48 hours in Urla

You might not have heard of this Mediterranean town on the Cesme Peninsula but Urla, surrounded by olive groves and wine country, is known as the ‘Turkish Tuscany’. It’s attracting some of the country’s best chefs and, hot on their tails, clued-up food-loving travellers. It’s a fine place for a foodie break, says Susan Low.

Following the devastating earthquake, Turkey needs the inflow of cash that international tourism brings, now more than ever, so consider a trip if you can. If not, consider donating to Disasters Emergency Committee or the British Red Cross.

48 hours in Urla

The town of Urla: a foodie buzz

Urla has two parts: one inland, the other (Urla Iskele), looking out onto the Aegean. Inland, head for pedestrian-only Sanat Sokogi (Artisan Street) and Malgaca Pazari, an Ottoman-era marketplace. They buzz with cafés, bakeries and stalls selling colourful piles of local produce.

Eating in atmospheric café Beğendik Abi, run by Handan Kaygusuzer, is like dining at a friend’s house. Her home-style cooking – stuffed vegetables, hearty soups, slow-cooked meat and sweets such as kadayıflı muhallebi (a creamy, crunchy-topped milk pudding) will put a beatific smile on your face.

The walls of nearby afak Lokantasi , a tradesman’s caff, are adorned with black-and-white photos that have hung there since 1974. It serves a huge variety of breakfasts and lunches, from meaty güveç stews to buttery pilau rice and yogurt-laced vegetable dishes. The cooking is incredible; you’ll eat well for a fiver.

Thoroughly modern Hiç Lokanta , in a renovated 160-year-old theatre, is run on sustainable principles by Duygu Özerson Elakdar and her husband Taha. They serve fish sausages made from the invasive lionfish, sous-vide goat and imaginative veg dishes enhanced by wild herbs and plants from their olive forest. They also make excellent oil, and you can book foraging and cooking classes, olive oil tastings and olive-harvest tours.

Old Town

The hottest ice cream and the coolest pepper

Tiny İrmik Hanım Patisserie  is run by Cordon Bleu-trained Esra Özkulter, who makes gelato-style goat’s milk ice cream. Go for the one flavoured with mastic, a rare, expensive resin from a tree that grows only on the Çeşme peninsula and on the nearby Greek island of Chios.

Each Friday, Urla’s bus station is transformed into a farmers’ market that overflows with fresh produce from the surrounding countryside. Get there before noon and feast your eyes on mounds of fragrant herbs, courgettes and artichokes, along with tahini ground to order, halva and fresh cheeses. The bargain suitcase-filler: bright-red dried urfa pepper flakes, which sell for 50p for 100g and will enliven your dishes for months (move over, aleppo pepper!).

Seafood and fire cooking

For chill-out time away from the bustling streets, take a bus or taxi or drive to Urla Iskele, the working fishing port three miles north, to fill your lungs with sea air. Stroll by the water past dozens of fish restaurants, swanky bars and hotels. Come at dusk and sip a cold glass of rakı in one of the waterfront bars before a seafood feast.

At Yengeç , owner Oguz Özer has encyclopaedic knowledge of the local seafood and will create a spread that might include bluetail prawns with tomato and olive oil, fried anchovies dressed with salmon roe, grilled calamari with garlic and lemon… You won’t go hungry.

Some of Turkey’s top culinary talent is working in Urla. In an olive grove between town and port, Osman Senezer cooks a nine-course tasting menu (Lire 1,100; £50) over a wood fire at OD Urla . Grab a stool at the chef’s table (or outside under the olive trees) and be treated to plate after gorgeous plate – maybe sea bass tartare with Aegean herbs, asparagus with marinated courgette & pea purée or 12-hour oxtail.


Out of town: vines and sands

Urla’s wine country stretches south from town. Here among the vines, chef Osman Serdaroğlu runs Teruar , a chic new restaurant with rooms. The İzmir native fled an IT course for Italy to learn his craft, and there’s an Italian touch in dishes such as tortellini in tomato sauce flavoured with fig leaf. His seven-course tasting menu (Lire 980; £45) might include grilled beef fillet with smoked aubergine purée and roasted peach, and pears in rakı with fennel ice cream.

Wine has been made in this region since Roman times. Now, new wineries are putting Turkish wine back on the map, and the Urla Wine Route makes it easy to find your way.


Sleek Urla Winery is turning out excellent bottles, increasingly based on Turkish grapes such as bornova misketi and the local urla karası. At bucolic Urlice, Bilge Bengisu Öğünlü and husband Reha got into making wine for a greener life away from the city, and they turn out sustainably produced chardonnay, syrah and cabernet sauvignon. The organic wines at USCA  are expertly made, each named after one of Shakespeare’s sonnets.

When the beach calls, the area’s best – 12 miles south of Urla – is Altınköy. Wide with golden sand and clear blue water, it has a chilled atmosphere. You can rent beach beds and there are cafés nearby – around here, good food is never far away.

Where to stay in Urla

Otel Fiori

In the Old Town, with a quiet terrace and garden. Rooms are tasteful and Scandi-like in their simplicity. Doubles from £67 B&B; otelz.com


Big-time luxury amid the vineyards. The seven bedrooms are spacious and beautifully designed, and the price includes an incredible Turkish breakfast. Doubles from £216; booking.com.

How to get to Urla, Turkey

Pegasus and Easyjet fly from Stansted and Gatwick to Izmir (from around £150 at skyscanner.net), with Urla a 45-minute drive. Car hire from Izmir airport costs from around £15 per day.

Susan Low travelled courtesy of Türkiye Tourism Promotion and Development Agency.

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