The Complete Guide to: Turkish shores
A dream location for explorers and history lovers, the coastal areas of Turkey are packed with ruins and idyllic beaches. Ben Crichton offers advice on making the most of your trip
Saturday 16 August 2008
Water, Water Everywhere?
Which other country has more than 5,000 miles of coastline spread between four different seas? Turkey's includes the Aegean, Mediterranean, Marmara and Black seas, but the country's shores don't stop there: inland there are dozens of lakes, including the mighty Lake Van, 10 times larger than Lough Neagh, the biggest lake in the British Isles.
Turkish shores offer sumptuous scenery, breathtaking beaches, the greatest concentration of historical ruins in the country and the opportunity to do as much or as little as you want.
I want to go and see some ruins
It's difficult not to. Turkey's geo-political importance has attracted so many settlers, conquerors and traders over the centuries that you literally find yourself tripping over their legacies. On the Aegean coast Ephesus (8am-7pm daily May-September; 8am-5pm October-April; TL10/ £4.40) is a worthy world heritage site with some of the best preserved Roman ruins in the Eastern Mediterranean. At its peak in the first and second century this city was second only to Rome in the empire's pecking order.
The crowd-pleasers today are the breathtaking Library of Celsus and the enormous open-air theatre, but it is the sheer quantity and density of the other ruins, from residential houses to public latrines that allow glimpses of urban life under Emperor Augustus. An audio guide (TL5/£2.20) helps to fill in the background.
Only one-fifth of the original city has been excavated: it seems likely that it was once home to at least 200,000 people. If your visit coincides with that of a cruise ship to the nearby port of Kusadasi then you'll be ably assisted in imagining what a population of that size looks like. For a more intimate appreciation of the ruins arrive at 8am sharp or late afternoon. Start at the southern entrance, walk down through the ruins and exit from the northern one.
Selcuk, two miles away, is the nearest town, and has plenty of accommodation and eating options. Taxis from here to the southern entrance cost TL10 (£4.40), minibuses to the northern entrance for TL2.50 (£1.10). The Ephesus museum in Selcuk is worth a visit (summer 8.30am-7pm daily, closing for an hour at noon; TL5/£2.20 entrance; opposite the tourist office). It gives helpful context to what you've seen; there's a new section on gladiators and on a hot August day it's got the best air-conditioning in Selcuk.
What about Less manicured sites?
Olympos could fit the bill (always open, the TL2.50/£1.10 fee is collected only during daylight hours). These Lycian and Roman ruins may not be as extensive or complete as those at Ephesus,but herein lies their appeal as what they lack in prestige is made up for by the thrill of exploring overgrown paths and stumbling on magnificent Roman arches or crumbling temples.
The decaying tombs and shattered columns lying among twisted roots evoke a poignant melancholy that the more polished sites have lost. You can wash away sweat and historical reflections in the lovely bay at the eastern boundary of the ruins. Olympos is about two hours by road from Antalya or Kas. There are frequent minibuses (TL10/£4.40) to the Olympos turn-of, then on to the village and ruins (TL3.50/£1.50).
More recent places of interest?
Kayakoy, a place where a sad sense of absence hangs in the air, may not be an obvious choice for a holiday itinerary but it's unique, evocative and memorable (daily, 9am-7pm; TL5/£2.20). Kayakoy, or Levissi as it was known, was home to 2,000 or so Ottoman Greeks at the beginning of the 20th century, but the Turkish War of Independence (1919-1923) and the subsequent Treaty of Lausanne led to the forced repatriation of Greek and Turkish communities living outside the newly defined borders of their respective countries. Kayakoy was abandoned and never re-populated so its churches, schools and streets still exist in an eerie time-warp. Wander the streets alone at sunset for a powerful experience. Kayakoy is only five miles from Fethiye and easy to get to; minibuses (TL2.50/£1.10) run 7am-10pm in summer.
This is a seismically, as well as politically, active land. Following massive earthquakes in the second century along Turkey's Mediterranean coast, the land dropped by up to six metres into the sea and the port of Kekova became the "sunken city". It's a captivating sight. To visit Kekova you can take one of the boat excursions that depart from Kas or Kalkan – simply walk along the harbour in the evening as the crews will be touting for business. They're good value with prices around TL40/£20 for a full-day including food, however boats are not allowed too close to the ruins.
To get a better view, try a sea-kayaking trip. Bougain-ville Tours in Kas (00 90 242 836 3737; www. bougainville-turkey.com) runs trips for all levels that include lunch and transfers for TL55 (£26). They'll pick you up from your hotel in Kas or Kalkan and drive you to Ucagiz, a charming seaside village. (If you want to stay, Onur Pension, 00 90 242 8742071; www.onurpension.com, has a stunning location on the water's edge and double rooms from TL40/£18, bed and breakfast.)
When the water's choppy it can be a strenuous paddle across the bay to the ruins, but you should arrive at Kekova before the boats from Kas. From there you paddle across to Kalekoy (formerly Simena), a tiny hamlet with an impressive Byzantine castle and a Lycian necropolis. Great Lycian sarcophagi now tower out of the cobalt-blue shallow waters. In the wake of the earthquakes their occupants found themselves literally sleeping with the fishes as cemetery became bay.
The best beach?
Phaselis (daily 9am-7pm) will take some beating. Here Lycian and Roman ruins nestle among the pine trees of a small isthmus, little crescent bays are on each side and the blue smudge of Mount Tahtali overlooks it all. Pay the TL5 (£2.20) fee and spend the day swimming in the crystal clear waters. The Sundance Nature Village, (00 90 242 821 4165; www.sundancecamp.com), a mile or two south, is a chilled-out place to stay u o overnight. Half-board prices start at TL27 (£12) per person for basic "tree-houses" rising to TL67 (£30) for top of the range bungalows, based on two sharing. Horse-riding is also available, starting at TL30 (£13) for one hour.
Where can I let out my inner hippie?
Kabak valley is a wild, special place with an alternative vibe. No concrete is allowed, so accommodation consists of simple wooden bungalows. Bathrooms and showers are usually shared. There is little to do here but settle into the rhythms of the valley, enjoy the nature and swim in the stunning cove. Many of the camps run yoga courses, although finding dates in advance can be tricky.
Turan Camping (00 90 252 6421227; www.turancamping.com) has cabins from TL40 (£18) per person half-board and is run by a young Turkish couple who have made the simple, special. If you want to be near the sea, Natural Life Camp (00 90 252 642 11 85; www.kabaknaturallife.com) with half-board for TL50 (£22), is closest. They have started running scuba-diving and underwater trekking. "The Shambala" (00 532496 08 70; www.theshambala.com) over-looks the cove; prices per person half-board start from TL30 (£13) with your own tent and rise to TL100 (£42) each in the best bungalow.
I want to be more active
The Lycian Way is a 310-mile long path between Fethiye and Antalya. Travelling on foot through the landscapes of ancient Lycia provides stunning views of the Turquoise coast, swims in secluded coves and contact with Turkish village life. It is possible to do the walk, or a section of it, independently. Kate Clow, an expatriate living in Turkey who initially researched the walk, has written a guide, The Lycian Way: Turkey's First Long-Distance Walk. The best time to walk is spring or autumn, but be warned that it can be strenuous with some gruelling ascents, knee-jarring descents and the way-marking on the trail is sketchy; meaning even the savviest navigators are likely to get lost.
Recommended guides can be found along with further information at www.lycianway.com. Guided tours also exist: Exodus (0845 8639 6000; www.exodus.co.uk) has one-week trips walking from Antalya to Cape Gelidonya departing 5 October and 12 October from £641 including flights and some meals.
A good base?
A great town within striking distance of all the above is Kas, halfway between Antalya and Fethiye. It is one of those places where tourism and local-life have forged a happy marriage. It's a pretty town set around a harbour; its white-washed streets are filled with bougainvillea and jasmine and the whole place is overlooked by mountains. The "big pebble beach" at the eastern end of the town is true to its name and the water is clean. The Medusa Hotel (00 90 242 8361 440; www.medusahotels.com) has great views, a pool and a good location. Doubles start at TL90 (£40) for bed and breakfast.
Kas is also the place for adventure activities: the Lycian Way passes through; there is the sea-kayaking at Kekova, but also canyoning, mountain biking, paragliding and scuba diving can all be arranged.
Some city life?
While Izmir and Antalya have their own charms, nowhere comes close to the wonders of Istanbul – a city that has an intimate relationship with water. "Istanbul draws its strength from the Bosphorus," writes Turkey's Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. This mighty channel, 20 miles long, is one of the world's great crossroads: broad enough for ships to navigate, narrow enough for bridges to cross.
To appreciate fully its shores, hop on a public ferry at Eminonu and buy a return ticket for TL17.50 (£7.70) to Anadolu Kavagi, a seaside town near the Black Sea. The journey takes 90 minutes each-way and zigzags between Europe and Asia. As Pamuk observes: "To be travelling through the middle of a city as great, historic and forlorn as Istanbul and yet to feel the freedom of the open sea – that is the thrill of a trip along the Bosphorus." It demands a second outing – this time take the commuter ferry from Eminonu to Kadikoy. Board a ferry to coincide with sunset and you'll see the Sultanahmet peninsula with its minarets silhouetted against pomegranate skies. At TL1.40 (60p) it's one of the world's great bargains; can there possibly be a better commute?
Something a little more different ?
The Black Sea coast is similar to the north coast of Spain: green, lush and mountainous. It's not a coast to visit for stable sunshine or classical ruins; its charms are more subtle, found in its distinct history, cultures, landscape and a sense of remoteness.
If you're looking for something that feels far from western Turkey then Trabzon, a bustling port city at the eastern end of the Black Sea coast is not a bad start. Although difficult to describe it as an attractive city – it has an unpretentious charm. The narrow streets of the bazaar quarter near the harbour are filled with an engaging mercantile energy, it's a good place to wander and get a feel for the city's beat. The people are friendly but you'll enjoy an unexpected anonymity here not found in the rest of Turkey. The area is packed with hotels, however many of them double as brothels. Hotel Anil (00 90 3267782) is a clean, unremarkable place but at least it's run as a hotel. You can get a double with breakfast for TL60 (£26).
When you need to escape the busy centre you can find tranquillity, good views and beautiful frescos at the Byzantine Aya Sofya museum in the west of the city (9am-6pm Tuesday to Sunday, Apr-Oct, TL10/£4.40). The church is small but its frescos and mosaics are remarkably well preserved and worth seeing.
How do I get there?
There are a number of scheduled options: British Airways (0844 493 0787; www.ba.com) flies from Heathrow to Istanbul and from Gatwick to Izmir and Antalya; Turkish Airlines (020-7766 9300; www.turkishairlines.com) flies from Heathrow, Stansted and Manchester to Istanbul with onward connections to Antalya, Izmir, Trabzon and Van. Cyprus Turkish Airlines (020- 7930 4851; www.kthy.net) flies direct from Stansted, Gatwick and Manchester to Antalya, Bodrum and Dalaman and easyJet (0905 821 0905; www.easyjet.com) flies from Luton to Istanbul and from Gatwick to Dalaman.
Charter flights operate from several UK airports with services to Antalya, Bodrum, Izmir and Dalaman. Try First Choice (0871 200 7799; www.firstchoice.co.uk); XL Airways (0871 911 4220; www.xl.com) or Thomas Cook (0870 750 5711; www.thomascook.com)
For inter-city transport, Turkey's bus network is extensive, modern, relatively safe and good value. Tickets can usually be bought on the day at the bus station. However, for shorter journeys, minibuses (dolmuses) are the easiest way to get around.
To self-drive around the country try Holiday Autos (0870 400 0010; www.holiday autos.co.uk); Sixt (0870 156 7567; www.e-sixt.co.uk) or Avis (0870 010 0287; www. avis.co.uk), but be warned that the accident rate is high.
For longer journeys internal flights can be good value with prices starting at less than £50 to fly from one end of the country to the other. Turkish Airways has an extensive network, although compare prices with low-cost carriers Onurair (00 90 2126629797; www.onurair.com.tr) and Pegasus (00 902124440737; www.flypgs.com), which flies to Van.
Where can I find out more?
The Turkish Tourist office (020-7839 7778; www.gototurkey.co.uk). Lonely Planet and Rough Guide both produce guides to Turkey. The US publisher Nisanyan has several books on Turkey including The Little Hotel Book 2005, available to order from www.nisanyan.net. Alternatively, The Western Shores of Turkey by John Freely is published by Tauris Parke.
Inland shores: Turkey's Lake Titicaca
Van is the republic's largest lake. More than a mile above sea-level, with dark waters surrounded by starkly beautiful steppe, it is no idle claim that it's the closest Turkey has to Lake Titicaca in the South American Andes. Arriving from the arid country around it, you feel a sense of wonder at the green pastures on its shores. It's a place of stunning natural beauty. That's why the church of Akdamar Kilisesi was built here.
This 10th-century Armenian church, adorned with remarkable carvings depicting biblical stories, sits on an island two miles from shore. To reach it, take a minibus between Van and Tatvan and get off at Akdamar harbour – from where boats head for the island (TL5/£2.20 return) when full. The views of the rust-coloured church against shimmering indigo water and snow-capped mountains are wonderful.
To spend more time on the water, take the ferry that sails daily between Tatvan and Van (four hours; TL5/£2.20).
The city of Van sits on the eastern side of the lake, only two hours from the Iranian border. A couple of miles out of town are the rather shabby ruins of Van castle – the rest were destroyed during the First World War and the Turkish war of independence. The castle itself is a bit of a disappointment but there are good views and it's free. The undulating grass mounds that surround it are all that is left of old Van. Although not much to look at, the new city is a likeable place, with an unexpected liberalism and some of the friendliest people in the whole of Turkey. Besides, who can't like a city that bases its civic pride on having the best breakfasts in Turkey, and has statues of its cats and the improbable Lake Van monster?
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