Travel: Where winter blues turn a stunning shade of turquoise

Penny Young joins the army of modern invaders on the southern shores of Turkey

MOST OF the time, I sit slumped in a chair on the balcony overlooking the sweep of the bay or sprawled in a heap on the rocks underneath, mesmerised by the green and blue of the sea as I toast in the autumn sun. Opposite, so close you can reach out and touch it, is a Greek island, although I'm actually sitting in Turkey in the small Mediterranean resort of Kas (pronounced Kash).

For years, I've avoided the southern coast of Turkey. Sniffily, I remember what it was like in the 1970s when the coastline was beautiful and empty and villages such as Bodrum and Kusadasi were mere gleams in a developer's eye. But after our non-summer, I needed to absorb some sunshine to be able to slide more gracefully into winter. "Why don't you go to Kas?" says a friend firmly.

A young man with popping eyes met my bus which arrived just past midnight at the station. Effortlessly, he rounded up the stray tourists - me and a couple from Liverpool - and led us off to his pension around the corner. There was room only for the couple, so he took me into the family house, throwing his mother out of a large back room with three couches in it. She was praying at the time. "Would you like to drink cold beer?" he asks. "How long will you stay? We could play cards together. Chat. This house is yours."

I escape at first light the next morning, squeezing past him still exuding goodwill and future hopes in the doorway, and stumble down the hill for my first daylight sight of Kas.

The setting is superb. A little town perched on the rocks in a bay studded with promontories and islands, cradled in an amphitheatre of steep rocky peaks towering overhead. Its heart is built around a small harbour which bobs and jingles with filthy-rich motor launches, diving boats, sailing yachts and tourist pleasure craft. The newly built holiday infrastructure is so far contained in a cluster of pensions built up the hill on the west shore, although nearly everybody has turned their home into tourist accommodation of some kind or another. Fortunately, plants and shrubs grow fast in the rich Mediterranean climate and most of Kas is covered by rampant jasmine which drenches the air with its scent, while the little white flowers glow like stars in the dark.

The sons and daughters of the original Kas fishermen and farmers are now busy making money out of their restaurants, cafes and beautiful shops. One entire street of wooden Ottoman houses has been restored: balconies, windows and doorways are stuffed and hung with carpets, jewels, antiques and fabulous things - at fabulous prices. The items in one of the shops are all marked up in deutschmarks.

Occasionally I tear myself away from my view of the sea from the balcony of my small hotel on the east side to perambulate around town, buying fresh succulent figs and sweet grapes from the stalls in the market square and cheap bottles of Kavaklidere red wine, admiring the multi-coloured tubs of saffron from Iran, Spain, Turkey, Afghanistan and Syria in the spice shops and peering in through the windows of the Kas and Carry carpet emporium. If I had e-mail, I could pick it up at the internet cafe nearby.

Kas is situated on the bit of the Turkish coast which used to be the home of the Lycians, who spent a lot of time building sarcophagi. You can't move but you trip over an enormous tomb. I catch the bus to Kinik to the west of Kas to walk from there up the hill to sweat around the ruins of Xanthos, once the capital city of Lycia.

First stop - a heap of stones. A helpful noticeboard displays a picture of what once graced the spot. It was a monumental building decorated with statues of graceful water nymphs which had endured for two-and-a- half thousand years or so until the British whisked it off in the 1830s to rebuild it inside the British Museum. Undeterred, the tourists take photographs of any stone that is left unturned.

To the horror of the Turks, I walked up the road soaking up the scorching sun rather than catching the bus. The ditches were filled with water turtles and frogs which hurl themselves into the muddy water with a resounding plop as I march past. I can't blame them.

The thing about the Turkish Mediterranean is that however busy it seems to be getting and however built up it becomes, it was just as busy, if not busier, in days of old. Wherever you look, you can find the ruins and remains of towns and cities and monuments inhabited by the ghosts of Lycians, Persians, Greeks, Romans and Byzantines. One of the most relaxing things to do is to spend a whole day ruin-spotting on a boat trip eastwards along the coast to Kekova and Kale.

The boat slides over the green glassy sea, stopping every so often to let everybody off for a swim, the remains of castles and cities dotting the empty shore. Whole towns even lie under the sea. Lunch is at the little seaside village of Ucagiz where satellite dishes balance on collapsing stone houses. The houses are smaller than the Lycian tomb tumbled in the ruined city alongside the village. The villagers watch expressionless as the holidaymakers wearing shorts and bare-roasted bellies waddle down the street gasping in the heat, gawping at the sites. In and on we march, tramp, tramp, armies of foreigners arriving just as they used to, by boat from beyond the sea. To get ripped off in the antique shops. I listened transfixed as one shopkeeper assured me that the scratched faded old Ottoman tray really was worth every cent of the $150 price. Who can blame the locals for getting their own back?

On we sail and a castle from Camelot shimmers into view like a fairytale on top of the hill at the village of Kale. Buy-me carpets are slung nonchalantly over balconies. Bougainvillaea tumbles in purple clouds down the hill. We tie up, and we race to the top for the view, trying not to crush the local women who, no teeth and lots of grey hair escaping from scarves, bound good-humouredly up the rocky path like gazelles selling needlework and beads.

The last day, and the wind bends the banana trees in the garden down below. The sea turns a deep incredible turquoise. You could never paint such a colour. It smashes against the rocks, spraying deliciously cool into the air. It's still hot enough for an English summer. Hotter.

"Winter," shrugs the 19-year-old running my hotel. It's a 14-hour bus ride back over the Taurus Mountains to Istanbul where it's freezing cold and pouring with rain. Winter.

FACT FILE

kas

Getting there

Penny Young flew to Istanbul with Turkish Airlines (tel: 0171-766 9300), which offers return flights for pounds 163 plus pounds 30 tax up to March 1999, excluding Christmas. From Istanbul to Kas by bus takes 14 hours and costs pounds 15. Tourists who intend to visit the Turkish Mediterranean usually fly to Dalaman, and Jetline offers return flights from pounds 140 (tel: 0171-360 1111).

Getting there

Hotels and pensions in Kas are half-empty in October. The Otel Sardunya, Hastane Cad (tel: 0090 242 836 3080) is at the quiet west end of town, close to the ruins of a Byzantine theatre. Rooms cost about pounds 10 with shower. On the east side is a whole street of pensions overlooking the bay. Rooms cost about pounds 8. Try the Lale (tel: 0090 242 836 1074).

Getting around

The day trip to Kekova and Kale costs around pounds 12 per person - slightly less if you take your own lunch. There are pensions and places to stay in both Ucagiz and Kale. Take the boat one day and return the next for an very pleasant 24 hours or so. Taxis to tourist sites are expensive and unnecessary. My bus ride to Xanthos cost pounds 1, which is about the standard fare to sites in the area, such as the Patara Beach, with its ruined Lycian city and 12 miles of unspoiled sand.

Further information

Kas has a problem with mosquitoes at night. Try the little plug-in machines available in most Turkish stores.

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