About Cesme beaches
First colonised as a health resort thanks to the many thermal springs in Ilica, which second century AD geographer Pausanius pronounced the finest in the region, Cesme (meaning ‘fountain’ and pronounced cheshmeh) became a major Byzantine and Ottoman port until Izmir outgrew it. These days, it is the beaches and the thermal springs that are again the main attraction, with the little town having carved itself out a niche as a super cool resort, off the main tourist drag. The reality probably doesn’t live up to the wish but it is a pleasantly laid-back little town, with great beaches, well centred for sightseeing along the coast and plenty of life without the frenetic excess partying that goes on elsewhere.
There are many kilometres of golden sand beaches around the peninsula with enough variations for everyone to choose a favourite, although they may need to organise transport to reach it. Pirlanta Plaj is a long sandy beach just southwest of the town while nearby Altinkum Plaj (Golden Beach) is one of the finest in the area. Çark Plaj offers shallow gentle seas that are perfect for children. Buyuk Plaj in Ilica is clear, shallow with white sands and water warmed by the local thermal springs, but it can get get windy at times. The wind never stops in remote Alaçati which is one of the finest windsurfing venues in the world, with a school and professional competitions. If you prefer to hang with the in-crowd, pay your money and spend the day at one of the exclusive beach clubs, of which the Seaside Beach Club at Piyade Cove is the best known.
Beyond the beach:
Cesme’s 14th-century Genoese Castle, heavily rebuilt by the Ottomans two centuries later, now houses a small museum and hosts concerts during the Cesme Sea Festival of Nations and Song Contest, one of Turkey’s foremost festivals, held every July. Concerts are also held in the Roman amphitheatre while the Ottoman Kervansaray is now a hotel and restaurant. Just east of Cesme town, Ilica is the main beach and hotel area, many of its hotels built on thermal springs and offering a wide range of spa facilities to guests. About 20km (12 miles) northeast of town, at Ildiri, are the remains of ancient Erythrai, dating back to around 3000BC. Take one of the many boat trips out around the local islands to explore deserted coves and swim and snorkel away from the crowds. If a trip abroad takes your fancy, daily boats cross to the Greek island of Chios, which lies just off the coast (don’t forget your passport).
Cesme is not really billed as a family resort, but there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. The larger hotels and beach clubs all have excellent in-house facilities and kids’ clubs, the shallow beaches and fine sand are ideal for children and while there isn’t a huge range of pizza and international fast food on offer, many may breath a hefty sigh of relief at that – much Turkish food is simple and perfect for children.
Cesme is ideally placed for exploring the great archaeological sites of Aegean Turkey. Regular buses ply the motorway to and from Izmir (formerly known as Smyrna), one of the largest city’s in the country, where there are excellent museums of archaeology and ethnography, an old castle, and a Roman forum, although much of the city was destroyed in the last great battle between the Greeks and Turks during the War of Independence in 1923. Easy (and essential) day trips head south to Selçuk and Ephesus, one of the best preserved Greco-Roman cities on the Mediterranean and north to Bergama and the wonderful ruins of ancient Pergamon. It would be a very long but worthwhile day heading inland via ancient Sardis or Aphrodisias to Hierapolis and Pamukkale, where yet more spectacular ruins are eclipsed by the gleaming limestone cascades of the ‘frozen’ waterfall that tumbles off the mountain creating one of nature’s finest works of art.
To be really pampered, check into the Sheraton Ilica (www.sheraton.com/Cesme) a wonderfully sumptuous resort that has 10 restaurants offering world-class cuisine, a lounge pianist of international calibre, and a full-blown thalassotherapy spa that will cure your rheumatism and make you beautiful, all at the same time. Another option in Cesme is to hire a private yacht for the day or the week; there are plenty to choose from and they will come fully crewed and staffed. If something a little less splashy is called for, try dinner at Korfez, the best of the harbour side restaurants and a trip to the ballet or opera in Izmir in season (www.izdob.gov.tr).