In antiquity, Turkey’s North Aegean was known as Aeolia, and provided the setting for the Trojan war. Civilization first bloomed here under the Phrygians, who arrived in Anatolia during the thirteenth century BC. Later, Greek colonists established coastal settlements, leaving the region rich in Classical and Hellenistic remains. These days, however, it sees far fewer visitors than the coastline further south. While there are some excellent sandy beaches, the lower sea temperature and lack of a major airport have protected the region from widespread development. Most summer visitors are Turks, and even in August visitor numbers are relatively low. Away from the few resorts, farming, fishing and heavy industry (near İzmir) provide the main livelihoods.
While the sparse ruins of Troy don’t quite live up to their literary and legendary reputation, ancient Assos and Pergamon (modern Bergama) display more tangible reminders of the power and wealth of the greater Greek cultural sphere. Less visited are the recently excavated ruins of Alexandria Troas, and the isolated Lydian city of Sardis, ancient capital of King Croesus, huddled at the foot of impressive mountains.
Coming from İstanbul or anywhere else in northwest Turkey, the most obvious entry point is Çanakkale – useful as a base for both the ruins at Troy and the World War I battlefields on the Gelibolu (Gallipoli) peninsula. Offshore, the fine Turkish Aegean islands of Gökçeada and Bozcaada provide an easy escape. The road south from Çanakkale is justifiably marked as scenic on most maps; much of the route is wooded and gently hilly, giving way to a coastal strip backed by the mountains of the Kazdağı range that conceal idyllic villages like Yeşilyurt and Adatepe. Further south, the best stretches of beach lie near the long-established resort of Ayvalık-Cunda, but there are also pleasant sands north of Foça.
In general there’s less to see inland, with a mountainous landscape and a few predominantly industrial cities. However, the İzmir–Bandırma railway provides an alternative approach to the region, passing through unremarkable Balıkesir (from where frequent buses run to Ayvalık), Soma (a short bus ride from Bergama), and Manisa – the only town worthy of prolonged attention.
Top image: Troyan horse, Canakkale, Turkey © Popovici Ioan/Shutterstock