Tour the Aegean by gulet or risk missing its archaeological treasures

Skippered sailing tours let you explore Turkey's south coast in traditional style, discovers Adrian Mourby

The ruins at Knidos are compact: an agora, amphitheatre, odium, a few temples. It's good that they're not spread too widely as it's hot clambering over them. Several of our party opt to swim back to the boat.

This is the advantage of these new gulet tours. Taking a traditional boat down the Aegean along the Lycian coast, you arrive effortlessly at each ancient city, temple or fort. Getting to Knidos by road would have taken hours overland. We, however, just sail in. Captain Bekir drops anchor and Big Mustapha launches the motorboat. Within 15 minutes, all 16 of us have been ferried to this forgotten city state, which in the sixth century BC was part of the Dorian Hexapolis, one of six powerful Greek colonies in what we now call Turkey.

I've been taking photos so can't join the swimmers. My camera and I return in the motorboat with the others' clothes. As we board the gulet, Big Mustapha leans over and asks me whether I think my wife would like a gin and tonic before lunch. I laugh. I'm sure she would. The next thing I know, Mustapha has mixed one and is taking it back in the motorboat to where Kate is making a graceful progress across the bay. Now that's what I call service.

During lunch under a broad blue canopy, we discuss what we've just seen and try to recall exactly who the Dorians were. My mother-in-law and stepmother-in-law both ask for the recipe for the stuffed peppers we're eating and are delighted when Osman, the chef, offers to run a masterclass that afternoon. It's nice, if rather spooky, to see how well my wife's mum and stepmum get on, but this cruise is proving to be a big social success generally. We booked the whole boat and invited friends and relatives to join us. No one person knew everybody on board when we set sail but now, it seems, we're all great friends.

This type of two-masted gulet has plied the southwest coast of Turkey for centuries. Recently they've started being built for luxury and they tend to rely on diesel motors, but as three members of our party were ex-navy men, they eventually charmed Captain Bekir into switching off the engines and raising the great blue and white sails. Big Mustapha hustled around the deck to make sure everything was ready for the moment went they went up. A 90ft boat moving along in the wind is a truly impressive sight and eerily quiet.

In the afternoon, we sail to Palamut Buku, a beach with a mosque and one shop where Captain Bekir goes to get supplies (we're getting through a lot of wine), while the rest of us leap overboard to cool off. Evening brings us to a tiny, empty, circular bay called Kargi Koyu where we moor. We seem to have all this ancient history to ourselves.

Of all our landings so far, the favourite was Loryma, a coastal fort built by the Rhodians in 411BC, which saw action in the wars after Alexander the Great's death. It was a steep climb up but again we had the place to ourselves. The view from the top across the serene, blue Aegean made all the scrambling worthwhile, and we had our luxurious air-conditioned berth to return to as soon as we were ready. Mustapha had given my sister-in-law a walkie-talkie and we summoned him as soon as we'd had enough of leaping over ancient masonry.

The following day we moored off a little wooded beach called Arymaxa, which was beneath the ancient Carian settlement of Lydae. Five of us went ashore to climb to the top where there were the remains of some Roman buildings dating from the third century. Much of the route was under the cover of some very hardy pines, and round one corner we met a group of donkeys sheltering from the heat. At the top of the path in a saddle between two big hills, we found two ruined mausoleums, the earliest known examples in Turkey of the Byzantine arch.

These were all hidden delights, places we only ever seem to share with the local flora and fauna. Our next stop, Kaunos, however, was much busier. We transferred to a shallow boat that took us upriver into what looked like the Mekong Delta. After half an hour we made out a 500ft crag on top of which rest the ruins of the Kaunos acropolis founded in the 10th century BC. Elaborate tombs were cut into the rock below. It was too hot to do the acropolis straight away so we spent the afternoon in the mudbaths of nearby Dalyan. In the bar is a photo of a rather bemused Dustin Hoffman, who must have come here to get away from it all and found himself recognised.

So far, that's the only day we've seen other people. The rest of the time it's just been us, the sea, a lot of history and even more Turkish wine.

COMPACT FACTS

How to get there

Westminster Classic Tours (020-8286 7842; westminsterclassictours.com) organises Origins of Western Thought, a two-week gulet cruise of the Aegean for £2,231 per person, all inclusive, based on two sharing. Flights can be arranged for an additional £333 return, from Heathrow to Dalaman with Turkish Airlines (0844 800 6666; thy.com).



Further information

Turkish Culture and Tourism Office (020-7839 7778; gototurkey.co.uk)

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