Surf, Sun & Sporting Fun
Day boats lining Çesme's harbor tout excursions in the Aegean for swimming, snorkeling, or simply relaxing. A day usually includes stops at Donkey Island (there really are donkeys there), the Blue Lagoon, and Black Island. The cost is 40TL with lunch included. Stroll along the harbor the night before to inspect the boats, and ask if the music will be blaring and what's on the menu. For a quieter (and less crowded) day spent on a boat, snorkeling or just sunning on deck, check with one of the dive outfitters to see if they take stowaways, as these boat trips generally provide a more relaxing atmosphere.
If exploring the shipwrecks offshore is more your speed, or you just want to brush up on some rusty diving skills, contact Dolphin Land (tel. 0232/435-7069; fax 0232/486-2309; www.divecesme.com) for information on their day trips around Çesme. They also offer PADI certification with English instruction.
You'll need a car to get to Alaçati Bay, a wind-swept expanse of water surrounded by scruffy sun-scorched hills. Seeing an opportunity, the very popular Istanbul entertainment venue Babylon staked its claim to the best beachfront real estate in town with the Babylon Alaçati Beach Club (tel. 0232/716-0737; closed in winter), a high-quality marathon of sun, fun, relaxing, eating, drinking, and nightlife rolled up in one. A 30TL day pass applies for Saturday and Sunday, but is free on weekdays.
Thanks to year-round high winds, shallow waveless water, and wide-open space, the bay is one of the top three windsurfing destinations in the world and of late a popular destination for a growing number of windsurf groupies. Windsurfers from the four corners come here to participate in the Windsurf Turkey Cup, in which thrill-seekers compete in a stunt-filled challenge of wits and skill. The rest of the year, neophytes like me get out there and entertain the pros from the on-site windsurfing schools with my ineptitude. (Note to self: Next time go early in the day, when the winds are at their gentlest.) Alaçati Surf Paradise Club (tel. 0232/716-6611; www.alacati.de; closed Nov-Mar) makes it all possible by renting various models by the hour or by the day, with or without instruction. A 2-hour starter course will run you 75€ including all equipment (60€ for groups). They even have instruction for kids age 7 and up. A full-day rental without lessons costs 40€ for a long board or 60€ per day for a J.P. To get there, just follow the signs; you can't miss it. If you've just come to Alaçati for the beach, stake out a lounge chair and umbrella at Babylon, the beach club and sister establishment of the popular Istanbul nightclub.
A strip of sand over 1.5km (a mile) long, Ilica Beach is the longest beach on the peninsula and also the most popular. A new marina and breakwater provide direct access (no beach), and a series of semi-immersed iron ladders beckon to those wishing to dive right in. The steamy Ilica spring bubbles up right in the middle of a rock-sheltered corner of the marina, which attracts locals and visitors alike with the (free) opportunity to partake in the healing properties of the water.
Southwest of Çesme are two of the best public beaches the peninsula has to offer. Pirlanta Beach (Diamond Beach), a pristine stretch of lily-white sand, is oriented north toward the rocky coastline. It's a bit windy here, due to the compressed winds that travel through the channel between Chios and Pirlanta Bay. The resulting foamy waves and high winds make this a perfect spot for what has become an area sports craze: kitesurfing. Lessons are available in English; contact www.kitesurfbeach.com.
Altinkum Beach, named "golden" for the color of its sand, is a long stretch of beach wide open to the sea and facing south, making the waters slightly, refreshingly cooler than the other beaches on the peninsula. At these public beaches, the entrance is free and chairs and umbrellas rent for a small fee. A minibus from the yacht harbor will take you to both beaches, a distance just under 8km (5 miles). If you're driving yourself, follow the directions for the "Ionia Hotel" at the multisigned fork in the road heading toward Altinkum/Pirlanta. (Note: Don't confuse Altinkum with the disappointing stretch at Tursite; follow the small black sign for PLAJ.) There's also a restaurant shack on the beach at Altinkum that includes a cafeteria/bar/restaurant.
North of Çesme, hidden amid the olive and orange groves, is Ayayorgi Beach, an intimate and secluded bay with no actual beach -- just cement piers (no sand!) and crystalline waters. Two or three beach clubs stake out their territory every year (the current one with the most longevity is Shayna Beach Club tel. 0232/712-1122); the cover charge for a day at the beach is 25TL on weekends. Rent some jet skis, go wake-boarding or water-skiing, or jump on a banana ride. Hang around long enough and one or both become host to major and popular headliners or some of the area's hottest DJs. You'll need a car (or fairly expensive taxi) for the 3.5km (2 1/4-mile) ride from Çesme to this beach; take the road for Dalyan and follow the signs.
A day spent roaming in and out of the leather, carpet, and silver shops of downtown Çesme doesn't have to mean you've blown your day at the beach. Tekke Beach, just north of the port (and past a dizzying array of appealing waterfront fish restaurants), is the perfect escape for a quick cool-down and limited time.
Çesme owes its current rebirth to its thermal sources, considered sacred by the ancients. Turkish tourism officials are likewise bowing down to the venerable thermal resources, with a strategy to exploit this natural resource to its full tourism potential. Stay tuned, as the places listed here are far from the last word in Çesme's thermal spa experience. For now, though, you can be sure that any hotel in Çesme or Ilica worth its salt is tapping into the local liquid gold mine.
Of note are the on-site spas at the Sheraton Çesme and the Radisson Blu. The Botanica Thermal Spa at the Sheraton in Ilica (Sifne Cad. 35; tel. 0232/723-1240), was re-created (it was redesigned a few years after opening) with nothing but sheer bliss in mind. The Oriental fusion concept mixes up a luxurious stew of Buddhist, Chinese, Thai, and Balinese influences, welcoming guests to a full-service facility with four thermal pools, one saltwater and three highly sulfuric (of which one is a Jacuzzi and another is outdoor). The center also has a hamam, a steam room, a dry sauna, a solarium, and soothing treatment rooms surrounding the outdoor thermal pool. Spa treatments include 14 types of massage, aromatherapies, and various skin treatments, from the Energy Lift L'Elixir facial, to the Indocéane "works" (body scrub, milk bath, massage, body wrap, and relaxing tea service). Combined use of the thermal pools costs 25TL for hotel guests, 50TL for outside guests. At the Radisson Blu (Altinyunus Mah. 3435 Sok. 25, Ilica; tel. 0232/455-4500), you can get lost in the 3,500-sq.-m (37,674-sq.-ft.) Dulcis Thermal Spa facility, as you make your way past the 21 treatment rooms and the three, count 'em, three hamams. Along with a large indoor pool, there's an outdoor thermal pool and another, 1,000-sq.-m (10,764-sq.-ft.) colossus that can only be described as vast.
West of Ilica town center is the tiny Yildiz Peninsula; near the point is an oddity of geology: thermal water as hot as 122° to 140°F (50°-60°C) springing forth from beneath the surface of the water. This natural phenomenon doesn't have a price tag, as there's no charge to step off the rocky point into the semi-enclosed rocky pool. (Many who have led sheltered lives come here only to eyeball the bare flesh of women in bathing suits.) It's not uncommon, either, to see women submerged yet covered head to toe in full traditional dress.
North of Ilica on the tip of a small peninsula is a number of small coves, hidden in pine trees and rarely visited. In Pasa Limani is Vekamp (tel. 0232/717-2224), which does triple duty as a beach, a thermal, and a campsite. The long rectangular thermal pool, located at the back of the property, is partially shaded in pine, and the waters averaging 104°F (40°C) cascade down a small slide onto the pebble beach just steps below.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.