Armutlu, in the Southern Marmara Region, is the principal town of the Armutlu Peninsula, a hilly land draped with olives, cypresses, stone pines and other Mediterranean vegetation, interrupted by the occasional rocky canyon.
Armutlu ("the place of pear", although there is no particular reason why this fruit should give its name to the town) is a seaside town on the southern coast of the peninsula of the same name, fronting the waters of the Gulf of Gemlik. According to the official statistics, the population stands roughly at 5,000, but during the season, it's a factor of that due to the influx of the holidaymakers.
Armutlu has beautiful views over the sea, thanks to the coastal mountains of Mysia on the other side of the gulf, and the mightier Mt. Uludağ beyond.
Armutlu experiences the Mediterranean climate which allows the nominally tropical bougainvillea to display their attractive purple flowers this far north. What is great about the sunny and rainless summers in Armutlu is that the town is almost always breezy, with a very noticeable and welcome lack of humidity. The winters are mild and rainy, rarely snowy. By April, it's already late spring here, and the fragrant white lilies are all over the place in the wilder bits of the peninsula.
Around the ferry port, there is what resembles a town square—the focus of a large conglomeration of buildings with several storeys. The cobbled streets of this part of the town, called İskele ("harbour") by the locals, is lively during the summer, but it should feel like a ghost town off-season.
About a kilometre northwest of İskele is the hillside old town centre, where most of the full-time residents live, and is called Köy ("village") by them.
Down back to the coast 1½ km southwest from the village is Tavşantepe ("rabbit's hill"), another area of a group of summer houses, but less dense and less vertical than İskele, intertwined by the olive groves which provide the region's main agricultural product.
The road west from Tavşantepe abruptly ends at the gate of İhlas ("fidelity", from Arabic Al-Ikhlas, one of the chapters of the Quran), the timeshare condominiums of several huge, Sovietesque, or even Prora-like V-shaped blocks in a park setting, attracting mostly a conservative, Islamic clientele from Istanbul ad elsewhere in the country.
Further northwest from İhlas is the Cape Bozburun ("grey point") — or the Cape Poseidon as it was aptly named by the ancients after the sea god of the Greek pantheon — the westernmost tip of the Armutlu Peninsula, marked by a lonely clifftop lighthouse.
The fast ferries (deniz otobüsü, "sea-bus") provided by İDO from Istanbul's Yenikapı jetty (on the southern coast of the old city) are the most convenient way of getting to Armutlu from that direction for foot passengers (1hr 25min, expect delays of up to 15 min, 25 TL). The departure frequency ranges from four times daily in summer to once daily off-season.
The frequent car ferries make it no further than Yalova on this route (1hr 20min, 75 TL, plus 12 TL for each additional passenger other than the driver).
The minibuses, or rather small-sized buses, run by the local transportation company Armutlu Kooperatif ply the routes from Yalova (1hr 45min, 14 TL) and Gemlik (1hr, 10 TL), about once every two hours during the daytime (see the company's website for a full list of departures, and note that all the hours listed there are the departure times, not necessarily the arrival). In Gemlik, they start from the main intercity bus station (terminal), and also have a stop about 600 m east of the town square/central mosque, on the corner of Hürriyet Cd and the eastbound riverside street, where a vehicular bridge crosses the dry creekbed (locally known as Dereboyu Taşköprü; there is a small and inconveniently placed sign saying Armutlu Fıstıklı Minibüs Durağı at the stop, but few locals are sure about where this stop is exactly located). On either lines, there is no need to buy a ticket beforehand as the driver or an attendant will come over to collect the fee at some part of the journey.
There are also direct buses three times daily from Bursa's bus station run by Armodies Tur. Should you happen to miss one, your best bet is catching a bus to Gemlik from Bursa, and transferring to an Armutlu-bound one there.
Although there is a small bus station of some sort just south of the old village, both inbound and outbound minibuses make it everywhere in town, from İskele to İhlas (and vice versa), dropping off and picking up passengers as they go.
There are two approaches to Armutlu—from Yalova (53 km) via Çınarcık and Esenköy and from Gemlik (48 km)—both of which wind their way through the forested mountains some elevation above the coastline, offering a very scenic ride at least to the non-drivers. Both roads have their well-maintained bits, almost up to the highway standards, as well as narrower and bumpier sections with their share of hairpin turns (the road from Yalova having slightly more of the latter, because more of it goes through undeveloped mountainous terrain, which also makes it a tad more scenic), although either can be negotiated by a standard 2WD combined with some careful driving.
Private minibuses run between the harbour, the village, and west to İhlas. The minibuses run by the town council (Belediye) also cover more or less the same routes, in addition to a service up to the hot springs over the mountains in the north.
The roads within the town are all uniformly well paved, although somewhat narrow in many parts, and often lacking surface markings.
There is no sidewalk along most of the road between İhlas and the village, so appropriate caution as a pedestrian is in order.
See and do
Well, Armutlu isn't really a sightseeing paradise, and there is no sight of especial importance that you should look after. But if you are already here, you might want to check out the historic houses—some completely wooden, some half-timbered—in the back alleys of the old village, although many are in an advanced stage of dereliction. The two-arched stone bridge just below the village, altered significantly for the modern vehicular traffic, may be another reluctant sight, and the flowers hanging from pots all along the embankments and strung literally above the creekbed just downriver from the bridge are cute enough (although the polluted riverbed underneath less so).
So why then, the average traveller would ever want to visit Armutlu, you might ask. The answer is simple—for a quick dip in the sea, and, more importantly, to soothe in the waters of the hot springs.
The seawater in Armutlu is reasonably clean (although somewhat opaque if the waves drift ashore from the south), and you can find both sandy and shingle beaches, but you are still in the Marmara, and don't expect the turquoise waters of the Lycian coast here.
The local thermal water gives off a very sweet hue of icy blue when filled in a tub due to its mineral content and is said to heal a number of problems especially related to the skin, but relaxing in a steamy tub without any dermatological expectations is just as rewarding. It's available in a number of hotels in town in addition to an old Turkish bath (hamam; signposted as Merkez Kaplıca, "the central hot springs") in the old village. The actual springs (Kaplıca), though, are located in a very beautiful mountain valley surrounded by pine woods, 4 km north of the village just off the road to Yalova, and are complete with a hotel, a restaurant, and another set of baths. Keep in mind that the local thermal water is not recommended for drinking—the nearby hot springs in Termal south of Yalova is a better option to do that.
Armutlu, and the Southern Marmara in general, is one of the greatest producers of olive in Turkey, so, as many shop signs around the town saying zeytinci ("olive store") attest, this is a great place to go shopping for olive products, including many types of flavoured and unflavoured brined olives, olive oil, Castile soap, or even shampoo!
Eat and drink
There are various eateries and cafes around the square in İskele. Self-catering travellers will also find the stores of the national supermarket chains nearby.
The street market, where you can purchase fresh vegetables and fruits grown in the surrounding countryside, is held on Saturdays.
- Thuya Ecofarm, Mecidiye Köyü, ☏ . Agro-ecotourism certified boutique hotel, offering jeep safari tours around the peninsula of Armutlu, horse riding, organic food with vegetarian options available, in a village inside a forest 450 m above the sea level. They also sell home-made certified organic food, no matter whether you are staying there or not. €40-60.
(+90) 226 is the telephone code for the area.
- Yeşil-Mavi Yol [dead link] ("Green-Blue Road") is a route connecting various high meadows, lakes, and waterfalls along the village and backcountry roads through the hilly spine of the peninsula all the way to Yalova. Take the road from the old town signposted west to the village of Mecidiye.