The hidden paradise of Ayvalık – Turkey
January 1, 1970
A Fulfilling Summer Vacation in Ayvalık:
Summer is around the corner and you still haven’t planned where you are going to rest your mind, body, and soul? Fear no further, I know the perfect place! As a local, I assure you, Ayvalık is one of the most peaceful towns in the world.
Because it is a developing summer holiday destination, I believe Ayvalık still keeps the essence of its unique Aegean culture. Being less known than the more popular southern touristic destinations in Turkey (like Bodrum, Çeşme, Antalya, etc.) actually gives this small town a great advantage to avoid all of the holiday rip-offs and an advantage to see an entirely different culture.
Locals in Ayvalık continue to try and reserve its beautiful landmarks as it is. If you have ever visited Istanbul, or if you stop by there before Ayvalık, you will see that the major landmarks and spots of natural beauty are mostly ruined for the display of luxury which most believe entirely spoiled the true essence of Turkish tradition and culture.
You will see a more reserved culture in Ayvalık, get to taste the delicious and unique Aegean cuisine, see the historic Turkish and Greek styled homes, shop in the fantastic culture of outdoor bazaars, and swim in a breathtaking view of nature from the Aegean sea.
I’ve seen -even worked in- many hotels where tourists easily get sucked into spending the entire day drinking cocktails by the bar and attending pool parties. This is not necessarily a bad way to spend your vacation; I believe Ayvalık is just not the right town to do that in.
Most tourists never even get to see the magical parts of the town, and seeing these places definitely don’t cost as much as you will spend staying in your hotel. So, choosing the right place to stay is extremely crucial.
The town is built around a gulf, so if you stay in one end of Ayvalık, you will probably want to stay there the whole time and not get to see much more. Cunda Island and Sarımsaklı Beach have the best hotels and inns but I have seen so many people who vacate there, just stay there.
The best way to visit Ayvalık is to stay somewhere in the middle of the gulf and stay in some bed and breakfast or “boutique hotel”. Boutique hotels are usually historical Aegean styled homes and they are perfect for resting your mind. If you are not into a bed and breakfast type of accommodation, there are also pleasant and comfortable hotels in the Çamlık district or the town centre of Ayvalık.
Don’t fret about not attending the nightlife while staying in a boutique hotel. My personal favorite clubs in Ayvalık are Garden, Gossip, and Tropicana. You can also find many bars and wine tastings with live music in the Cunda Island.
It is known for many years that the inner gulf of Ayvalık is too dirty to swim in, so we always swam in the outer seas. Now they have blue flags for all of those beaches like the Sarımsaklı Beach, Badavut Beach, and the outer beaches in Cunda.
I have a summerhouse past the “Devil’s Feast” hill but you don’t have to own a property to go swimming out there. If you like hiking, biking, or camping, my best advice is to camp out in the wilderness in the forest beyond the Devil’s Feast or even just go there for a swim during the day. My friends and I have been doing it for years, it’s totally safe.
There also are yacht tours that go out to the exact location where my summerhouse is and you can dive to the sea of perfect temperature right from the boat. A little warning: they blast music so loud it echoes throughout the forest.
Some boats have scuba diving and snorkeling options. I have never attended but many of my friends love going diving in Ayvalık almost everyday. They say they see a beautiful view every time. Ayvalık has some of the safest spots in Turkey to go diving.
When I was talking about Ayvalık having natural beauty, I mostly meant the hilltop called the Devil’s Feast.
The name comes from the myth that the hill is where the Devil feasts because the summit is flat and looks like a giant table. Years later I’ve heard people say they found a caving on the ground on top of the hill that looks like a giant footprint. I’ve heard many more silly myths and it’s never certain which one is more original. Side note: if you throw money in the “Devil’s footprint” then the restaurant owners will just get that much richer.
Nevertheless, the Devil’s Feast is the highest peak in Ayvalık where you can see the entire town, sea, forest, and even some of Lesvos-Greece. The most beautiful sunset’s I have ever seen were up there. Because it has become such a popular tourist spot, having dinner there might be a little pricey and unnecessary.
Turkish people are known to stay up late and therefore, eat dinner late. My family and friends have made it a yearly tradition to go to the Devil’s Feast after a tiring day of swimming, have some Turkish tea with deserts and watch the beautiful sunset. Then we get in our cars and go to Cunda for the perfect Aegean dinner.
The Cunda Island has a unique mixture of the Turkish and Greek culture beautifully swirled into one. One cannot say they’ve been to Ayvalık without eating every local mezze and the season’s best fish at the famous seafood restaurants by the sea. Another side note: If you’re going to go all out with the Turkish culture, you just have to drink Turkish Rakı and get into an emotional frenzy.
After a delicious dinner, it is always best to grab some Turkish gum flavored (damla sakızlı) ice cream from the first ice cream man ringing his bell, then go night-shopping in the backstreet bazaars parallel to the street of restaurants (Çarşı Street.)
Okay, so you had an amazing night in Cunda and you are hungover from all of the Turkish Rakı.
That means it is time to go to Central Ayvalık and eat some Ayvalık Toast. Yum!
Spending at least one whole day wandering into the streets of downtown Ayvalık and shopping in the outdoor bazaars or in a “pasaj” can be a memorable time in your trip. Warning: it gets extremely hot in downtown Ayvalık in the summer.
If you are a desert lover like me, you can have some “Höşmerim” cheese based desert from Güler Tatlıhanesi in Talapaşa Street while you are in Central Ayvalık. You can also take a bus or a cab to the quiet residential neighborhood of Çamlık and eat lokma at the “Çamlık Lokmacısı” as you watch yet another irreplaceable sunset of Ayvalık.
Enjoy your trips fellow wanderlusters!