On my first trip, I was enticed – like many travellers – by blue skies, blue seas and soft sand.
Since then I have returned many times, and discovered that the allure goes much deeper.
Above the coastline rises a range of mountains promising activities on land and water: cycling, hiking and rafting through spectacular surroundings. Come here for indulgence, stay for inspiration.
These are my top hidden adventures that await after a four-hour flight from the UK.
1. Tandem Paragliding
Babadag is the mighty mountain above Ölüdeniz in Fethiye – and an ideal location for doing something completely against human instinct: stepping off a mountain and into the unknown.
The location is 1,200 metres above sea level. An expert pilot helps strap you into a chair, and then straps in behind you. To get airborne you simply run towards the edge of the mountain – where wind, sun and gravity combine to allow you to float serenely down to a patch of lawn beside the Mediterranean.
The first principle of paragliding is to attach yourself to the atmosphere with sufficient fabric to counteract most of the gravitational force that would normally drag you down to earth.
The pilot’s art is to harness to maximum effect the complex air currents that swirl between the mountains and the sea, while simultaneously instilling confidence in the passenger. They may add extra thrills such as tight spiral turns producing g-forces with out-of-this world sensations before you touch down as a gentle full stop to your aerobatic adventure – with the memory seared in.
2. Butterfly Valley
From the harbour at Fethiye, you can take an early morning boat along the shore to a hidden cove that gives access to some superb hiking.
The entrance to Butterfly Valley is marked by a huddle of places to eat and drink by the shore – and an ancient path that snakes through shady woodland and between the hills, offering some challenging and rewarding hiking.
As the trail steepens, the walls of the valley narrow into a gorge – with tenacious trees clinging to the almost sheer rock faces above you.
Take plenty of water. Allow time to rest and appreciate the sheer scale and beauty of the planet.
Heading back to the beach is even more rewarding – it’s downhill and the view opens up before you to impressive effect.
You could carry on into the hills and follow the Lycian Way. This long-distance footpath, conceived by British expatriate Kate Clow, continues for hundreds of kilometres almost to the city of Antalya. Or you can return to the beach and flop into a hammock while waiting for your ship to come in.
3. Dalyan Rock Tombs
The Dalyan river winds from the mountains down to the sea. On the way to a marshy delta, it passes the town that shares its name. Dalyan is a favourite hideaway for connoisseurs of good living, with a relaxed ambience and sense of being close to nature. But just across the Dalyan river is an extraordinary piece of history: rock tombs that were created 2,500 years ago. And they are still amazing sights today.
This was the location for the town of Kaunos: a strategic port for the Carian people who lived in the region in the fourth century BC. They had a flourishing sea trade – and evidently prospered sufficiently to be able to create elaborate temple-like tombs. These are carved painstakingly from the sheer cliff walls, and bequeathed by the creators to 21st-century travellers.
4. Turtle Beach
Dalyan is also the departure point to witness one of the greatest conservation success stories for generations.
Another British expatriate, June Haimoff, came to Dalyan in 1975 and learnt about the plight of loggerhead turtles – threatened by the prospect of a new resort on the beach where they breed.
June devoted the rest of her life to caring for these creatures and protecting their environment. When she died aged 99, the town put up a monument to Captain June.
The focus of her work was Iztuzu Beach, best approached by boat. The journey downstream from Dalyan is rewarding enough, carving carefully through the marshes towards an alluring strip of sand where the Dalyan Delta meets the sea.
On one side, fresh river water – on the other, the saltwater Mediterranean.
When you arrive, you discover one of the most beautiful beaches in Türkiye. It is also one of the last remaining places in the Mediterranean where the loggerhead turtle known as Caretta caretta can lay its eggs. Today, the Turkish government protects the beach and there are strict rules about activities. Thanks to the efforts of Captain June and other environmentalists, Iztuzu Beach is preserved as one of the leading nesting grounds for loggerhead turtles.
5. Beneath the waves
One more treat in the immediate area of the Dalyan Delta: delving beneath the waves in a bay with a heavenly setting, where the forest-clad mountains crumble into the Mediterranean.
Even in the height of summer, you can find secluded coves in which to cool off in the sea. This is a superb place to go snorkelling or diving. Partly because of the crystal clear turquoise water – but also because you can enjoy an archaeological undersea adventure.
For millennia, the sea was the main means of transportation, and many ports were established along the Mediterranean coast. Most are long-abandoned, but evidence of their past glories are waiting to reward the explorers with a good pair of flippers.
I teamed up to go snorkelling in the company of an experienced diver, Nigel, in search of submerged relics. Rummaging through the past gives you a connection with the ancients, allowing you to explore the surviving fragments that shine through from their world. And it gives you something else: a sense of life slowing down, as you navigate the clear waters in what feels like glorious slow-motion.
Whether you like to snorkel like me or scuba dive like Nigel, there is nothing better than seeing the world from a new perspective in the care of a professional.
6. Mountain Biking
Two wheels provide the perfect pace at which to appreciate the beauty and tranquility of the Dalaman region. Fifteen mountain biking trails have been specially curated in the region. You can tackle them on a locally rented bike or, even better, an e-bike.
Some extend deep into the Turkish countryside on quiet local lanes linking villages. More challenging off-road terrain is available on farm tracks that may be centuries old.
The cycling is so good in this part of the world that adventure companies run organised trips lasting a week or more.
But if you just want a day of excitement on two wheels, you can cover a fair amount of ground, enjoy the sights and sounds of this Turkish backwater, and build both fitness and your appetite.
7. White-water Rafting
Travellers of a nervous disposition may frett about Dalaman Extreme Rafting. But the company’s founder, Sonay Karahan, insists: “No panic, no Titanic. You don’t need experience. Most people come to us without experience: we teach them how to do this job.”
The river his firm chooses is so clear, he says, that you could drink the water. Rafting is a great way to keep fit and have fun in good company. But for me, the best bit is when the paddling stops and you can just let gravity and water take you gently downstream without any immediate obstacles. And once you’re back on dry land, the experience rounds off with a meal.
8. Marmaris Boat trip
Türkiye has a 4,500-mile shoreline that is longer than the coasts of Spain and Portugal combined. You are spoilt for choice when making a coastal escape, but Marmaris Bay is a special place for me: the exact location for my first-ever Turkish holiday, when I learned to love the people, their land and sea.
Whether you’re on the shore looking at the water, or taking in nature’s corrugated coastline draped in pines while enjoying a swim, Marmaris Bay offers serenity.
Ideally, though, join a boat trip that will take you out to the explore the undulating Turkish coast.
My captain, Bariş Adar, took me out on his vessel, named Vanessa. He says: “It’s not tough sea. We don’t have big waves. It’s just like you can do all smooth sailing.
“You can do fishing, you can do snorkelling or just relax and swim.”
Lazing on a sunny afternoon has never been more fun.
9. Marmaris Old Town
In my experience, a sailor’s enjoyment of life increases significantly towards sunset – and towards the old town of Marmaris. The first settlement here, in the Hellenistic era, was known as Physkos – a dependency of the island of Rhodes, which lies beyond Marmaris Bay. The Old Town took shape once the Seljuk era began 1,000 years ago – bestowing Marmaris with a castle. Under the Ottomans, lovely half-timbered houses were built.
A waterside at sunset is a quintessential travel experience. And here in Marmaris you’ll feel that life has been kind to you.
Where to stay
I adore the lovely seaside location at the Joya Del Mar Hotel – with a time of just 15 seconds from beach to room. A lovely place to rest your head at the end of an adventurous day. And besides good looks, night and day, the hotel boasts a Turkish steam bath and a wellness centre.
Along the Mediterranean coast, another seaside favourite is Fethiye’s Yacht Boheme. The hotel cat may greet you in reception, while the rooms are splendidly appointed – with excellent baths. Everything is designed to ensure your nights are as good as your days. Outside, meanwhile, there’s a rather bigger pool, plus a bar full of beautiful people. But I still feel welcome. That’s the Turkish story.