Heartsink patients, they call them, and I think the Turkish travel writer’s equivalent must be the stretch of road that sweeps round the Gulf of Edremit from Assos to Ayvalık. Kilometer after kilometer of solidly built up landscape with shopping centers and holiday homes of zero architectural distinction line the busy main road. Heartsink scenery, I always think, as I snap on the metaphorical blinkers and slam my foot down on a metaphorical gas pedal.
I don’t know how many times I must have whizzed along this road without stopping before it occurred to me that this was prime holiday country for Turks living in İstanbul and İzmir. Thousands of people can’t all be wrong, can they? So this summer, for the first time, I slowed down, hopped out of the dolmuş and discovered that things aren’t quite so bad after all.
The answer, as ever, is to get away from the main road as speedily as possible. It is, after all, backed by the foothills of the Kazdağ Mountains, where Yeşilyurt and Adatepe are two of the prettiest villages in all of Turkey. Kücükkuyu and Tahtakuşlar host interesting small museums. The old part of Altınoluk is full of fine old Ottoman houses. There are amazing Roman ruins tucked away amid the olive trees. And the beach at Ören turns out to be spectacularly beautiful.
These, then, are a few suggestions for breaking your journey as you whip from Assos, with its wonderful ruins and picturesque harbor, to Ayvalık, with its fine old Greek houses and tempting fish restaurants.
Coming from Assos you pass through Kadırga, where high-rise hotels line a beach on the presumed site of an old Roman shipyard (kadırga is Turkish for “galley”). There’s no real settlement here, although there are a number of pleasant, family-oriented places to stay, including the Club Hotel Kanara, something of a misnomer for what is actually a collection of elegant wood and stone houses set around a lawn facing the sea.
At “Little Well,” the side road from Assos connects with the main road roaring down from Çanakkale and Ezine. The most obvious reason to pause here is the Adatepe Zeytinyağı Müzesi (Olive Oil Museum), created inside a disused factory on the western side of town. This is a state-of-the-art industrial heritage museum, clearly labeled and delving into everything to do with the olive that was the mainstay of incomes around here before the arrival of tourism. Not surprisingly, then, it also boasts a delightful small shop selling all sorts of products, including the currently trendy olive soap. Dip a piece of bread into one of the oils being showcased and you’ll never make do with sunflower oil again.
Just beside the museum, a road cuts down to the sea and a pretty harbor with several restaurants and a tea garden jostle for space. From here, you can amble along the back streets to the center of Kücükkuyu, pausing to admire the wares in a number of olive oil shops. Amongst the several small and inviting hotels tucked away here, the Aida Harbour Hotel turns out to be a veritable treasure-trove of local information and offers one of the few (perhaps the only) opportunities to buy guidebooks to Turkey in English between İstanbul and İzmir.
There’s no public transport to get you there, but taxis from Küçükkuyu will run you the short distance into the foothills of the Kazdağ (aka Mt. Ida) to visit Yeşilyurt. Surely one of Turkey’s prettiest villages, Yeşilyurt clusters around a picturesque main square, then tumbles down tree-lined cobbled streets to the river and uphill to the views. There’s nothing much to do here except chill out and go for walks in the surrounding countryside, although the Erguvanlı Ev hotel does offer short yoga courses for those in need of something more.
The many boutique hotels of Yeşilyurt make hugely popular weekend escapes for moneyed İstanbulites, a fact reflected in their prices.
If Yeşilyurt is pretty, then tiny Adatepe, a village of honey-colored stone houses, is even more so, as close as Turkey gets to a Cotswold village in England, UK. Adatepe lacks much of a focal point and many of the houses have been snapped up by second-home owners so that it can feel rather dead except on weekends. However, there are a couple of fine boutique hotels here, too, including the Hünnap (Jujube) Han, which is reminiscent of a house in Safranbolu.
On the outskirts, a short and easily walkable path leads to a rock called the Altar of Zeus that was identified by German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann as Gargaros, the site from which Zeus was believed to have watched the fighting at Troy take place on the plains beneath him. Today, the rock is of little interest, although it does offer a great view of the built-up coastline. But the walk itself is really what justifies the detour. Through breaks in the soaring pine trees, you’ll glimpse superb views of Adatepe. Don’t fancy walking? Then a couple of horses wait for hire just beyond the start of the path.
Inland from Altınoluk, a steep hill rises to Köyiçi, the old village that is centered on one of those superb tea gardens in which Turkey so excels. Here, people gather to drink koruk suyu, a sweet cold drink made from early grapes, and to tuck into kapaktan kesme börek, big puffs of pastry with tiny morsels of white cheese hidden inside them.
That alone should be enticement enough to get you up here, but above the tea garden you’ll stumble upon some truly magnificent old Ottoman mansions, one of which, the Çeşmeli Konak, now houses one of the finest boutique hotels along the coast. Nearby, the mid-18th-century Abdullah Efendi Konaği has been turned into a small museum. Its exhibits are not the most exciting, but if you can’t afford the Çeşmeli Konak’s prices, it does give you a chance to inspect the sort of fine wooden ceilings and decorative plasterwork that provided the backdrop for life in such homes.
The steep back streets here shelter more fine houses, although the constant sound of building work makes it plain that the village has been well and truly discovered.
As recently as 1996, guidebook writer John Freely could still write of ancient Antandros that “nothing now remains except scattered architectural fragments built into the terrace walls of an olive grove.” Today, nothing could be further from the truth. Heading east from Altınoluk, you need to keep your eyes peeled for a sign on the left pointing into what looks like an olive grove. Wander in and you will come to a currently unsung archeological site where a superb Roman villa, complete not just with mosaics but also with mural paintings, has been excavated. Here, too, are the remains of a huge bathhouse and a cistern that once stored water for what is thought to have been a large town whose wealth was almost certainly based on shipbuilding. According to Homer, it was from here that the hero Aeneas sailed into exile following the fall of Troy.
Afterwards, if you walk (carefully) back along the coast road towards Altınoluk until you reach a modern housing complex, you will be able to inspect the remains of the necropolis where the dead of Antandros were buried.
(To be continued)
Where to stay
Aida Harbour Hotel, Küçükkuyu. Tel: 0286-752 5686
Çeşmeli Konak, Köyiçi, Altınoluk. Tel: 0266-396 6848
Erguvanlı Ev, Yeşilyurt. Tel: 0286-752 5676
Hünnap Han, Adatepe. Tel: 0286-752 6581
Club Hotel Kanara, Kadırga. Tel: 0286-764 0228
Manıcı Kasrı, Yeşilyurt. Tel: 0286-752 1731
HOW TO GET THERE
In summer, a few minibuses run from Behramkale/Assos to Küçükkuyu via Kadırga. Otherwise, you will probably have to take a minibus to Ayvacık and pick up onward transport to Küçükkuyu from there. For Yeşilyurt and Adatepe, you must depend on taxis or your own wheels. From Altınoluk, minibuses run up the hill to İç Köyü. Between Küçükkuyu and Edremit, frequent minibuses pass the entrance to the Antandros ruins.