Planning a Turkish holiday the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey

Planning a Turkish holiday the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey


February 27, 2011, Sunday/ 12:25:00/ PAT YALE

For those of us living in western Turkey there may have been just a hint of spring in the air this week. Still, there's a good month to go before the weather really starts to perk up so there's still plenty of time to dream about your next holiday.

For the next few weeks we will be helping you choose where to take it. This week, the western Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

The western Mediterranean -- an overview

Turkey's western Mediterranean coastline stretches from overblown Marmaris and the lovely Datça and Reşadiye peninsulas in the west to big but surprisingly beautiful Antalya in the east. This is tourism central when it comes to foreign visitors, but it's also the quintessentially glorious Turkey of the Turquoise Coast and a myriad of ancient ruins. Those at Xanthos feature on the UNESCO world heritage list, but you'll also find romantic ruins melting into the sands at Patara and Phaselis, and lurking almost inaccessibly at Knidos. Dalyan, Fethiye, Kalkan and Kaş are very popular with British holidaymakers; Kalkan has suffered the most from recent development but all are great middle-sized resorts offering a wide range of shops and restaurants in which to offload your lira at the end of a hard day's sightseeing. The day trip to Kaleköy from Kaş is the single most enjoyable day trip on offer in Turkey.

Getting there: There are international airports at Dalaman and Antalya. The winding coast road between Marmaris and Antalya means that transfer times can be longer than expected and hard on those who suffer from motion sickness; Kaş and Datça retain much of their charm because of the time it takes to reach them. Wherever possible avoid using the uncomfortable midibuses that serve local routes along this coast.

The hits

Reşadiye peninsula: West of Marmaris, a long but beautiful road ends in Datça, a kind of Marmaris-in-miniature that springs to life in high summer when holidaying Turks pour in. It makes a great base for a day trip to the ruins of Knidos where a famous statue of Aphrodite once adorned an isolated temple. In high season you can also take excursions across to the Greek islands of Simi and Rhodes. The pinprick inland village of Reşadiye hosts Turkey's finest Ottoman hotel, the exclusive Mehmet Ali Ağa Konağı.

Hisarönü peninsula: The Hisarönü Peninsula forks south from the Datça road and offers an array of small and secluded resorts such as Selimiye and Hisarönü as well as the overdeveloped eyesore that is Turunç. At Bozburun a raft ferries you to the rooms in Sabrinas Haus, while at remote Söğüt there's even a restaurant accessible only by boat.

Dalyan and Kaunos: On the banks of a river, Dalyan is a delightful resort, especially if you visit in the shoulder season when it's less crowded and the lack of shade on sandy İstuzu beach is less of a problem. Boats ferry sun-seekers to the beach, bypassing a wall of rock into which are cut Lycian tombs that resemble miniature temples. On the far side of the river are the ruins of Kaunos, while a boat ride inland brings you to the mud baths at Sultaniye.

Fethiye: Fethiye may be a big town but it boasts a superb setting overlooking a bay filled with islands. The town center bazaar is certainly touristy but harbors a decent old hamam (Turkish bath) and an area where you can buy your own fish and have it grilled in front of you. Regular dolmuşes run out to the beach and the protected lagoon at Ölüdeniz and to Kayaköy, a ruinous village abandoned at the time of the Greco-Turkish population exchange in 1924. Escape the crowds up in the hills at Faralya, where George House is a popular backpacker hideaway, or take a boat trip to lovely Butterfly Valley, where a beach nestles between soaring cliff faces. Fethiye is also the kicking-off point for reasonably priced three-day blue cruises along the coast to Olympos.

Xanthos and the Letoon: The Lycian ruins inland from Kınık at Xanthos are a world heritage site even though some of the finest statuary was hauled away to the British Museum long ago. Closer to the sea, the Letoon was the site of a shrine to Apollo, Artemis and their mother, Leto, and is rendered all the more picturesque by the fact that it's often ankle deep in water.

Patara: Twenty kilometers of soft sand reward visitors to Patara which sits on the shore just a short walk away from the village of Gelemiş. The road to the beach passes the remains of a vast Lycian necropolis, and just inland a Roman theater has re-emerged as if by magic from the dunes. If you don't want to stay in Gelemiş, there are regular dolmuşes from Kalkan and Kaş.

Kalkan: Time was when Kalkan was little more than a cluster of small white houses with wooden balconies prettily draped with bougainvillea. Unfortunately since then it has spread its tentacles far and wide, and not all the new development is beautiful.

Kaş: Everybody's favorite medium-sized Turkish resort, Kaş is known not for its sands but for a pretty harbor backed with a great choice of restaurants and for the Uzunçarşı (Long Market), a cobbled street of bijou shops running uphill to end beside a huge Lycian sarcophagus. The ruined theater here is sometimes used for performances in summer. Excursion boats float over submerged Lycian ruins to moor at exquisite Kaleköy (Simena) with a clutch of boutique pensions. With a little more advance planning you can also make the day trip to the pretty Greek island of Kastellorizo (Meis) to compare and contrast the care taken of their historic buildings by the two countries.

Myra: The small town of Demre/Kale has little to recommend it bar the over-visited remains of a Byzantine church that once housed the remains of St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus). However, just inland at Myra the ruins of a large theater are overlooked by a wall of picturesque Lycian tombs, a very worthwhile diversion.

Olympos/Çıralı: Between them, the twin resorts of Olympos and Çıralı have the holiday market stitched up: Olympos has the tree houses (mainly wooden bungalows, actually) for the younger party crowd, while Çıralı has the stylish pensions, often with an ecological bent, for the grown-ups. In between stretches a sand and shingle beach with, just inland, the ruins of ancient Olympos almost lost amid the vegetation. A stiff climb up Mount Olympos brings you to the Chimaera, a curiosity made up of flames that, if smothered, immediately reignite like joke birthday-cake candles.

Antalya: Antalya has it all: A lovely harbor backed by mountains, an inviting old walled city (Kaleiçi) filled with boutique hotels and pensions in old Ottoman properties, plenty of shops and restaurants, a bustling nightlife, beaches on the outskirts, and a great museum full of finds from the Greco-Roman sites at nearby Perge and Aspendos. The single best destination for an excursion is Termessos, where a ruined theater perches, seemingly impossibly, high on the mountainside with a view back out to sea.

The misses

Marmaris: Only come here if your tastes run to the big, brash and noisy, at least in high season. The bazaar is good for shopping, and there are decent bars and restaurants in the older part of town backing the harbor. Otherwise this is solid package-holiday territory.

Sarıgerme: The up-and-coming resort of Sarıgerme near Dalaman has the beach and proximity to Dalaman airport in its favor, but not much else.

Kemer: Ditto Kemer's proximity to Antalya airport. Don't come here expecting anything old or authentically Turkish.

... and the hidden treasures

Pınara: If you like your ruins remote and hard to get to, the Lycian remains at Pınara will fit the bill perfectly. Only the truly determined hack over the mountains from Faralya. The less energetic hop on a dolmuş to Eşen and then hail a taxi.

Adrasan: Just south of Olympos, Adrasan receives far fewer visitors, not least because of the poor public transport links. The shingly beach is ringed with low-key hotels, but the real winners here are the small fish restaurants perched on the river at the northern end. First and finest is the Paradise Cafe and River Garden, which even offers a few pension rooms.

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