I’ve always thought about Urla and Çeşme as sisters; Çeşme as the it-girl, fun and sexy; whereas Urla was the silent little sister, hiding at her dusty vineyards, reading books on oenology.
Well, Urla is not that shy girl anymore, but a sophisticated young lady, relaxed and cultured, leaving her mark as a major gastronomic center on the Aegean coast.
Wine has been produced in Anatolia since antiquity. It’s no wonder Dionysus, the God of harvests and wine-making was from Trachea, the north-western tip of Turkey and had his temples along the coast.
Although wine was always produced in a grand scale and quite popular among the locals, the number of producers started to increase during 2000s.
In the last couple of decades or so, many entrepreneurs started opening small wineries, producing château style wines. Urla in particular has become quite well known in that area, thanks also to its good climate and easy national and international access.
We had a wonderful three day escape with some friends recently, and I still can’t stop smiling.
Our first stop was Ayda Winery and Vineyards, high up on the hills, near the ancient settlement, Teos. Our day was quite eventful, filled with flat tires & non-stop rainstorms and arriving at the Ayda Winery just before a magical sunset was one of the best moments of the whole weekend.
We stayed the night there, enjoying the wine and the excellent food, soaking in the vistas and cool winds of the Aegean sea.
Dinner was an experience. The menu is superb for such a small restaurant, and the wine selection is lovely. I especially enjoyed the Savignon Blanc, which was dry and crisp. It went surprisingly well with the lamb roast, as our host suggested. The Merlot was also quite good.
I had a lovely chat with Ayda in the morning, the owner and the oenologists, fulfilling her dreams in this beautiful corner of Urla with her husband, producing their organic & vegan wines. Her story is typical to this region. She was a dentist, her husband a lawyer and opening a boutique winery was their dream. They started small, about 20 years ago, buying a vineyard and experimenting with the support of their friends. Now, after years of study and many untold hardships, they have a successful business in a small part of this Aegean paradise, and they are planning to extend it to London, by opening a wine bar and restaurant there.
On the route back, we stopped at MMG Wines, famous for their night harvested reds. There we did a little tasting and learned the difference between an assemblages, a coupage and a monosepage. Monosepage is easy to understand; but the differences between the other two can easily lead to an unnecessarily long and snobbish discussion for amateurs like us. (The assemblage of their signature Syrah, Cabarnet and Merlot is a very decent red, though).
Next stop was Arkas Art Museum, where we lost ourselves between Rodin’s sculptures and 19th & early 20th century impressionists. The museum is owned by Lucien Arkas, an art lover and famous collector. Believing that beauty has to be shared, he opened three museums in the last decade, and this museum in Urla was opened in 2020.
The Arkas Collection consists of paintings, sculptures, carpets, tapestries and armour. On the terrace, there’s a separate building, showing the busts of the 20 Caesars, starting with Julius and ending it with Constantine. There are also the marble replicas of the famous Anatolian temples from the Antique period. For the originals, one has to visit the museums of London and Berlin; but this is a discussion for another blog post.
The building itself, a modern take on the temples of the antique period, is also a must see.
In Urla we stayed in Maison Vourla, a very nice hotel at a walking distance to Iskele, with easy access to both vineyards and downtown Urla.
Although the locals prefer nearby Alaçatı for partying, downtown Urla has become quite lively in the last years, especially the area around Sanat (Art) Street. There are very nice bars and cafes hidden in narrow alleys, where one can relax and kill a few hours visiting the quaint bookshops, ceramic ateliers or boutiques. The crowds are tolerable at this time of the year, but I can’t imagine how it becomes in summer.
Most of the vineyards at Urla offer tasting and some have great restaurants, so one is spoiled by choice. Visiting a few at a time is always a good idea.
We tried Urliçe and Çakır Wineries this time and enjoyed ourselves thoroughly in both.
We had a wine tasting at the sun soaked terrace of Çakır Winery. Although we tasted some good reds, I particularly enjoyed their white wine, made from Bornova Misket grapes, native to the terroir of the region. This aromatic wine, the best of which has been produced on the Aegean coast since ancient times, and even mentioned by the great historian Herodotus, would be the perfect choice for a summer afternoon.
Another winery famous for their Misket is Usca Winery, which names their wines after Shakespeare’s sonnets; Sonnet 5 is reserved for this delicate white :
‘But flowers distill’d, though they with winter meet, Leese but their show; their substance still lives sweet.’
The sunday lunch at Urliçe was also quite poetic for very different reasons. If you go there, try the pizza with artichoke; and for meat lovers, the rack of ribs.
If you really want to spoil yourself , and we certainly wanted to , do yourself a favor and make a reservation at Od Urla.
It’s young chef Osman Sezener created a farm-and sea-to table experience in his restaurant under the olive trees. The menu follows the rhythm of the nature and changes monthly. The atmosphere is both chic and relaxed, the cocktails cool, the service impaccable and the tasting menu impressive.
Urla is also a lovely seaside town with little seafood restaurants. Of them, Yengeç at İskele is special, with a well deserved reputation. Go there and try their heavenly seafood mezes, prepared with the daily catch and have a chat with the owner, who is as unique as his dishes.
I liked strolling along the seaside, watching the fishermen bringing in their daily catch.
Our trip to Urla ended with a quick stop at İzmir, where we had a lovely lunch at Balmumu Lokanta. The owner-chef Ahmet Güzelyağdöken is a true gourmet. He’s combining fresh local produce with old and new recipes and in different variations.
My sole fish served with fresh artichoke was quite inspired, as is the Alaşehir Kapaması, a kind of meatloaf ravioli served with yoghurt.
After a short stop at the nearby Reyhan patisserie to buy some of their famed brownies, we finally said goodbye to lovely Izmir.
Next stop ? Gym !🙈