Explore a tourism-free part of Turkey

In a quiet fishing village in south-west Turkey, traditional life has been untouched by tourism. Linda Cookson is entranced by the goings-on in Saranda cove
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The Independent Travel

A rickety table on a rickety jetty in south-west Turkey: there are few better places to drink wine beneath the stars as water laps softly around you, especially if you are on the Bozburun peninsula and happen to be staying in Saranda - a lovely cove that has developed as a waterfront extension of the nearby hillside village of Sogut. The setting is just stunning. A vast circular expanse of silky-smooth sea is enclosed by a wooded landmass that curls around it like an arm. Beyond this lagoon - and easily reachable by hired boat - are 16 small islands. All are uninhabited, utterly peaceful and heavy with the scent of oregano.

By day, in the distance, you can see the Greek island of Symi, known in Turkey as Sombeki. But right now, it's evening. By the glow of the florescent light tube that outlines the jetty's edges, we see that a fishing boat has woven its way noiselessly through the wooden supports and is tying up below us. Suddenly a dog pelts down the pontoon, yapping accusingly in the direction of its returning owner. "That's Lale," explains our waiter - adding helpfully, with a nod at Lale's tulip-patterned neckerchief, "that's the Turkish word for tulip."

Just 40 miles from the fleshpots of Marmaris, this beautiful rural region of Turkey has the good fortune to be protected from development by stringent conservation laws. The result is a lovely unspoilt area of wooded mountains plunging down to quiet coves and beaches. It's home to a scattering of small villages - both inland and coastal - where the rhythm of life seems barely to have changed for a century.

The Bozburun peninsula is extraordinarily fertile. In the warm summer months it blazes with colour. The mountain tracks cutting through forests of cedar and Mediterranean pine are fringed with white and purple oleander, alongside citrus groves, caper bushes and rosemary. Blue boxes, housing the bees that produce the local speciality honeys scented with carob and thyme, are piled up in pyramids like toy building blocks. In August some of the boxes and their nomadic owners decamp many miles away to Central Anatolia to take advantage of the extreme inland heat. But, whatever the time of year, bee boxes remain as integral to the mountain landscape as the dusty red trucks loaded with giant watermelons that seem to linger on every hairpin bend.

The region's farmland supports tobacco and cotton plantations. But, most characteristically, the peninsula teems with fruit and vegetables of all varieties. Splashes of fiery red peppers festoon the roadsides. And in villages, enclosures of wire fencing covered in morning glory demarcate rough small-holdings where householders tend their individual plots of tomatoes, beans, marrow, aubergines and sweetcorn.

Saranda cove is reached by descending a two-mile dirt track from the sprawl of small hillside settlements that make up the village of Sogut. All along the waterfront, next to simple houses, the residents' porches, backyards and allotments are packed with tangles of beanstalks and tomato plants. As a coastal settlement, Saranda also has a small community of fishermen, whose canopied fishing boats return after sunset each evening with their catches of sea bream, bass and torado. In addition, there's a thriving community of boat-builders.

Constructing wooden-hulled vessels is a speciality of the Bozburun peninsula, and many of the tourist gulets that cruise the Turquoise Coast are made in this region. Close to the pebble beach is a large timber-yard where local pine is cut into heaps of planks that are then piled, bonfire-like, in criss-cross stacks. These are steamed, so that the wood bends to make the planks that form the curved hulls of local boats.

The waterfront attracts all kinds of independent travellers, many of them endearingly scruffy and unsophisticated. Any tourism development is purely embryonic - and has, in any case, been usefully restricted by the preservation order that governs the region. An attempt to build a hotel here seven years ago was halted by the Turkish government. Frustratingly, the hideous construction that was erected by stealth still stands defiantly unfinished at the far end of the cove, a grotesque empty egg box of grey concrete. But it's set for demolition any day now (allegedly). In the meantime, places to stay are limited to friendly local panysons, swathed in the usual colourful clouds of bougainvillaea, along with a small number of low-rise waterside villas.

Saranda's beach gets a handful of visitors during the day, primarily Turkish families bringing their children to swim from the jetties. But comparatively few tourists stay overnight here, which makes it all the more rewarding for those of us who do. The village is full of local characters - many of them ex-seamen, like Ilhami (a retired sea captain) who runs the village shop along the lines of Aladdin's cave. His mini-market sells gorgeous local bread, baked daily, as well as most of the predictable staples for campers such as corned beef and salad cream. But it's also the place to go for fishing lines, bags of balloons and the most extensive range of chewing gums I've seen in my life.

Otherwise, apart from the weekly Monday market up at Sogut or the excitement of the periodic arrival of the fruit and vegetable truck, village life centres around Saranda's handful of small bars and restaurants. The oldest bar in the cove, the yellow-painted Karacivi'nin Yeri, dates back 60 years. Rough blue-painted wooden tables and benches sit under a vine terrace presided over by a formidable picture of Kara Civi ("Black Nails"), its grizzled owner. In the picture - as in life - he wears an old sea dog's beret from which he is never parted. Local rumour has it that he sleeps in it.

Next door, Yakamos Restaurant, run by Duran Cengiz and with its own wooden jetty, is a relative newcomer at 18 years old. It's the place to go for a raki at sunset, or to eat mezes under the night sky and watch the moonlight spilling like water over the headlands that hug the cove. And Muhammet's Deniz Kizi ("Mermaid") Restaurant, at the other end of the waterfront, is a mere eight years old - although, ironically, the strip lighting and ginger pine cladding of its unlovely interior make it look rather older. But with an outside terrace, directly overlooking the sea and shaded by a huge eucalyptus tree, it's the perfect spot for lunch.

In the evening, the eucalyptus tree is lit with green fairy lights. When the last of the fishing boats is safely back home and the charcoal grills are finished for the night, the lights in the tree go out and the village goes quietly to bed. Tiptoeing around a snoring dog to stroll back along the waterfront to our villa, we cross our fingers that those conservation laws remain in force.

TRAVELLER'S GUIDE

GETTING THERE

The nearest airport to Saranda cove is Dalaman, which is approximately 140km away. It is served by Cyprus Turkish Airlines (020-7930 4851; www.kthy.net) from Stansted, Gatwick and Manchester, GB Airways (0870 850 9850; www.gbairways.com) from Gatwick and Excel (0870 169 0 169; www.xl.com) from most regional airports. Regional departures are also available with charter airlines such as Fly Thomas Cook (08707 520 918; www.flythomascook.com) and Thomsonfly ( www.thomsonfly.com).

To reduce the impact on the environment, you can buy an "offset" from Climate Care (01865 207 000; www.climatecare.org). The environmental cost of a return flight from London to Dalaman, in economy class, is £4.65. The money is used to fund sustainable energy and reforestation projects.

Linda Cookson travelled to the Bozburun peninsula with Exclusive Escapes (020-8605 3500; www.hiddenturkey.co.uk), which has a portfolio of villas in Sogut, including three villas directly on the waterfront in Saranda. A seven-night stay at Villa Askim in Sogut costs from £2,400 for four guests. This includes return flights from Heathrow or Manchester to Dalaman, transfers, car hire, an arrival hamper and maid service.

STAYING THERE

Independent travellers can try for rooms at Yakamos (00 90 252 496 5185) or Deniz Kizi (00 90 252 496 5032; e-mail denizkizi66@hotmail.com). Expect to pay around TL50 (£17) for a double room, including breakfast.

MORE INFORMATION

Contact the Turkish Tourist Office: 020-7839 7778; www.gototurkey.co.uk

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