A voyage into the big blue

Ancient ruins, modern marinas and gorgeous beaches line Turkey's 'Turquoise' coast. Pat Yale sets sail

Back in the mid-20th century, Cevat Sakir Kabaagac wrote a book called Mavi Yolculuk (blue voyage) in which he described idyllic week-long voyages around Bodrum in the company of sponge fishermen. The sponge fishermen may be long gone, but the turquoise seas, rocky coves and glorious sun that the "Fisherman of Halikarnas" described remain unchanged. Given that Turkey has more than 7,000km of Aegean and Mediterranean coastline, much of it littered with half-forgotten Lycian, Greek and Roman ruins, it is hardly surprising that it's a top choice for sailing holidays.

Nowadays, anyone can take part in a "blue voyage" and Turkey offers four classic sailing routes. The airport at Izmir makes the coast between Izmir and Bodrum particularly accessible, but the yachting fraternity generally prefers to sail round the Gulf of Gokova between Bodrum and Marmaris. Both towns have inviting modern marinas with trendy restaurants and alluring shops, and the voyage takes in some classically beautiful Aegean coastline.

Also popular are journeys along the western Mediterranean coast between Marmaris and Fethiye, and along the eastern Mediterranean coast from Fethiye to Antalya. The first part of the voyage - from Fethiye to Demre - is especially popular with backpackers, and it's easy to pick up a four-night gulet trip costing around £100. Olympos Yachting (00 90 242 892 1145; www.olymposyachting.com) has gulets that set sail from the glorious Olympos beach, making it an especially good choice.

Graceful teak and mahogany gulets are the workhorses of the Turkish sailing industry. Absolute beginners can test the water with day trips to isolated islands and coves, which are offered by all of the major resorts for about 24 lira (£10) per person. Cleopatra's Island near Marmaris is a particularly desirable destination, with sand as fine as talcum powder and water that feels like a Jacuzzi.

Popular day trips include the one from Marmaris to Dalyan, where you can gaze up at spectacular Lycian tombs cut into the rock face before relaxing on the beautiful Iztuzu beach. Even better is the boat trip from Kas to Kekova, which takes you over drowned Lycian tombs and out to picturesque Kale, with its necropolis of sturdy Lycian sarcophagi.

For longer trips, true sea-dogs can assemble groups of around 12 people and hire an entire gulet - complete with crew - for a week or two. Lone travellers and couples can charter a single cabin and take pot luck on their fellow voyagers. You can sign up locally for a trip, but if you want the benefits of pre-planning and the consumer protection of a package deal, you can arrange it all in advance. Most companies selling package holidays to Turkey offer one and two-week gulet trips, sometimes combined with a stay on shore. Try Turkey specialists such as Tapestry (020-8235 7800; www.tapestryholidays.com) or Savile (020-7242 8488; www.saviletours.com) to see what's afloat.

Experienced sailors can charter a bareboat yacht and take responsibility for everything from navigating to cooking and cleaning. The most experienced can go it alone, but you will have to prove that you have at least one qualified skipper with you. Those in need of a helping hand can take along a professional skipper. Sunsail (023 9222 2222; www.sunsail.com) offers bareboat charters out of Gocek, Bitez, Finike and Marmaris along the Mediterranean coast.

Sunsail also offers flotilla holidays from Datca, Dorian, Gocek, Kas and Marverde, all in south-west Turkey. On a flotilla holiday you drift around the coast in a group of up to 12 boats led by an experienced skipper. This allows you to spend much of the day alone on your boat but gives you the chance to join the rest of the group for barbecues, picnics and meals in the resorts along the way.

For unabashed luxury, contact Odysseus Cruising (020-8297 0082; www.odysseuscruising.com). Odysseus charters a fully air-conditioned twin-mast sailing ketch with five double cabins out of Gocek between April and October for £1,500 per day, split between 10 people. For those who fancy a house party on water, DayDreams (020-7637 8921; www.daydreams-travel.com) organises schooner parties for single travellers or groups of friends aboard the magnificent double-masted schooner, Cevri Hasan III.

For a more traditional cruise, Fred Olsen (01473 292029; www.fredolsencruises.co.uk) offers cruises from Istanbul to Athens on the beautiful Star Flyer, part of the Star Clipper line. The ship carries up to 170 people and prices start at £765 per person for five nights, excluding flights. DayDreams also offers cruises that take in some of the Greek Dodecanese islands as well as the south-west Turkish coast. Prices start at £625 for seven days (plus £250 single supplement and the cost of return flights).

SUMMER SAILS: GULET TRIPS AND CHARTERS

Long before the easyJet empire started offering budget cruises, gulets (30m wooden yachts) were plying the south-west "Turquoise" coast of Turkey. These trips have become the highlight of many independent travellers' itineraries.

Most cruises depart from Fethiye - a laid-back resort about an hour from Dalaman airport. The two most popular routes are the "Twelve Islands" tour and the trip from Fethiye to Demre, not far from the hippy beaches of Olympos. The beauty of this method of travel is that you can escape the rammed resorts, stopping off for swimming and sightseeing at Oludeniz lagoon, St Nicholas island, Kas and Kalkan, and take photos of the spectacular Lycian tombs that are dotted along the coast.

Standards, prices and food can vary wildly. We discovered Before Lunch (00 90 535 636 0076; www.beforelunch.com), an excellent Australian-Turkish owner-operator outfit, by wandering along the marina at Fethiye (the kangaroo flag was a giveaway). The company has become renowned for its excellent food. The first mate/chef, Mursa, is from Georgia, and spends hours preparing delicious breakfast pastries, fresh fish, king prawns, salads, fried chicken and syrupy little cakes. The four-day Fethiye-Demre trip costs 250 lira (£107) per person for full-board, excluding alcoholic drinks.

All gulets have ample sun loungers, some of which are in shade. Many provide snorkels, flippers, fishing gear, music, books and games - and in the case of Before Lunch, an unscheduled bush walk at dusk to a deserted, ruined Lycian settlement.

Trips are restricted to 10-14 people; most are under 35. They attract everyone from gap-year students to honeymooning couples, and it is worth enquiring whether the guests are of the "party-animal" variety.

Upmarket gulets are also available. Groups of friends or family can charter a boat: try Blue Cruise (00 90 252 317 2660; www.bluecruise.org) or Compass Yachting (00 90 252 612 5921; www.compassyachting.com). The latter has yachts from £257 per boat per day; full board is an extra £14, excluding drinks.

Sam Archer

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