Cesme Peninsula Turkey

By Lynn Levine

Imagine my delight, on my first visit more than a decade ago to this windward Aegean peninsula, to have landed amidst picturesque villages with crumbling Greek facades, enormous stretches of sparsely populated sand, and dusty family-run pensions. But time marches on, and what was once the summer playground of Izmir's working class has developed into a veritable international holiday sensation.

Today, salve for the soul can be obtained at more than a dozen deluxe thermal spas located within one of the many stylish oases of Aegean hospitality on this storied coast. For lodging, you will have to choose among opulent bayside resorts, romantic boutique hideaways, discreetly welcoming cloistered inns or even a stately Pasha's manse. And yet Çesme is more than its coastal and thermal waters, world-class windsurfing and beach clubs dripping with bougainvillea, jasmine and salt air.

I can still step back in time at Erytrai, the city of antiquity peeping out from under the Mediterranean brush, into the medieval era, in Çesme's hybrid Genoese-Ottoman fortress, or on the back of a 50cc scooter through groves of mastic back into the heart of pastoral Turkey. When I've tired of these living dioramas, I head to where the 21st century has superimposed itself upon Çesme's past: to one of the many elegant street side cafés of Alaçati, typical white-glove fish restaurants at Dalyan cove or a hilltop windmill for a glass of one of Turkey's finer wines and a delectable selection of nature's local bounty.

Lynn Levine is author of Frommer's Turkey and Frommer's Istanbul, and a communications consultant to non-profit human rights and environmental organizations.