Slowly along the Turkish Riviera
The Turkish Riviera stretches all the way from Marmaris in the west to Antalya in the east. My money's on the bit in the middle though, the bit that is bookended by Fethiye in the west and Antalya in the east. Clear azure seas. Perfect rocky coves. Delightful little beaches. In the hills behind them the ruins of the lost Lycian civilization. What could be more alluring?
Here are some of the highlights of that stretch of the coast, most of them readily accessible on day trips from either Fethiye or Antalya.
Ölüdeniz and Kayaköy
Facing out over a bay full of rocky islands, Fethiye town makes a great place to base yourself with all sorts of shops and restaurants tucked away in the bazaar area along with an old hamam (Turkish bath) and a lively fish market. In the evening few things could be nicer than strolling along the harbor front and sizing up the boats that wait to take holidaymakers out on “12 Island” tours of the bay. There's even a town beach in the suburb of Çalış accessible in summer via a delightful water taxi ride from the harbor.
Çalıs, however, is fairly built-up. To stretch out on sands without a hotel looming over you, you're better off heading out to Ölüdeniz where a spit of sand juts out into a glorious lagoon. These days you'll find it jampacked with sunbeds, although an admission fee keeps things relatively exclusive. Don't fancy paying? Well, then you can stretch out on the sand for free at Belcekiz, which is where the dolmuş from Fethiye will drop you. As you snooze the day away, you'll be able to watch the hang-gliders launching themselves off nearby Baba Dağı (Mt Baba). Daniel Craig tried it in Skyfall should you fancy channeling his James Bond alter ego.
Returning to Fethiye, you can hop off the dolmuş from Ölüdeniz and hop into another one running inland to the ruins of Karaköy, the abandoned Greek settlement that provided the inspiration for Louis de Berniere's wonderful novel, "Birds Without Wings." In 1923, the Greeks who used to live here were sent to live in Greece. A smaller number of Turks “returned” from Greece to Turkey, and so the old houses were left empty. Despite frequent suggestions that they should be rebuilt, the houses and churches still stand abandoned for the time being. This is a great place to come and let your imagination take wing.
Tlos and Saklıkent Gorge
Fethiye travel agents offer combined trips to the ruins of the great Lycian city of Tlos perched partly on a dramatic plug of rock. Most of what survives today dates the later years of the Roman occupation, although the Lycian necropolis with its rock-cut tombs survives with a much-later Ottoman castle plonked down on top of it.
Tours also take in the lovely if no longer hidden gorge at Saklıkent (Hidden City). Here the canyon walls soar so high and are so close together that the sun never reaches the bottom even in summer, leaving the water running along the bottom icy cold. All manner of daredevil sports are on offer here and a string of restaurants line the banks of the river outside the gorge itself. Some tours will take you instead for lunch in nearby Yakaköy, where restaurants wrap themselves in picturesque style around trees and running water.
Butterfly Valley and Faralya
In summer, boats ply back and forth from Belcekiz beach to lovely Butterfly Valley where it's possible to camp behind the small beach off the path running inland to a small waterfall backed by soaring rocks. On top of those rocks sits Faralya, accessible by a path that only the surefooted should attempt. Everyone else is better advised to take the dolmuş from Fethiye to the hotels and pensions lined up to scoop its spectacular sunset views.
A short stop in Butterfly Valley is also a fixture on the boat trips out of Ölüdeniz, if you just want to get a quick look and move on.
Xanthos and the Letoon
Before the Romans came along, this was a part of the world that belonged to the mysterious Lycians about whom little that's certain is known. Their capital was, however, uphill from Kınık, which is easily accessible from Fethiye. Here you can admire another rock-cut necropolis as well as a strange tower-like monument that dates back to the days when the Persians had overrun the site. Most of the finest monuments from Xanthos were removed to the British Museum in the 19th century, but there's enough left here to give you a sense of what the city must have been like in the days before its menfolk killed their wives and children and set fire to the town rather than surrender to the Persians.
A little way away from Xanthos stands the Letoon, the remains of a huge temple complex dedicated to the goddess Leto and her children, Apollo and Artemis, that was the most sacred place for the Lycians. Together these two sites form one of Turkey's world heritage sites.
Of all the beaches along the Turkish Riviera none can compare with the splendor of Patara, an 18-kilometer-long stretch of sand fading on the western side into dunes planted with eucalyptuses that give off a vague whiff of Australia. Like the beach at Ölüdeniz, the one at Patara is protected with all the hotel development inland at Gelemiş. Not that keen on sunbathing? Well, the area between Gelemiş and the beach is thickly covered in ruins, some of them, such as the old Greco-Roman theater, absolutely magnificent.
A big hit with the British, many of whom have set up home here, Kalkan was once a small fishing village, the memory of which still hangs about the harbor front where chi-chi restaurants compete to see which can vanish beneath the thickest coating of bougainvillea each summer. It's a pretty place with not a great deal in the way of sightseeing on offer. Make it your base, then venture out to explore on day trips.
Kaş and Kaleköy
Built on a hillside that slopes down to another colorful harbor, Kaş offers a great mix of gourmet dining and boutique shopping with a smidgen of local sightseeing and plenty of options on the watersports front. It's also the best base for visiting the delightful offshore village of Kaleköy, one of the prettiest places in all Turkey with yet another Lycian necropolis to explore and a row of fish restaurants lining the waterfront. From Kaş you can also hop across to the Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis) where a gyro for lunch might make a welcome change from yet another döner kebap.
Demre and Myra
Approaching the small town of Demre, you will be amazed at the serried rows of plastic-wrapped greenhouses. Behind this not very appealing façade, however, there's a town whose life revolves around the ruins of a Byzantine church thought to have housed the bones of St Nicholas, the prototype Father Christmas (Noel Baba), until they were stolen by 11th-century pirates and carried off to Bari in Italy. That aside, the church is worth visiting for its wonderfully colorful frescoes and mosaics. A quick kilometer's walk away, there are also spectacular remains of a Greco-Roman theater and -- yes, you've guessed it -- another picturesque rock-cut Lycian necropolis.
Olympos and Çıralı
Treehouse or eco-pension? Your answer to this accommodation question will dictate whether you're better off heading for Olympos, where most of the treehouses these days are really more like chalets, or to Çıralı, a small beach resort where most of the accommodation has been designed with an eye to protecting the environment (although these days there's a great deal of it). Whichever you choose, you'll have on your doorstep the romantically ramshackle ruins of ancient Lycian and Roman Olympos and the eerie Chimaera, an inextinguishable flame that flares from the mountainside and makes a great sight either during the day when the path will seem less scary or in the dark when the hooting of the local owls will add to the sense of awe.
Close to Antalya with its choice of beaches (including a new women-only one), its marvelous walled Ottoman enclave (the Kaleiçi) and its superb museum lie the ruins of Phaselis set right on the beach so that you can visit them, then take a dip afterwards. Come soon since a planned new hotel development will almost certainly detract from the glory of the erstwhile untouched woodland setting.