Ayvalik’s decaying old-world charm and host of exceptional accommodations make it an attractive destination from which to explore the surrounding beaches, olive groves, and small islands. Known for its ornate Neoclassical buildings, Ayvalik was a wealthy Greek settlement until the 1923 population exchange. Hidden away in a maze of narrow cobblestone streets are pastel houses, markets, shops, and people whose traditional lifestyle disappeared in most of Turkey decades ago. Ayvalik’s streets are not as clean as those of other Aegean resort towns, and many of its buildings are uninhabited ruins with histories of their own. But when the daily grind of the city becomes too much, the sandy beaches of Sarımsaklı, the serene beauty of Alibey Island, and the stunning views from Şeytan Sofrasi offer refreshing escapes.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
The otogar lies on Atatürk Bul., the main road running parallel to the coastline. 1 km from the otogar, with the sea on your right, is Cumhuriyet Meydanı, the main square where city buses, taxis, banks, police, and tourist information can be found. Another smaller bus station falls between the otogar and the square, on Atatürk Bui. The other main street, Cumhuriyet Cad., runs parallel to Atatürk Bul. one block away from the sea.
- Tourist Office: The main office (312 21 22) is just beyond the hospital as you walk away from Cumhuriyet Meydanı with the sea on your right. Open M-F 8:30am-12:30pm and 12:30-5:30pm. A small booth (312 31 58) in Cumhuriyet Meydanı on the docks is open June-Sept. M-Sa 10am-2pm and 3-7pm. Both distribute free maps.
- Banks: Türkiye İş Bankası (312 22 10 or 312 26 08), in Cumhuriyet Meydanı, exchanges currency and has a 24hr. Cirrus/MC/Plus/V ATM. Open M-F 9am-12:30pm and 1:30-5:30pm.
- Police: On Atatürk Bul. in Cumhuriyet Meydanı, next to Türkiye İş Bankası.
- Pharmacies: Many line Cumhuriyet Meydanı and Atatürk Bul. Gültekin Eczanesi (312 12 28) is across from the water in Cumhuriyet Meydanı. Open 8am-7:30pm.
- Hospital: Ayvalik Devlet Hastanesi (public, 312 63 00), 500m from Cumhuriyet Meydanı with the water on your right, Across from and just beyond a Migros grocery.
- Internet Access: Ayvalik Internet Cafe, Atatürk Cad., Nazar Pasaj 14 (a312 22 75), on the left before the PTT as you walk out of Cumhuriyet Meydanı with the sea on your left. $1.25 per hr. Open daily 9am-11pm; in winter 9am-8pm.
- PTT: (312 60 41), on Atatürk Bul., about 300m from Cumhuriyet Meydanı as you walk with the sea on your left. Open daily 8:30am-midnight. Traveler’s checks cashed 8:30am-4:30pm.
Postal Code: 10400.
Ayvalik’s accommodations are among the best in Turkey. Its top pensions lie up the hill in the old town’s maze of narrow, cobblestoned streets.
Bon jour Pansiyon, 5 Maraşal Çakmak Cad. (a312 80 85). Follow the road directly across the PTT entrance uphill and into the old city. Originally the home of a priest acting as French ambassador, this pension has been recently restored in turn of the century style. The ceiling paintings are worth looking at even if you are not staying here, and you may not want to leave once you’ve seen the spacious rooms and met the friendly, welcoming staff. Laundry service $2. Breakfast $3.75. $7.50 per person.
Taksiyarhis Pansiyon, İsmetpaşa Mah., 71 Maraşal Çakmak Cad. (a312 14 94). Take the 2nd street on the left after the PTT (when walking toward the main square with the sea on your right) and follow it uphill to the signs, which will direct you farther through the old town. Decorated with carpets, sitting pillows, and other bric-a-brac, this eclectic pension has a guest kitchen, a book exchange, and a lovely ğterrace overlooking the town. Bike rentals ($8 per day) include a map of Alibey Island. Laundry service $6. Enormous breakfast $2.50. $6 per person.
Beliz Pansiyon, 28 Mareşal Çakmak Cad., Fethiye Mah. (a312 48 97). Follow Talatpaşa Sok. (the 1st street on your right as you exit Cumhuriyet Meydanı with the sea on your left) for 5 blocks away from the sea until you come to the Beliz Pansiyon signs. Run by the vivacious and chic former TV actress Beliz, this pension sports bright yellow walls and colorful pillows. Enjoy the homemade Turkish dinners cooked by Beliz herseif ($6), and bring your bathing suit for the daily boat tours she offers of 5 nearby islands ($5). Breakfast included. Bungalow rooms $8 per person; house rooms $9 per person.
Yalı Pansiyon, 25 Balıkhane Sok. (312 24 23 or 312 38 19), behind the PTT. The oldest pension in Ayvalik, Yalı abuts the waters of the Aegean so guests can admire the sunset on the horizon from the chairs in the garden, from the balconies of their rooms, or from the water. The setting is tranquil and the location easily accessible. Public kitchen. Breakfast included. Doubles $15; triples $22.
Enjoy some iskender kebap ($1.50) at the Osmanlı Mutfağı , two blocks awray from the hubbub of Cumhuriyet Cad. Take a left at the Yapı Kredi bank, about a 1 min. walk from Cumhuriyet Meydanı with the sea on your left, (312 54 27. Open daily noon-10pm. AmEx/M CAT) Otherwise, the extremely clean Kardeşler © restaurant has two branches, one on the docks in front of Cumhuriyet Meydanı (313 00 81), which dishes out fresh seafood, an array of salads ($.75), and meat dishes ($1.50-2.50), along with a harbor view. Another branch, called Kardeşler Kebapci, on Cumhuriyet Cad., specializes in kebaps and other meat selections ancl features an A/C dining room, (312 18 57. Open daily 8am-10pm. AmEx/M CAT) For çorba, lahmacun, and baklava, visit the Dayım Ocakbaşı, across from Kardeşler on Atatürk Cad., with additional seating through the alley by the water. (Open noon- 11pm.) ÖzSüt , on your left as you exit the square with the sea on your right, is the perfect answer to a sugar craving, with a good selection of attractive desserts like rice pudding and cheesecake, (312 23 33. Open daily 1 am-midnight. $.70-3.) There are few sights to speak of within the town itself. On the walk to the Taksiyarhis Pansiyon is Saatli Camii (Clock Tower Mosque), formerly known as the Church of Agios Yannis (Church of St. John). The splendor and grace of its former life as a 19th-century Greek church shines through the flaking paint and eroded details, At the time of publication it was closed for a long-overdue renovation. Farther inland and visible on its hillside from Saatli Camii is Çinanlı Camii or Agios Yorgos (St. George’s Church), which boasts Old and New Testament frescoes. Unfortunately, this mosque is also closed for renovation. Next to the Taksiyarhis Pansiyon, off Maraşal Çakmak Cad., the Taksiyarhis Church exhibits paintings on fish skins. It is usually closed, but you may be able to peek inside if you find the right moment. Beware the small, ferocious guard dog. Every Thursday there is an open-air market on the streets around Cumhuriyet Cad. and Barbaros Cad. In the finest Turkish market tradition, 99% of the stuff for sale is impractical junk, but that in no way takes the fun out of browsing for potential souvenirs.
DAYTRIPS FROM AYVALIK
During July and Aug. dolmuş ($.80) to the site leave daily at 6pm from the Tansaş supermarket, a short walk from Cumhuriyet Meydanı with the sea on your right. The dolmuş wait for visitors to watch the sunset before returning.
To the south of Ayvalik lies the Şeytan Sofrası (Devil’s Dinner Table), a large rock formation on the summit of a hill that resembles a dinner table only insofar as any flat surface does. Legend has it that hell-raisers met here to feast, citing a giant footprint-shaped dimple in the rock as evidence of the devil’s presence. The supremely located Şeytan Cafe provides the best spot to watch the sunset, serving reasonably priced beverages (beer $.75). The devil’s footprint lies at the comer of the table farthest from the dolmuş lot, beneath a steel cage, and has been trans-formed into a demonic wishing well by many a tossed coin. The panoramic view’ of the coast and the Greek and Turkish islands serves as a heavenly contrast. Even when there aren’t enough clouds in the sky for a spectacular sunset, it’s worth the trip to watch the islands paint delicate blue silhouettes against a pink sky.
Accessible from Ayvalik by dolmuş (every 5-10min. mornings and afternoons, $.40) that depart from the Tansaş supermarket and by buses (every hr., $.40) departing from in front of the harbor in Cumhuriyet Meydanı.
About 6km south of Ayvalik, Sarımsaklı has some of the best beaches between Bozcaada and Altinkum, with lots of fine, clean sand. The town itself wins slightly less praise, occupying a formidable spot in the great pantheon of tacky beach towns. It’s always a quarter past Miller Time here, with an Efes chest or a disco bar never more than five meters away. But the beaches, particularly the parts near the shore and away from the central area, have warm water without strong currents or other unexpected surprises. The beach is eerily deserted in the low season.
ALİBEY ISLAND (CUNDA)
Provided the heat isn’t too bad, the best way to explore Alibey Island is by bike. The Taksiyar Pension rents bikes and provides a map showing a much recommended scenic route that passes over the bridge connecting the island to the mainland and then continues on through the island’s olive groves to the monastery and secluded beaches. (Bikes $8 per day.) Ferries run from the dock at Cumhuriyet Meydanı in Ayvalik every hr. ($.40). Buses also leave from in front of Türkiye İş Bankası in Cumhuriyet Meydanı (every 30min., $.25) and head to the town of Cunda. You can purchase bus tickets at the small ticket window to the right of Türkiye İş Bankası. On Alibey Island, you can buy your bus ticket in the office behind Artur Motel Restaurant, on the cafe lined seafront.
Alibey (Sir Ali’s) Island is a beautiful escape from the hustle and bustle of Ayvalik. With beaches on the north side, a deserted monastery, and several pleasant fish restaurants along the waterfront in the town of Cunda, there is enough here for an entire day. In the town of Cunda, the old and hauntingly beautiful Church of Nicolaus lies about 200m inland. Pigeons fly through its nave, and thick, deeply fissured columns support its domes. Having suffered during the 1922 war with Greece and a 1944 earthquake, the church has more recently been forced to endure graffiti. (Church open daily during daylight hours. Donations welcome.)
Seafood restaurants line the harbor (fish, mezes, and salad; $4.50-6), and Uno Pizza, behind the harbor, serves up American-style pizza ($1.25-2.25) and the ten derest chicken şiş around for $1.50. (327 18 28. Open noon-midnight. MCA1.)