another on the Çeşme Peninsula.
Be sure to check the end of the article for detailed transport information.
Eski Foça, about 70 km northwest of central Izmir, is arguably the region’s most scenic and cozy small town. Not only is it well-preserved, but it just gets a fraction of the tourists of other Greek towns.
In fact, some of the established travel guide books fail to mention it at all. But that’s all the more reason to come.
Eski Foça is home to countless waterside restaurants and coffee shops, many of which are reasonably priced. And uniquely, you’ll even find some small beaches right in the town center.
As with many of these traditional Greek towns, there’s not a whole lot to do aside from walking around and appreciating the well-preserved architecture. The whole town can easily be explored on foot in under a few hours.
But having visited as a day trip from Izmir, I regretted not having spent a night or two to relax and really soak up the atmosphere.
Outside the town center, you can find some dilapidated windmills atop a hill, appropriately known locally as ‘Windmill Hill.’
This hill not only provides the best views of town, but it’s also home to what’s believed to be the very oldest theater in Anatolia. Hardly anything remains, but it was originally built in the 4th century BC when this was the location of the ancient Greek city of Phocaea.
Phocaea was a part of ancient Ionia, and the Phocaeans were among the ancient world’s top explorers, sailing as far away as Spain. They also established colonies throughout Anatolia as well as Italy and Corsica.
Eventually, like the rest of western Anatolia, Ionia was conquered by the Persians and later Alexander the Great. And from around the 2nd century AD, the Romans took over.
During the Middle Ages, unlike most Turkish cities which switched hands instantly from the Byzantines to the Turks, Foça became a Genoese colony from 1275.
The Republic of Genoa was a maritime kingdom that controlled small territories all over the Mediterranean. They coveted Foça for its alum mines and managed to keep control until 1455 when the Ottomans took over.
Coming down from the hill, I explored more of the town’s backstreets. Walking around Eski Foça today and admiring its historic houses with their soft pastel colors, one would never guess what terrible events unfolded here a century ago.
In 1914, this was the site of a massacre that would become known as the Massacre of Phocaea. At the time, the Ottoman Empire had just lost their European territories in the Balkan Wars, and Greece was laying claim to numerous islands along the Anatolian coast. Needless to say, tensions were high.
Despite ethnic Greeks having lived in Anatolia since prehistoric times, they, along with the Armenians further east, were suddenly deemed a domestic threat by the ruling Young Turks party.
Deportations and mob violence became commonplace throughout Anatolia in the early 20th century. And here in Eski Foça, a mob arrived one night and murdered somewhere between 50 and 100 Greek inhabitants. Much of the town was looted and burned, while even more people drowned while trying to flee.
Interestingly, a French archaeological team happened to be excavating the ruins of ancient Phocaea at the time. And thanks to his quick thinking, archaeologist Félix Sartiaux managed to save hundreds of residents by hoisting French flags over their homes.
He documented and photographed the event, with the photos only recently making their way into a book. (As an interesting side note, it was the Phocaeans who’d originally founded Marseilles.)
Returning to the waterfront, I walked along the opposite side of the bay, home to a medieval castle. Originally built by the Genoese, it was later repaired and expanded by the Ottomans. And it’s seemingly gotten additional restorations quite recently.
In medieval times, all of Eski Foça was surrounded by an elaborate city wall containing five gates. But in contrast to the fortress in Çeşme, this structure can only be appreciated from the outside.
Coming around the other side, you’ll encounter a small model ship in the style of what the ancient Phocaeans used to sail. Interestingly, the Phocaeans, whom Herodotus called the best seafarers in the world, used the same ships for both trade and war.
This type of ship, known as a penteconter, required dozens of men to row on either side. It’s the same kind of vessels used by the mythological heroes of Homer’s epics.
Speaking of ships, it’s also from around here that regular boat tours depart. While I didn’t join one and can’t confirm the times or prices, they take visitors to nearby islands and coves, with plenty of opportunities to see local wildlife.
For those spending a night or two in town, it’s definitely worth considering.
As mentioned earlier, there’s aren’t a whole lot of specific landmarks to see in Eski Foça. But in the western part of town, you can spot the ruins of an Ottoman-era house, once home to a local Pasha. Destroyed by a fire in 1992, hardly anything remains.
Also nearby is the 16th-century Fatih Mosque, which is in a much better state of preservation. Further up the coast meanwhile, is a standalone traditional rowhouse.
And walking back to the otogar, I made an archaeological find where I least expected it. Surrounding a modern children’s playground were a collection of old stones dating back to ancient Greek times!
Eski Foça currently lacks an archaeological museum of any kind, but hopefully they can find a better home for these artifacts soon.
The Çeşme Peninsula is located about 85 km west of central Izmir. Many simply refer to the area around Çeşme Fortress as ‘Çeşme.’ Elsewhere on the peninsula are beaches like Ilıca Plajı and Atakum along with the small town of Alaçatı.
As mentioned earlier, you can easily visit both Çeşme and Alaçatı on the same outing.
As with Eski Foça, Çeşme was settled by the ancient Greeks and Romans before being controlled by the Republic of Genoa in the Middle Ages. As the Genoese were a major maritime power, Çeşme thrived as an international trading port in the 14th and 15th centuries.
Çeşme was eventually taken by the Ottomans in 1566. But it remains unclear whether the town’s major landmark, its castle, was first established by the Genoese or by the Ottomans. In any case, it’s definitely worth visiting during your time in town.
At the time of my visit, the castle cost a reasonable 18 TL for entry, but prices are constantly changing in Turkey due to inflation.
While the main attraction of the castle is the structure itself, some of the rooms contain small museum exhibits. One room is entirely dedicated to the 18th-century naval battle that took place between Russian and Ottoman forces, the historical event for which Çeşme is best known.
During the Russo-Turkish War (1768-74), the two sides met at Çeşme in 1770, with the Russians completely destroying the Ottoman fleet. The Russians would not follow up with a land invasion, but they’d ultimately win the war several years later.
Amazingly, this was just one of twelve wars fought between the two sides from the 16th-20th centuries.
Other rooms detail the region’s ancient prehistoric settlements, complete with stone tools and pottery fragments on display. Also be sure to head further up top, where you’ll find a small garden, a mosque and the best views in town.
Modern Çeşme is largely considered a resort area, and many wealthy Izmir residents own second homes here. In contrast to Eski Foça, Çeşme feels more like a holiday center than a regular town where everyday people live and work.
Historically, of course, Çeşme and neighboring towns were mostly inhabited by Greeks. But the population entirely disappeared following the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1922, implemented after Turkey’s victory in the Greco-Turkish War.
Muslims who’d been living in Greece then came and settled here. But a hundred years later, the Greek influence remains strong, which is a large part of Çeşme’s charm.
You can view some traditional Greek houses from atop the fortress. And when finished, be sure to take a walk along the seaside promenade.
While numerous restaurants line the waterfront, expect to pay considerably more than you would in central Izmir.
When finished, head back to the place where the bus dropped you off. At the same bus stop, you can find a minibus heading east toward Alaçatı along with some of the peninsula’s beaches.
Alaçatı, located around 9 km east of Çeşme Fortress, attracts a younger, hipper crowd. It’s become especially popular since the 2000s, and can get rather crowded on summer afternoons.
Approaching from the main road, one of the first landmarks you’ll encounter are the historic windmills. They’re in a much better state of preservation than those of Eski Foça. And there are more of them, too.
Judging from appearance alone, Alaçatı is indeed one of the most attractive Greek towns in Turkey. In contrast to towns like Ayvalık, home to an incongruous mix of traditional and concrete houses, Alaçatı is much better preserved.
Sadly, though, the atmosphere leaves much to be desired. As attractive as the town may look in pictures, once you’re actually there, you might think you’re walking through a luxury mall instead of a real historical site.
Coffee shops charge over double what you’d pay in Izmir or Istanbul, while the town is full of high-end fashion shops. It’s just not the type of vibe those seeking authenticity are after.
Again, the main attraction here is simply walking around. But there are a couple of historical mosques that are worth seeking out during your explorations. One of them is the Haci Memis Mosque, built in the 19th century.
And the larger of the two in the town center is the Marketplace Mosque. Originally a Greek Orthodox Church, it was converted to a mosque once the Greek population left.
If you’re someone like me who loves historical towns but isn’t wild about hipster havens, you may be wondering if Alaçatı is worth visiting at all.
If you’re already visiting the Çeşme Peninsula, then yes, it is. But if you only have the chance to visit one Greek town from central Izmir, make it Eski Foça – especially before it gets too popular!
For those coming from central Izmir, there are a couple of ways to reach Eski Foça. From the Alsancak neighborhood, you can board an İzban suburban railway train.
From there, you’ll want to ride to a station called Hatundere. The ride lasts about an hour, and trains depart every 20 minutes or so.
Arriving at Hatundere, you’ll then need to catch a public bus to Eski Foça. Look out for bus 744 which should say Foça on it. The ride from Hatundere takes about 30-40 minutes.
Alternatively, you can head to the Izmir otogar (bus terminal) and hop on a minibus directly for Eski Foça. This sounds like a more straightforward option, but the otogar itself can be a hassle to reach, as only public buses can take you there.
I tried this method on the way back, and we got stuck in a traffic jam on the way to the bus terminal, and then again from the terminal to the city center!
For those making their way south from Bergama, Eski Foça should be a short ride away. While there doesn’t seem to be any info online, try asking someone at the otogar.
Despite the region’s popularity and the fact that there’s a highway directly connecting it to central Izmir, all transport between Izmir and Çeşme is run by a single company: Çeşme Seyahat.
To get there, you don’t need to head to Izmir’s main bus terminal. Instead, take the subway to Fahretting Altay station, the final and westernmost stop on the red line.
Exiting the station, walk a couple of minutes to a place called the Üçkuyular Terminal. It’s from here that the Çeşme Seyahat buses depart.
At the time of my visit, there was a lot of construction going on which blocked the view of the terminal from the road. To make matters more confusing, there are lots of bus stops along this road, but none of them will take you to Çeşme. You must head to the lower level of the terminal instead.
Buses depart every hour or so, and you must buy a ticket in advance. If you’re traveling in summer, buses can sell out quickly and you may have to wait awhile before the next one.
The bus will stop at various places throughout Çeşme, including Alaçatı. If you’re visiting the two places featured above in a single day, I’d recommend visiting the Çeşme Fortress area first. When finished, you can then take a local minibus to Alaçatı.
At Alaçatı, you’ll find a Çeşme Seyahat ticket booth so you can buy your return ticket before exploring the town.
At the time of my visit, tickets cost 22 TL each way.
As Turkey’s third-largest city, Izmir can be reached in a number of ways. The Izmir Adnan Menderes Airport has direct flights to cities all over Turkey, as well as international flights to numerous cities in Europe.
The airport is connected to the city center by İzban suburban trains as well as buses.
Izmir can be reached by rail, although it’s not yet connected to Turkey’s high-speed rail network. Therefore, buses may be a better option.
Given the amount of competing bus companies in Turkey, you’ll have no difficulty finding direct buses to Izmir no matter where you’re coming from. Those visiting Izmir from nearby cities can also easily get there via minibus.
The main difficulty with arriving by bus is the otogar (bus terminal) itself. It’s located 6 km outside the city center. And despite Izmir having a suburban rail network, a metro and a tram system, NONE of them connect with the otogar!
The only way to get from the otogar to the city center is by public bus. Aside from the bad traffic, this wouldn’t be so terrible if there were actually proper places to buy transport tickets at the terminal.
Despite what locals told me, the bus drivers in Izmir will not accept cash (I was denied entry to two buses for not having the card). It turns out that the only official transport card vendor at the terminal is the guy running the tea shop near the city bus stand (which itself is tricky to locate).
No signage indicates this, but be sure to ask at the tea shop if they don’t implement a better system by the time of your visit.
There are plenty of places to stay in Izmir. But the centrally-located hotels seem to be a little pricier than what you can find in Istanbul or other cities. Ideally, the closer you are to the Clock Tower, the better. But Alsancak would be a good place to stay as well.
As a budget traveler who likes private rooms with private bathrooms, I chose a place called Otel Orkun on Hotels.com. My mistake was only checking the location on Google Maps, which lists it as being near the Kemeraltı bazaar.
It wasn’t until arriving and finding nothing that I checked the location on the Hotels.com map. I then realized that it was about a 15-minute walk away. But while the location wasn’t where I’d expected, it was still central enough to reach the sites in the Izmir guide above.
The area, like much of Izmir away from the waterfront, was rather grimy. The hotel was what one would expect for the price, but it happened to have surprisingly strong and fast internet.
While the Turkish government isn’t quite as extreme as China when it comes to online censorship, you’ll probably want a decent VPN before your visit.
I’ve tried out a couple of different companies and have found ExpressVPN to be the most reliable.
Booking.com is currently banned in the country (at least when you search for domestic accommodation). However, there are actually quite a few Turkish hotels listed on there anyway. And many them don’t even appear on Hotels.com, which hasn’t been banned.
Over the course of my trip, I ended up making quite a few reservations with Booking.com and was really glad I had a VPN to do so.
Another major site that’s banned is PayPal. If you want to access your account at all during your travels, a VPN is a must.
While those are the only two major sites that I noticed were banned during my trip, Turkey has even gone as far as banning Wikipedia and Twitter in the past.