(CNN) — A brass band fills the air with lively Turkish music as it marches down a cobbled street. Tourists and locals alike clap and dance, packing the main square.
The musicians are dressed in turquoise uniforms with golden epaulettes – colors that match the azure blue of the Aegean waters of Alaçatı, located on the Cesme peninsula in western Turkey (or Türkiye).
With its rustic stone houses with vibrantly painted wooden doors, winding streets lined with upscale restaurants, contemporary art galleries and boutiques, Alaçatı has all the hallmarks of a quintessential Mediterranean town, albeit with an effortless Turkish charm.
Turkish holidaymakers have flocked to this picturesque destination, located about an hour’s drive southwest of Izmir, since its revival in the early 2000s. But international visitors are just catching up.
Everywhere you look, people are drinking Turkish tea in the city’s open-air cafes, enjoying the fresh air and sun.
The cobbled alleys of Alacati are filled with brightly colored houses.
Murat TopayAdobe Stock
And it’s not just holidaymakers who have won — windsurfers have also become a fixture here thanks to the strong, year-round winds from the nearby bay, making Alaçatı Turkey’s self-proclaimed windsurfing capital.
“The air you breathe here is precious,” says Perihan Akbulut, who runs the Kurabiye Hotel, which is a few minutes’ walk from the beautiful Kurabiye Stone House.
“There’s always a breeze that makes you feel better — even when it’s so hot during the summer months.”
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Kurabiye Hotel can easily be confused with a boutique hotel in the Aegean Sea thanks to its whitewashed walls and blue doors.
Akbulut moved here from Istanbul in 2009 and opened the hotel the following year with a courtyard decorated with a lemon garden in the middle.
She and her husband now live in between the two destinations – enjoying city life in the winter and retreating to the beautiful city for the summer season.
“It’s so easy – or shall we say simple – to organize your life here in Alaçatı,” she adds.
“But that’s exactly why it appeals to me; it’s a place where you don’t have to think too much about what to do and where to go.”
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The Alacati Herb Festival, which aims to showcase herbs from the region, is held in the city every spring.
Alaçatı has undergone many reinventions over the years. It was mostly wetland until the mid-19th century, when authorities drained it to clear the area of swamps that grew malaria-causing mosquitoes.
Greek workers from nearby islands settled here to work the vineyards and olive groves, and the region remains the main wine and olive oil producing region in Turkey.
Like other towns in the area, Alaçatı was largely abandoned in the 1920s, after Turkey and Greece engaged in a religion-based population exchange. Many of the stone houses had been discarded for decades and fell into disrepair.
But it has undergone a sea change of sorts over the past 20 years. Eagle-eyed visitors from all over the country saw the opportunity to buy vacation homes here, breathing new life into the city.
Locals often brag about the region’s produce and artisanal dishes, and on Saturdays the market stalls are packed with fruits and vegetables, fresh bread and seafood along the city’s main thoroughfare, Kemalpaşa Street, and stretch out on many side streets.
Every spring, the Alaçatı Herb Festival, an annual event showcasing the natural herbs growing in Alaçat and the nearby coastal town of Çesme, draws hordes of visitors to the area.
“Everything is so accessible,” Akbulut adds. “Great food, fresh fruits and vegetables, natural herbs and seafood.
“It’s a good combination of local people and new settlers. You can never feel lonely here.”
‘Heaven on earth’
Alacati is just a short drive from the beaches along the Cesme Peninsula, including the beautiful Ilica Beach.
Emin Menguarslan/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images
This region of the Eastern Mediterranean is steeped in history. The ancient ruins of Ephesus, a UNESCO World Heritage Site, are just an hour’s drive south of Alacatı.
Located near the Aegean Sea and modern-day Selçuk, it remains one of Christianity’s most revered sites and is home to some of Turkey’s finest archaeological wonders, including the Temple of Hadrian, built in honor of the Roman Emperor Hadrian.
Meanwhile, the Pamukkale thermal baths, which literally translates to “cotton castle” and can be mistaken for a cluster of angelic clouds when viewed from the right angle, are only a few hours away by car.
The ancient city of Ephesus is undoubtedly one of the great wonders of Turkey. But a short drive away is a small village with lots of charm.
Tourists have been flocking to this popular site of ancient travertines, another UNESCO World Heritage Site, for centuries.
The well-preserved ruins of the ancient city of Hierapolis, once a healing center, are among the highlights, along with the Pamukkale Antique Pool, also known as Cleopatra’s Pool, where the Egyptian Queen Cleopatra is said to have once swam.
And for those who prefer to stay closer to town, a trip to the hot thermal springs of Ilica Beach, where the water remains shallow for the first 100 meters from the shore, won’t disappoint.
“We call this place ‘Heaven on Earth’,” Çesme Mayor Ekrem Oran told CNN as he admires the spices at Alaçatı’s Saturday market.
Judging by the faces of those around you, you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who disagrees with this sentiment.