A first visit to Turkey, on the southern coast. To the west, Greece, Albania, Macedonia, and Bulgaria. To the north, Istanbul and the Black Sea. To the east, Armenia and Georgia, and Syria to the south. We fly to Dalaman, a vast, new airport that is practically empty, and drive 20 minutes east to the small town of Gocek.
The rich and famous call this the St. Tropez of Turkey, and the size of the boats in the marina lay testament to the claim. Twelve islands lie offshore, part of a National Park that restricts building and helps preserve the natural landscape. Inland the backdrop is rugged – steep cave-strewn cliffs rising out of classic Mediterranean pine forest alive with the ever-present thrum of cicadas.
The Gocek bay faces south, straight into the Mediterranean. Cyprus lies east and the Aegean well to the west. Our villa is a 15-minute walk up the valley. The town blends two extremes – the boutiques of the well-heeled and the local businesses. Sunday is market day, and a good chance to wander amongst the aromatic spice stalls and local crafts, side by side with every fake designer brand you can imagine. A day out on a 60-foot boat, or gullet, gives an idyllic tour round the islands, with regular stops for swimming in coves.
The area has its fair share of history, mainly as part of ancient Lycia. Fethiye is the focal point for the Lycian Way. Kaya Koya is the largest medieval ghost town around. The Xanthos valley is the home to many archaeological sites and the city of Tlos, and there are ancient ruins at Patara and the Saklikent gorge.
We visit none of this. Instead we head west to Dalyan. In the evening as the boats return from Iztuzu beach, home of the loggerhead turtle, we board a boat just inland of the Kaunos ruins. This city was at the mouth of the river thousands of years ago but is now two miles inland, and high up in the rock are the burial tombs of the kings. These appear full-scale as houses or palaces, and were often commissioned long before death in the same way as the Egyptian pyramids. The higher they were, the easier it would be for the eagles to take them up to heaven. Bodies and gifts for the afterlife were hauled in by intrepid climbers and their ropes. Needless to say. Tomb raiders have long since removed the riches.
We head upstream to the huge Lake Koycegiz, reminiscent of Lake Titicaca with its reed-lined shores. It’s a great venue for an evening swim and a barbeque cooked off the stern. But not before a very muddy bath at the thermal springs. A hot water dip before a gloopy roll in the volcanic mud, and then a twenty minute wait to crispen up and take some amusing photos. Then a well-deserved hose down and sluice in the lake. We return home through the town of Ortaca – literal translation: middlish.
Turkey impresses. A great climate at this time of year (July/August). Plentiful clean water. Good facilities and transport that works. Long-standing culture and history. Proud people. Good service and plenty of humour. Diverse food. There’s plenty for everyone and lots to do. Highly recommended.