Ayvalik & Cunda- The Ultimate Guide

Ayvalik & Cunda- The Ultimate Guide

Info

Alright, ladies & gentlemen… We are in Ayvalik & Cunda (Alibey Island), one of our favorite summer vacation locations in Turkey, and we are excited about sharing this post. If you don’t like swimming a lot, you are still more than welcome since Ayvalik & Cunda are great places to visit, chill and enjoy 😉

Spending two times in sequence during summer periods (including one more extra day trip) led us to write this post after compiling much info. One of our team members spent her childhood in this region, but you know time passes and things are changing so fast. But after these vacations, we convince ourselves that we are definitely up to date.

This will be one of the posts outside Istanbul, however, we have the same mindset. So, you will find similar information on both secret ones & top ones like our Istanbul posts.

Introduction

Ayvalik & Cunda is like a brother-sister and very close to each other, so you should always make your plans considering both of them.

We tried two different things. First-year, we stayed in Ayvalik and second-year we stayed in Cunda. Those were similar experiences but this should be shaped based on your expectation. Please cover all info below and decide what is OK for you.

One more thing… “Things to do” or “things to see” are not changing a lot. We are sure you will want to cover top things whether you stay in Ayvalik or Cunda. Long summary short, staying in Cunda was the better option for us since we like lifestyle more and you feel that you are on vacation.

Information and History of Ayvalik & Cunda

Information about Ayvalik & Cunda

Ayvalik is a district of Balikesir. Balikesir is a well-known city in the Marmara region due to famous districts such as Ayvalik, Altinoluk, Akcay, and more. However, the center of Balikesir is not good enough and almost nothing to do. So, people both from Balikesir and other locations in Turkey generally buy summer houses where they can enjoy some portions of Balikesir.

Ayvalik is the center and there are a total of 22 islands around Ayvalik. And, Ayvalik Islands Natural Park is one of the biggest natural parks in Turkey. But, only two of them- Cunda and Lale islands were populated.

Lale and Cunda islands are connected with a bridge and this is the first strait bridge connecting lands in Turkey. Basically, this was constructed before the bridges in Istanbul so that it is important. You will see a label when you pass this bridge saying “the first strait bridge in Turkey”.

Ayvalik’s income mostly depends on olive, olive oil, and tourism. And, the district is a heaven of olive and there are many factories around the district producing a wide range of olive products such as oil, soap, etc.

History

Ayvalik history dates back to the centuries. The name Ayvalik comes from Kydonia or Kydonies which means quince garden. There are several resources talking about early ages and the settlement in antiquity in Cunda (Alibey Island).

After the Byzantines and unstable years, colonies of Venice and Genoese, and wars between colonies and the Ottomans, finally the district has stable years. At the end of the 18th century, it has been converted to a semi-autonomous position, but this time the Greek struggle changed the town since Greeks were dominant in those days and they moved from Ayvalik to some other places. But, after a while, they were able to return to Ayvalik.

Ayvalik has been captured by Greeks after World War I around three years. But, Turks took control during the Turkish Independence War- finished in 1922 and Ayvalik has been connected to Turkey after the Treaty of Lausanne.

Due to the agreement between Greece and Turkey after the independence war, the Greek population was exchanged by the Muslim population from Greece. Today, still ferries operate between Ayvalik and Lesbos or Lesvos (from Mytilene or Mytilini). So, you will feel both Greek and Turkish styles in this region.

Cunda’s name was transformed from the word Yunda or Yund. The current name Alibey is the name of Turkish commander who pulled the trigger officially first in this region against Greeks during the Turkish Independence War.

Due to these historical events in history, you will see a cultural combination of Turkey and Greece. You can easily understand this by the great churches, museums, and mosques in this district. [1,2]

Ayvalik & Cunda- Top things to do & see

We will mainly cover beaches, things to see & visit and restaurants, more on but Ayvalik Islands Natural Park is a good location for camping, trekking, kitesurfing, scuba diving and running.

Where to swim?

It is easy to find many options regarding beaches in this region. As top ones:

Sarimsakli

It looks like Sarimsakli is the best option and locals usually prefer Sarimsakli beach. Basically, the beach is good and not directly getting deeper, so you can enjoy it a lot. Moreover, this is a blue-flagged beach. There are many beach clubs/cafes, so you can choose one of them. You should pay a small amount of money to rent an umbrella and sunbed. El Turco is one of the best options.

Badavut

Badavut is close to Sarimsakli and can be named as the continuation of Sarimsakli. But, locals also prefer to spend some time here. In our personal opinion, we like Badavut more than Sarimsakli since it has a better nature. Moreover, this is also a blue-flagged beach. But, Badavut can be windier, but it will not affect swimming especially in the July-August timeframe. Muzo beach can be a good option considering the cafe’s bigger umbrellas and good service. Please also note that the sea is a little bit salty compared to Sarimsakli.

Ayvalik Badavut beach with green nature
Badavut beach in Ayvalik

Paterica bay/beach

Locals also call Patrica and Patricia. This is one of the places where you can swim in Cunda. It is like a swimming pool and the sea is very clean. The cons are you should have a private car and the road is challenging. No, no, the road is bad. And, the last 5 kilometers (3 miles), the average speed is almost 10 kilometers per hour and you may want to pray for the end of the road. No exaggeration… But, at the end of the road, you will definitely think that it is worth driving on this f… (freaking :)) road. Minas is a good option considering price/performance, but the service is average, Mola beach is costly, but can be OK compared to others. You can try Biyikli also.

Bonus: Heading to Patricia, you can see many locals swimming in silent spots. If you have portable chairs and an umbrella, you can swim and enjoy Cataltepe beach or Aya Yorgi beach.

Note 1: There are some beaches open to the public, but those are not recommended by locals. We hope these three options will help.

Note 2: Having a private car really helps since it would provide flexibility. Please consider renting a car in Istanbul to go to Ayvalik. By public transportation, you may lose too much time to locate those beaches. The taxi may be an option, at least better than public transportation.

Where to eat?

Raki-Balik-Ayvalik famous trio in Turkey (Raki: famous alcohol in Turkey, Balik: fish, Ayvalik) and Ayvalik toast are the best things to eat. Aegean kitchen (vegetables with olive oil) and delicatessen is a culture in this region. Moreover, there are good patisseries that we want to cover as well.

Restaurants

Tik Mustafa’s Place

This restaurant is our favorite in Ayvalik and it is a fish restaurant. Appetizers are pretty good. Don’t forget to order fava- mashed broad beans, haydari- thick yogurt with garlic and dill, and saksuka- dried fried aubergines in tomato garlic sauce. And, they are all delicious and fresh.

Furthermore, if you are a tough guy, you know what to do. Drink the most famous alcohol- Turkish Raki. If you don’t know how to drink raki, don’t be too brave and know your limit (what we normally order 20 cl for 1 person is 35cl for 2 people and 70cl for 3 people if you are not familiar you can consider 35cl for 3 people). Moreover, preparing Turkish Raki may be a little bit hard to do because the ratio of water and raki is key, but you can request some help in the restaurant. At the end of finalizing everything, you can order halvah and Turkish coffee. This is a traditional thing to do after drinking raki.

Raki-fish-Ayvalik trio in Tik Mustafa
Tik Mustafa in Ayvalik

If you are lucky enough, you may have a chance to see a Turkish star over there. And, it may be challenging to find a table, so you can consider making a reservation before.

Note: If you don’t drink alcohol, please skip this place.

Nes’e Meyhanesi

This is our favorite restaurant in Cunda. Unfortunately, the portions are small, but they are all delicious. Don’t miss “saganaki” and “kabak cicegi dolmasi- stuffed squash blossoms”.

Nese Meyhanesi Ayvalik-Cunda
Nes’e Meyhanesi in Cunda

Again, at the end of finalizing everything, you can order halvah and Turkish coffee.

Note 1: If you don’t drink alcohol, please skip this place.

Note 2: If you want to be in a location full of people, Nes’e is a good restaurant to feel this kind of atmosphere.

Pizza Uno

If you are bored with Aegean culture, this is a good restaurant to eat pizza or hamburgers in Cunda. And, they also serve a local Cunda beer that you can try.

Note: You can find beverage except alcohol.

L’arancia

L’arancia in Cunda has a good style and we tried “risotto (both of them)” with seafood and with mushroom, we really like it. You can combine with wines. The restaurant serves good Mediterranean, Italian and Turkish foods.

Note: You can find beverage except alcohol.

Ayvalik toast- Askin Toast House

Don’t go back w/o eating the most famous toast in Turkey. So, you can easily understand that the capital of this specific toast is Ayvalik. Askin Tost Evi is the best option to eat this delicious toast.

What makes Askin different is they make the original Ayvalik toast with soudjouk and cheese and this is very delicious. And, we can easily say that this is the best toast in the world!!

What makes Ayvalik toast different in other locations in Ayvalik and in Turkey is putting everything in it especially in the old times such as soudjouk, salami, sausage, and different cheese and this is generally too thick (putting Russian or American salad was popular, how did those people consider adding Russian salad over soudjouk, congratulations to this imagination). So, Askin Toast House serves the simplicity with taste.

In the center, there are some shops (actually a bazaar called Tostcular Carsisi in Turkish) making this toast but personally, we don’t like that bazaar a lot.

Patisseries/Cafes

Stone cafe/coffeehouse (Tas Kahve in Turkish)

This cafe is the most famous one in Cunda. And, this is old and they cook delicious Turkish coffee.

Seytanin kahvesi (Devil’s Coffeehouse)

Seytanin Kayvesi is in Ayvalik. Do you want to enjoy art? This is not something like producing a type of juice, this is simply art. This is the best place to drink verjuice. You may want to combine verjuice with delicious Turkish coffee. We really like this coffeehouse, it is simply fantastic.

Devil's Coffeehouse in Ayvalik- verjuice & coffee
Seytanin Kahvesi in Ayvalik

Macaron Muhallebicisi

Macaron Muhallebicisi in Ayvalik Macaron street is maker of milk pudding. This is another spot of art. Purple basil sherbet (sweetened fruit juice) and milk pudding with almonds are fantastic.

Purple basil sherbet (sweetened fruit juice) and milk pudding with almonds in Ayvalik
Macaron Muhallebicisi in Ayvalik

The cafe of Sevim and Necdet Kent Library

The products are good, but we mostly like the view a lot. It is a good location to relax.

Bonuses

We are not impressed a lot, but you can try cookies with gum-mastic (sakiz in Turkish) and curd cheese (lor in Turkish) in Karadeniz (Black Sea) Pastry in Cunda and Guler Tatlihanesi in Ayvalik.

Where to visit?

Half-day would be enough for Cunda, but for Ayvalik it is best to arrange time close to 1 day for Ayvalik old town and tourist attractions including Devil’s Feast. By the way, it is important to keep in mind that this recommendation is only about top things to see.

Top tourist attractions

Visiting all these tourist attractions may be challenging, so you can make a combination based on your timing and including your interests.

Things to see in Cunda

Rahmi Koc Museum/Taxiarches church

This church and museum would be the first location to be visited on Cunda Island. It was restored a while ago and Rahmi Koc- a well-known businessman (not himself directly but funded by Rahmi Koc Foundation for Museology and Culture) converted the church to the museum. You can see before restoration photos on the walls.

The church was built in the 1870s as a Greek Orthodox church and has been attributed to Taxiarches which means Archangels Michael and Gabriel in Greek Orthodoxy. And, the church has a single dome and in a basilica form.

After the Turkish Independence War, it has been converted to the mosque w/o constructing a minaret. At this time, the iconostasis was dismantled. And, the earthquake damaged the church in 1944 and it was abandoned till the restoration in the 2010s.

There are various products such as toys, ships/cruiser models, engines, cars from previous centuries which are a great combination and figures or paintings representing the Taxiarches church close to the exit.

Rahmi Koc Museum in Cunda

Sevim and Necdet Kent library and lovers hill

Necdet Kent– a diplomat in Turkey is the father of Muhtar Kent who was the CEO of Coca Cola company. He died in 2002 and he had an amazing story during World War II about saving some Turkish Jews.

Former Agias Ioannis church during the exchange period is now home of Sevim and Necdet library. Additionally, the books inside of the church belong to Necdet Kent and donated by his son-Muhtar Kent. The library has been restored and serves under the Rahmi Koc Foundation for Museology and Culture.

Agias Ioannis church in Ayvalik
Sevim and Necdet Kent library in Cunda

Just beside the church, there is a mill and it is thought that it served for the church. Moreover, there is a cafe and you can enjoy the view a lot.

Just on the other side, there is a hill called “lovers hill”. Again, the view is perfect. Visiting the library is definitely a “must-do” activity in Cunda.

Historical flour mill

You will see another mill on one of the hills in Cunda. You know Cunda is an island having a windy environment, thus it probably made sense to construct a big flour mill on one of the highest locations. The view of the backside is pretty good. You can enter the mill and even can take a good picture from the second floor. But, keep in mind that inside is not clean enough.

Cunda center, the tree with a lot of evil eye beads

This location is one of the symbols of Cunda, so don’t forget to take a photo.

Ayvalik famous tree
The symbol of Cunda- famous tree

Bonuses or nice-to see spots

  • Analemmatic sundial: You will see this on the shore of Cunda. If you pass by, just try to find out what the clock is.
  • Moonlight Monastery: The monastery has just been restored by a well-known family- Sabanci, and now it is open to visiting for a limited time in a week. But, please note that the road is very challenging and you may have to walk the last kilometers.
  • Panagia church: The church is on the way to Sevim and Necdet Kent library. Unfortunately, you can only see the ruins over there.
  • Despot’s house: This is not a historical location anymore, it is a hotel now and recently restored but it is worth mentioning. According to stories, Despot who was a priest had received a lot of money by people due to Greece’s independence and then moved to Cunda where he was born. He had constructed a good house where the hotel stands nowadays but had been murdered by thieves. After that, the Ottomans purchased and use the house, and then it was used as an orphanage until the 1980s after the exchange.

Things to see in Ayvalik

Ayvalik old town and Thursday bazaar

Ayvalik’s old town is good having both Ottoman-style and Greek-style old houses. Spend some time in this region and explore. The Thursday bazaar is good for shopping and it may be one of the most crowded moments you might feel in Ayvalik. Because Greeks from Lesbos come here for shopping and you may have a chance to witness a cultural festival 🙂

Taksiyarhis Monumental Museum

This church is the oldest church in Ayvalik. It is thought that there have been three different periods. And, it has a basilica plan. There are a lot of different paintings, icons in the church such as Christ Pantocrator painting on the dome, St. John the Baptist icon on the iconostasis, the life of Jesus Christ, apostles, and more. The pulpit is also good, in summary, we like the church even it looks like a newly constructed church. Additional information, the church has been repaired/restored many times in history and the latest restoration has been completed in 2012.

Ayvalik- the oldest church
Taksiyarhis Monumental Museum in Ayvalik

Saatli/Clock Mosque

The famous mosques in Ayvalik were all converted from churches after the exchange period. The clock mosque has a clock on the tower, this is why it is called clock mosque. And, the inside of the mosque is good.

Cinarli Mosque

To be honest, we like Cinarli Mosque more than the Clock Mosque. The inside of the mosque is good and the iconostasis is still there. But, the icons on the iconostasis have been closed due to some general rules in the mosques.

Cinarli Mosque in Ayvalik

Hayrettin Pasha Mosque

Hayrettin Pasha Mosque has been constructed in 1850. Its old name is Panagia. It can be named as a complex because right behind of the mosque there were two education centers but they were converted to schools.

Hagiasma Panagia

Ayazma (in Turkish) is derived from Hagiasma. It has just been restored. Basically, it is thought that the water resource here has healing power and people from all different religions visit this place except Orthodox. According to resources, many different illnesses were cured here. And, there is a good sentence as “wash your wrongdoings not only your face”. It is definitely worth visiting, don’t forget to wash your wrongdoings. There are also photos before and after restoration which shows how successful this restoration is.

Hagiasma Panagia in Ayvalik

Devil’s Feast /Table

This hill has an amazing view of the islands and especially during sunset. You can consider the timing as well. But, don’t forget there is a distance from the Ayvalik center. Furthermore, there are some stories about this hill and footprint.

Devil’s Feast

1st one is coming from Greek mythology. You know, the devil had been expelled from heaven. Based on this story, Zeus had called moonlight goddess Selene to expel devil and devil had stepped one foot to this spot and the other step to the island on the other side- Mytilini.

2nd one is a story from the 1500s about Penelope who had been a Greek Orthodox and protested church. Penelope had absconded and stayed on this hill. One year, there had been a drought and everybody had blamed Penelope. They had gone to that hill, but Penelope had prepared a fantastic feast for those people. While they had been enjoying the meal, Penelope had run away.

The last one claimed that there was no story and this name was created to make an attraction only 🙂 What a story, huh?

There is a restaurant over there, you can prefer but not a must-do. This place can be pretty windy, even in the summer, you may need a thin jacket.

How to go to Ayvalik?

Edremit Koca Seyit Airport is a domestic airport and only 45 kilometers away from Ayvalik and can be considered as 45 minutes.

Depending on where you are in Istanbul, it will be around 400-450 kilometers. It would take around 4 to 4.5 hours. You can go to Ayvalik by bus from Istanbul.

Izmir is 170 kilometers and it would take around 2 hours to go to Ayvalik.

Transportation from Cunda to Ayvalik or Ayvalik to Cunda, there are minibusses. Otherwise, you can consider the taxi option and it would be the best way if you don’t have a private car.

How much time?

We recommend you stay a minimum of three days. It will be even hard or impossible to cover the full list of top things, but you can make a good list by the items listed above.

Where to stay?

As mentioned in the beginning, we liked to stay in Cunda more than staying in Ayvalik. Ayvalik is subjected to daily life more than Cunda, thus feeling a vacation in Cunda makes more sense. And, Cunda’s nightlife is better.

Please note that the concept is generally a boutique hotel in this region, but we can say that the hotels are mostly professional.

  • Ferahi Evler Boutique Hotel in Ayvalik: The hotel is close to the Ayvalik center, so you can walk in 10-15 minutes. The hotel is clean, the breakfast is average. But the idea of having breakfast at the shore with a good view increases the joy.
  • Tas Bahce Boutique Hotel in Cunda: Tas Bahce has a good garden and the hotel is clean. The breakfast is good and it is very close to Cunda’s center. We will consider staying in this boutique hotel next time as well.
Tas Bahce Boutique Hotel in Cunda

Other info worth mentioning

Ayvalik weather

Ayvalik weather both represents the Marmara and Aegean regions. Winters are not cold like Istanbul, summers are not hot like Izmir. Rainfall chance is again in the middle of Istanbul and Izmir.

The water temperature is also at the highest point in July and August.

Due to having beaches, people generally prefer to go to Ayvalik in July and August. So, we would recommend you visit in the summertime but we can say that spring and fall are also good enough.

Ayvalik kitesurfing

Kitesurfing in Ayvalik also becomes more popular. So, you can find some courses and if you have time and are interested in kitesurfing, Ayvalik may be a good location for you.

Ayvalik diving

Diving also becomes more popular in the Ayvalik region. So, you can prefer to try if you have enough time and the diving points are distributed around the small islands.

Conclusion

As mentioned in the beginning, Ayvalik & Cunda is a good combination to enjoy a vacation due to serving many good options for swimming, visiting, and having good meals. There are also good camping areas around these districts.

If you have enough time in Turkey, we would recommend you go to Ayvalik & Cunda and have a good vacation. We generally choose to be on the Aegean side of Turkey rather than the Meditterean side since the air is fresher and it is not that hot like Antalya or other cities.

We hope you got enough information from this post. And we hope a great journey as well.

References

  1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ayval%C4%B1k
  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cunda_Island
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