Cunda Island: living the island life near Ayvalık

You may or may not have heard of Cunda Island, also called Alibey Adası, a quaint little island off the coast of Ayvalık, and a popular weekend destination for many Istanbulites. Though we’re labeling it as little, it is the biggest of the Ayvalık Islands archipelago, but still tiny enough to tour it in a day (or two if you’re slow).

Does it get crowded? Absolutely! Should you stay away? Not at all! But you should look beyond the Instagram-worthy cafés and restaurants and explore everything that this gem of an island has to offer. Trust us, as soon as you leave the buzz of the town, an entirely different scene unfolds. Cunda deserves your time, and it will reward you with some great vistas and a feeling of serenity. Check it out in this guide to Cunda for authenticity seekers.

Click here to see Cunda on a map
Now, Isn't This Pretty?

Now, Isn’t This Pretty?

Cunda Island: a dark past & a bright future?

When cruising around Cunda today, nothing indicates the dark moments the former inhabitants of this now joyful place had to endure. Like Kayaköy or Eski Doğanbey, Cunda was at the center of the population exchange between Greece and Turkey in 1923. That population exchange, a result of the Treaty of Lausanne, was the final chapter in the systematic persecution of the island’s mainly Greek population since 1914. The few remaining Greek islanders were forced back to Greece, and Cretan Turks, together with Turks from Lesbos replaced them.

A Quiet Backstreet

A Quiet Backstreet

What's Not To Love?

What’s Not To Love?

Nowadays, plenty of old and dilapidated Greek buildings have been restored, and the island is full of joy and life, nothing short of the celebration of the Aegean lifestyle, if there is such a thing. This is a tourist destination with a growing interest and popularity each year. As always, these things are good news and bad news. Good, because a growing amount of visitors bring in the funds to restore the town to its former beauty. Bad news, because too many tourists are known to take the soul out of a community.

In the case of Cunda, the town’s seafront is slowly succumbing to the ever-changing demands of tourists, but to those who make an effort to look beyond the glam of the newest hotspots, awaits a fabulous island with a generous mixture of untouched nature, fascinating architecture, inviting little streets and corners, and relatively untouched settlements.

Isn't This The Most Beautiful Cunda Street?

Isn’t This The Most Beautiful Cunda Street?

Hasanaki, Bring Your Own Rakı On Wednesdays!

Hasanaki, Bring Your Own Rakı On Wednesdays!

Exploring the town on Alibey Adası

For many, the town itself is the big draw to flock to Cunda on a beautiful day. It’s easy to see why. The seafront is dotted with cafés and restaurants, ice-cream salons, and boats awaiting passengers to tour around the nearby islands. One could easily spend a few hours whiling away the day just taking in the views whilst enjoying a deep-fried ice cream. But then the backstreets start calling you. They are mostly narrow and inviting, lined with stunning houses and quirky shops. This town is a buzzing sea of color, day and night.

Experimenting With Materials And Color In Cunda

Experimenting With Materials And Color In Cunda

Another Color Explosion

Another Color Explosion

A few Cunda landmarks in town

By all means, go with the flow on Cunda, but do plan a stop at a few of these landmarks. They combine past and present in a unique way and have become icons to a certain extent.

Agios Yannis Church – Sevim-Necdet Kent Library

First up, the former Agios Yannis Church, now repurposed as the Sevim-Necdet Kent Library. The library is located in the former chapel of the Agios Yannis Church and Monastery complex. Next to it is the windmill, which provided flour to the monastery. Before its restoration, the chapel was in serious disrepair, and the windmill was reduced to its foundations only. In 2007, the restored monuments reopened as a library with the support of Rahmi M. Koç.

The library got its name from a retired ambassador, Necdet H. Kent, and his wife, who kindly donated more than 1.300 books from their collection. Taking photos inside is not allowed (though plenty of people seems to ignore this rule), but we promise that the interior is well worth seeing. So, take advantage of the free entrance and enjoy the libraries’ terrace’s splendid views, also a small café.

Panaya Church

Just below the Sevim – Necdet Kent Library, you’ll find the ruins of the Panaya Church. This church from the 1850s has been reduced to three walls standing, but who knows, with time, someone may come up with a plan and restore this building, just like it happened with Agios Yannis Church and the Taksiyarhis Church.

The Ruined Panaya Church On Alibey Adası

The Ruined Panaya Church On Alibey Adası

The Three Still Standing Walls Of The Panaya Church

The Three Still Standing Walls Of The Panaya Church

Taksiyarhis Church – Ayvalık Rahmi M. Koç Museum V

If you went to the Agios Yannis church first, you’ve spotted the Taksiyarhis Church from their terrace. The Greek Orthodox church dedicated to the archangels Gabriel and Michael was built in 1873 on an earlier building’s foundations. The single-dome basilica in Neo-classical style built with a local type of limestone known as sarımsak taşı has arched windows and one remaining bell tower. The gallery originally served as a dedicated area for women to worship. Inside, the lime plastered and stucco walls are adorned with religious figures and floral and geometric motifs.

The church was converted into a mosque without a minaret in 1927-1928, and the religious depictions were painted over. After being severely damaged by an earthquake in 1944, the building was abandoned and gradually fell into decay. Over the years, the building became a safety hazard and was also further damaged by treasure hunters. Finally, in 2014 after a 22-month old restoration project, the Taksiyarhis Church reopened as the Ayvalık Rahmi M. Koç Museum V. The collection, like the ones in Istanbul and Ankara, consists of an eclectic blend of vintage toys, model boats, oldtimer cars or steam machines, to name a few.

Taksiyarhis Church Dominating The Views

Taksiyarhis Church Dominating The Views

The Spectacularly Restored Taksiyarhis Church

The Spectacularly Restored Taksiyarhis Church

You’ll need to pay a small entrance fee, but we feel that – even if you’re not interested in the collection – the building itself is worth a visit. The museum is open every day, except on Monday. It is also closed the day before and the first first day of religious holidays, and on December 31th and January 1st. Opening times are as follows: from 10 till 5 from October to March, and from 10 till 7 from April till September.

Click here to access a current calendar of religious and public holidays in Turkey

Despot Evi

The Despot Evi used to be one of Cunda’s most spectacular houses. It has been restored to its former glory during a 4-year long restoration, after which it reopened as a luxury boutique hotel in 2019. Despot Evi, or ‘the clergyman’s house’, was built in 1862 by a clergyman who had returned to Cunda, his place of birth. He built a spectacular waterside mansion using Greek people’s donations, known since then as the Depot Evi.

After his death, the Ottomans took over using the Despot Evi as a government building around 1877. Later, in the early 1920s, the building was subsequently used as an orphanage and a primary school. After that, the mansion slowly fell into decay until it was brought back to life as a hotel. If you’re looking for a historical place to stay with great views, check out Despot Evi on Booking.com.

Click here to watch a timelapse of the restoration works

Famous Despot Evi

Famous Despot Evi

Taş Kahve

Taş Kahve is a landmark of a different category. This ‘monument’ is Alibey Adası’s most beloved coffee house. Despite its popularity with tourists and visitors, this is still a place where the locals gather. This family-owned business has been in the same family for three generations and is legendary for its Turkish coffee and its Ayvalık tost. Don’t worry, if you don’t like coffee or toast, you’re bound to find something else on their menu!

If you do like Turkish coffee, check out this authentic recipe to make your own!

Inside Taş Kahve, A Local Favorite!

Inside Taş Kahve, A Local Favorite!

If you’re walking from Despot Evi to Taş Kahve, keep an eye out for the analemmatic sundial. Now this qualifies as impressive terminology! In short, an analemmatic sundial is a sort of elliptic clock, usually on the floor, with a basic calendar in the middle. To determine the time, stand on the right date, and your shadow will do the rest.

Don't Forget To Try The Analemmatic Sundial

Don’t Forget To Try The Analemmatic Sundial

Cunda Island: things to see beyond the town

As soon as you venture to Cunda’s backstreets, things are quieter, more tranquil. But it isn’t until you take a tour around the island that you realize that Alibay Adası consists almost entirely of untouched nature. Only a fraction of the island is inhabited. So, if you’re after a truly serene experience, you’ll need to hit the (dirt) roads.

A few Alibay Adası landmarks outside of town

Kızlar Monastery

First, head up north where you will soon enjoy the view of the Kızlar Monastery ruins on one of the islands. The monastery was also known as Evangelistriya and can only be reached by boat. It is in ruins, so you may just as well enjoy the views from the shore, surrounded by 360° nature views.

Kızlar Monastery Ruins

Kızlar Monastery Ruins

İğdeli Koyu

After a rather bumpy ride on a dirt road, you’ll reach İğdeli Koyu, where you’ll appreciate the shallow waters, the remains of an old Greek settlement, and the modern-day luxury of a few low-key and high-end beach clubs. If you prefer things to be even more quiet and remote, keep driving.

Whitewashed Houses At İğdeli Koyu

Whitewashed Houses At İğdeli Koyu

Sobe beach & Pateriça Burnu

If you thought the roads were bad when driving to İğdeli Koyu, prepare for even worse ones if you decide to venture further afield. Don’t worry, things may get bumpy, but you won’t get stuck. The furthest northeast point of Cunda Island is pure bliss. First, you reach Sobe beach, where you’ll find a few beautiful old Greek village houses, most of them restored, and a pleasant bay to swim or enjoy the views. After Sobe Beach, the road continues to Pateriça Burnu, where an even smaller settlement and more tranquility await.

Exploring Sobe And Pateriça Burnu

Exploring Sobe And Pateriça Burnu

Still Waters Of Sobe Bay

Still Waters Of Sobe Bay

Ayışığı Monastery

From Sobe Beach, you can also head further up north towards Ayışığı Monastery. This waterside complex underwent a 3-year long restoration before it became the museum-home of Suzan Sabancı Dinçer and her husband. Apart from their home, the complex also functions as a museum and a venue for cultural and artistic events. You can only visit this private property on Tuesdays and Wednesdays between 10 am and 3 pm, from May 1st till October 31st.

It is forbidden to take photos or make videos inside the premises of the Ayışığı Manastırı or Moonlight Monastery. To give you an idea of what to expect, visit this page about the restoration works, this small photo gallery with some before and after pictures, or – if you want to dig in deep – this academic research and photos about the restoration works. To give you an idea of the roads’ state, the one below was in mint condition. It is a beautiful ride, though.

Aquarium Bay

After exploring the northern part of Cunda Island, catch the sunset near Aquarium Bay. This time, you will enjoy an easy drive on renewed roads crossing the green pine forests before reaching what is labeled as ‘the best point’. We’ll leave it up to you to decide whether that is indeed the case, but at least it did put a smile on our face. If, by that time, you fancy a drink or a meal away from town, you’ll be happy to know that a few campsites and clubs are catering to your needs.

There You Have It, The Best Point!

There You Have It, The Best Point!

How to get to Cunda?

We went to Cunda by car, which is the most convenient way to tour the entire island. How do you drive to an island, you may wonder? There’s no magic or an amphibious vehicle involved. Cunda is home to the oldest bridge connecting lands divided by a strait. For easy parking, drive to the west part of town, just past the marina, where you will find a council-run parking lot.

If you are relying on public transportation, you have two options. You can travel to Cunda by dolmuş, or during the summer months, catch the ferry from Ayvalık. Buses are leaving both from the Izmir – Çanakkale main road and Ayvalık town.

Click here for the current timetables and fares for line A and line B leaving from the main road.

Click here for the current timetables and fares for line A and line B leaving from Ayvalık town.

The website is in Turkish, but this is easily overcome with a little help from Google Translate.

Still, our preferred method is the ferry from Ayvalık to Cunda if you are using public transportation. Unfortunately, there are no timetables available online, so you’ll have to settle for these more general guidelines. The Ayvalık to Cunda ferry usually operates during the summer holidays, until late September or early October. It leaves in Ayvalık hourly, on the hour, from the small jetty just south of Cumhuriyet Meydanı and takes about 15 to 20 minutes to get to Cunda. The last trip is usually around midnight. Make sure to verify this before you board!

Another Hill, Another Windmill

Another Hill, Another Windmill

✔️ Have you been to Cunda Island? Then please head over to our Turkey Trip Planner to leave a review. Alternatively, if you plan on visiting, you can add the island to your bucket list.
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Cunda Island: Living The Island Life Near Ayvalık
Cunda Island: Living The Island Life Near Ayvalık
Cunda Island: Living The Island Life Near Ayvalık
Cunda Island: Living The Island Life Near Ayvalık
Cunda Island: Living The Island Life Near Ayvalık

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Check the weather

Never wonder about the weather in Turkey again. The Turkish climate is as diverse as the country with significant differences between the regions.

This page contains the current weather and weather statistics for all regions in Turkey.

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Can you skip the line at Istanbul Airports?

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Our Turkey Trip Planner wad designed to do just that. You'll find all our favorite spots in one place, including scenic road stops.

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Cunda Island: living the island life near Ayvalık