Coasting 3: The Turkish Mediterranean
The western part of it from Marmaris to Antalya is the heartland of the Blue Cruise -- actually invented in Bodrum just round the corner in the Aegean -- the part of the coast picturesquely dubbed “the Turkish Riviera” or “the Turquoise Coast” in tourist brochures. It's an area of dramatic natural beauty with soaring mountains dropping sharply to an azure sea and with the awe-inspiring ruins of several different civilizations -- the Carians, Lycians and Romans in particular -- within easy reach of the beaches.
The Mediterranean coast splits naturally into two sections, with Antalya as the break point. West of Antalya tourism dominates everything in a string of resorts ranging from the big full-on offerings of Marmaris-İçmeler and Fethiye to the smaller holiday centers such as Dalyan and Kaş. East of Antalya, Side and Alanya are equally popular holiday resorts. After that the mountains soar ever higher, the coast road narrows and hotels virtually dry up until you near the big conurbation of Adana-Mersin-Tarsus.
The western side of this stretch of coast is served by airports at Bodrum, Dalaman and Antalya; the eastern side by the airport at Adana.
Knidos ancient theater
Reşadiye and Bozburun peninsulas
West of Marmaris an open jaw of land looks poised to swallow the isolated Greek island of Simi. Forming the northern part of the jaw is the Reşadiye Peninsula, which runs out to Datça, a mini-Marmaris of a port resort that makes the best base for visiting the wonderful Greco-Roman ruins at Knidos. The prettiest places to stay lie just inland from the sea in Eski (Old) Datça while the most unabashedly luxurious hotel is the Mehmet Ali Ağa Konağı, a gloriously restored Ottoman mansion also inland in the pinprick settlement of Reşadiye. In summer, boats cruise to Knidos and Simi and there's a ferry to carry you north to Bodrum without backtracking.
The southern part of the jaw forms the Bozburun Peninsula, which runs out to the isolated harbors of Bozburun and Söğüt via a string of small beach resorts at Hisarönü (great for watersports), Osmaniye and Selimiye, an almost circular bay that looks set to become the next big thing in tourism. The peninsula's largest resort is Turunç, another mini-Marmaris that is ideal for family holidays.
Marmaris and İçmeler
By far the biggest resort at the western end of the Turkish Mediterranean coast, Marmaris, glories in a reputation for brash and boozy holidays as typified by the night-time offerings of Barlar Sokak (Bar Street). Recently, however, it has smartened up its act, with some fine new waterside hotels replacing others that were definitely past their sell-by date. A small 16th-century castle forms the centerpiece of a picturesque quarter immediately behind the harbor.
In summer, water taxis skim across the bay to İçmeler, which is not much more than a resort extension of Marmaris without the large bazaar and residential quarter of the older town. Better beaches and bathing opportunities are available on daily cruises to the offshore islands and Cleopatra's Beach, or on excursions east to Dalyan and sandy İztuzu beach.
Dalyan and Sarıgerme
Midway between Marmaris and Fethiye, Dalyan has everything going for it with its tranquil riverside setting overlooked by picturesque, mini-temple-shaped Carian tombs signposting the way to the impressive ruins of ancient Kaunos and with a flotilla of boats waiting to ferry visitors upriver to the beach at İztuzu. It's a great place to take a holiday if your tastes run to something less frenetic than Marmaris.
East of Dalyan and accessible by minibus from Ortaca is Sarıgerme where a lovely stretch of sandy beach has been protected by pushing most of the hotel development inland.
Fethiye is a marvelous place to stay with an excellent mix of hotels in all price ranges, a splendid harbor, slight archeological remains dating back to Lycian and Roman times and a rambling bazaar that incorporates a market where you pick your fish, sit down at one of the surrounding restaurants and wait to have it cooked for you.
Fethiye also makes the perfect base for visiting lots of nearby attractions including the long stretches of sandy beach at Ölüdeniz where hang-gliding off nearby Baba Dağı (Mt. Baba) is almost de rigueur. At Kayaköy you can explore the ruins of the abandoned Greek village of Levissi that provided the inspiration for Louis de Berniere's novel, "Birds Without Wings," while the ruins at Xanthos and the Letoon further east form one of Turkey's UNESCO-listed World Heritage Sites. Cruises from Fethiye will carry you to the Sunday market at Göcek, a favorite with the yachting fraternity, and to Butterfly Valley, which is more of a hit with backpackers.
Kaş and Kalkan
The twin resorts of Kaş and Kalkan, midway between Fethiye and Antalya, offer complimentary attractions. Kalkan is low on historical monuments but does have lots of charming cafes and restaurants in bougainvillea-draped houses overlooking the harbor. Kaş, on the other hand, boasts an ancient theater and impressive Lycian tombs scattered about town to supplement a range of hotels and pensions to suit all pockets alongside the upscale shops of pretty Uzun Çarşı.
Boat trips from Kaş cruise to Kaleköy, one of Turkey's prettiest villages, with a ruined castle sitting atop a hill running up from a glorious, fish-restaurant-ringed harbor overlooking the submerged remains of a Lycian settlement. Day cruises also take visitors to the attractive Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis). Both Kaş and Kalkan make great bases for visiting the ruins of a basilican church at Demre (Kale) which claims to have been the last resting place of St. Nicholas -- the original Father Christmas -- and to Patara, which has one of the finest stretches of sand in all of Turkey, with Lycian and Roman ruins set back behind the dunes as a wonderful added extra.
Olympos, Çiralı and Adrasan
Olympos and Çiralı are non-identical twin resorts in the Beydağları National Park west of Antalya. Olympos, with its famous “treehouses” -- mainly cabins actually -- is super popular with backpackers while Çiralı finds favor with older travelers, especially those of an environmentally conscious frame of mind. Both resorts offer access to the mysterious, inextinguishable flames on the mountainside known since ancient times as the Chimaera and both offer access via a lovely beach to the ruins of ancient Olympos, still half-buried in thick undergrowth.
Adrasan is harder to get to and less developed although it does feature a fine line in restaurants where you eat at tables set up over a river. All three resorts are close to the Olympos Teleferik, a cable car that goes up the flanks of Tahtalı Dağı (Mt. Tahtalı) that is most easily reached if you have a private car.
Like Fethiye, Antalya has everything going for it as a holiday resort. Action is mainly centered on the town's beaches of Lara and Konyaaltı, although many people prefer to stay in all-inclusive holiday-village developments in nearby satellites such as Kemer, Beldibi and Belek, the latter especially popular with golfers. Independent travelers tend to head straight for Kaleiçi, the walled inner city that features a fine choice of hotels and pensions in restored or imitation Ottoman mansions within easy reach of a lovely harbor.
The Antalya Museum showcases finds from many local archeological sites and is worth a visit either before or after touring the ruins at Perge, Side and Aspendos, the latter home to a restored ancient theater that forms the centerpiece of the annual Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival. Even more beautiful are the mountainside ruins of Termessos and the beachside ruins of Phaselis, currently threatened by a planned hotel development. From Antalya, many people also venture east to Köprülü Kanyon to join thousands of others in a flurry of whitewater rafting.
Side and Alanya
The last sizeable package-holiday resorts on the Mediterranean coast lie east of Antalya in Side, where the hotels and pensions wrap themselves round extensive and impressive Roman ruins and overlook a lovely stretch of sandy beach, and in Alanya, where beaches are severed from the hotels by the busy coast road but where impressive Selçuk ruins look out to sea from the hilltop and at shore level an old Selçuk shipyard has been beautifully restored. Recently work has begun on regenerating some of the crumbling Ottoman housing stock to provide Alanya with some unexpected boutique hotels.
East of Alanya the motion-sickness-inducing coastal road winds its way to Anamur, a small beach resort more popular with Turks than foreigners but offering the best access to the ruins of the abandoned Byzantine site at Anamarium and to the remains of impressive Mamure Kalesi, both sites on beaches.
Nearing the Greater Adana conurbation, Kızkalesi is also more popular with Turkish tourists but dominates a fine stretch of sandy beach with the ruined “Maiden's Castle” floating picturesquely offshore. If you want to explore the many ruins in this area, including the dramatic remains of Kanlıdivane and the more delicate ruins of Uzuncaburç-Olba Kızkalesi probably makes the best base.
Turkey's fourth-largest city is an unlikely holiday destination for anyone, although some might want to use it as a base for visiting Tarsus, an increasingly attractive town with much more than its associations with St. Paul to offer. The small beach resort south of Adana at Yumurtalık boasts an offshore “Maiden's Castle” on a smaller scale than the one at Kızkalesi. It, too, might make a base for visiting Tarsus if you don't mind having to backtrack through Adana.