A different view of Turkey
Turkey is this summer’s top choice for stretching the pound. But which part should you visit? Jeremy Laurance found just the place to mix cliff-walking with relaxing on the beach.
Sunday 26 July 2009
I love the mountains, my wife loves the sea. Could we find a holiday that combined them, we wondered? It turned out we could. There is somewhere with glorious coastal walking which allows periodic forays down to the beach to relax, cool off, and sit sipping a glass or two in the sun. Moreover, it is outside the eurozone where a pound is, er, still worth a pound.
We left London on one of those damp June afternoons that feel more like November, and a few hours later we were being whisked from Dalaman airport on Turkey's Mediterranean coast through the balmy, pine-scented night to where our host, Atilla, was waiting under the apricot trees to greet us with a chilled bottle of white wine.
Feeling smug? Us? Of course we were. We had come to walk the Lycian Way, Turkey's first long-distance path, which snakes for 300 miles along what is justly known as the Turquoise Coast. As it takes a couple of months to do the lot, we were spending a week on the "highlights", as selected by the holiday company Headwater, who also arranged for our bags to be transported from hotel to hotel.
Exploring is, to my mind, much of the point of holidays. I am always amazed at the number of people who say they have been going back to the same place every year for decades. But when you only have a week or two, a mistake – grungy hotel or unappealing location – can be costly. This arrangement takes the risk out of exploring because, while nothing is familiar, you also know that everything – the route, the hotels, the food, the setting – will be good. At least, that is the promise.
We set off next morning after breakfast – big, fat, dark cherries in a bowl of thick yogurt – with our (astonishingly detailed) route notes. We walked into the tiny but lively village of Kayakoy. At least, half of it is lively. The other half was abandoned almost 90 years ago when its Greek occupants were "resettled" to Athens when tensions grew after the First World War. Two churches, umpteen chapels and 1,000 houses stand roofless and windowless ranged across the hillside – a silent monument to the dispossessed. There were no more than half a dozen couples picking their way among the ruins, like us, at 9.30am.
The village overlooks a fertile plain ringed by rough hills of rock and scrub. After wandering about in a silence broken only by the buzzing of the bees, we climbed – slowly in the heat – to the ridge above the last house for our first view of the sea. There, far below, was the perfect lagoon of Olu Deniz, a crescent of turquoise-blue and so inviting – but not yet close enough to dive into. We yomped down the hill, through the pine trees, our nostrils filled with their scent, drawn by the prospect of a cooling swim. Paragliders corkscrewed by us, like giant butterflies on their way to the beach below.
At the Sun City beachside bar, in a perfect setting beside the lagoon, we find the first drawback to this destination while waiting for the barman to serve three Orgasm cocktails (coffee, amaretto and Irish cream liqueur) to two men and a woman sporting elaborate tattoos. It turns out that 90 per cent of the tourists in this part of Turkey are Brits. This has its advantages – English is widely spoken – but for me "getting away from it all" means getting away from them.
That wasn't difficult, as we discovered. Indeed, if solitariness is what you want, this is hard to beat. After the first day, when we followed a well-trodden route, the only other walkers we saw in the next five days on the coastal path were a pair of impressive tortoises. Actually two pairs, on different days. No one else was mad enough to go out in the midday sun. Admittedly, we had set out a month late. Walking here is best in May, September and October. We arrived in June and it was hot, even by that month's standards – 30 to 35 Celsius.
The first day was what Atilla, our genial host at Villa Rhapsody, with its peaceful garden and pool away from the hurly-burly of the coast, described as a "leg stretcher" – a mere 8.5km (just over five miles). Next morning, after a dinner cooked by his Dutch wife, Jeanne, of grilled sea bass with the most fragrant rice (cinnamon, cloves, fennel and mustard), we set out on the walk proper – a 15km (nine mile) hike along the cliff path to Faralya.
The best and worst thing about this part of Turkey's coast is that the mountains of Lycia drop steeply to the sea. On the downside, this means access is restricted and swimming opportunities are some distance apart. On the upside, there are spectacular views and limited development. This is still an area with a strong rural feel, where families live simply, off the land. We passed through tiny hamlets, where children called "hello" and elderly men waved. Beyond them, there was complete quiet – no music, engines, voices – just the humming of insects and the twittering of birds. We climbed beneath the mountain of Baba Dag, across a landscape of boulders and scrub, still strewn with wild flowers where the water courses ran. We tottered down to Faralya and found the hotel beyond the last houses, perched spectacularly on the hillside, surrounded by fields, looking out to sea.
Over a glass of wine, while the sun sank behind a pair of islands seemingly suspended in the haze, its new owner, Atilla (another one), and his young English wife, Caroline, told us how they planned to boost the fortunes of the hotel Faralya by running yoga courses – a fine new octagonal centre with cedar floor had already been built – and offering organic food from the garden. For my part, I had already found my nirvana, just staring at the view.
The next day's walk was even better. We started with a dip in the glorious pool, surrounded by lemon, apricot and peach trees, and a huge breakfast that began with freshly squeezed orange juice and ended with me dribbling mulberry syrup greedily over yet another hunk of rough bread. Then we were off through the neighbouring hamlet, past rows of pots with geraniums framing amazing cliff-top views, and round the hillside. The path twisted and turned under the pines and there were flowers, butterflies, huge bumble bees and even a wild boar – my first. We glimpsed it scuttling into the undergrowth – about the size of one of the Queen's corgis. We did not stop to meet its mother.
Some hours later, as we neared our destination in Alinca, a man with a stick hailed us. "Chai?" he called, beckoning us to his cracked and mud-splattered farmhouse on the shoulder of a hill, with fabulous views each way to the sea. We sat under an olive tree, resting our weary limbs, sipping scalding sweet tea at the end of the most varied, most colourful, and most tranquil of walks. There was a taxi waiting over the brow of the hill that took us to Patara, once the most important port of the Lycian civilisation. Now it is the centre of the tomato-growing industry and the Hotel Delfin, owned by Mustafa and Aysha, overlooked a couple of giant polytunnels that proliferate in the plain behind.
What the hotel lacked in terms of a view it made up for on the culinary front – the stuffed peppers, chicken shish on the bone and meatball casseroles on offer at the St Nicolas restaurant a hundred yards away – cooked by Aysha – were, for me, the authentic taste of the Turkey I first visited more than 30 years ago.
We explored next day – the dunes, the Roman ruins, including a wonderful amphitheatre, and we swam and snoozed. It was our rest day. We rose early next morning, anxious to beat the sun, and climbed out of the village, gazing back over the olive trees that give the landscape a velvety sheen. We followed the meandering path through gorse and cistus until it suddenly straightened and we realised we were walking on top of the Roman aqueduct – a 2,000-year-old engineering marvel. We picnicked underneath it, a cool breeze funnelling in from the sea. It was a magnificent spectacle, 40ft high and more than 500 yards long, with only one drawback. It is close to a busy road. Did the local Turks feel about the aqueduct then as we felt about that road today, I wondered?
It was the toughest walk of the week – a long section without shade in blistering heat. We reached Akbel and our pre-arranged taxi whisked us to the hotel in Kalkan where we fell into the pool in relief.
Kalkan is a small bustling harbour and tourist resort, prettier by night than by day, built on the steep slopes around a charming shingle beach. In the Hotel Pirati, with its three pools, the bar alternates opera arias and Sixties pop. It was a bit of a shock after the simplicity of the places we had been through, but not unwelcome for that. On our final day we lazed under a sun umbrella on the beach and gazed at the horizon.
We had earnt it, after all.
How to get there
Jeremy Laurance travelled to Turkey with Headwater (01606 720199; headwater.com) on the "Highlights of the Lycian Coast" independent hotel-to-hotel walking holiday. Prices start at £797 per person for seven nights (eight days), including accommodation, Continental
breakfasts, one lunch and five evening meals, baggage transfer between hotels, Headwater route notes, a regional information booklet, and a local map kit. Return flights with Thomson Airways, from Gatwick to Dalaman, can be arranged through Headwater.
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