“No. That’s a rock,” came the stoic reply.
“How about there?”
“No. That one’s a stick.”
The rugged Turk captaining our boat put his hand up to his eyes and scanned the turquoise water for a moment. Then, with all the ceremony of a man conscious of the many expectant eyes upon his bronzed frame, pointed deliberately to a spot just a few meters from the boat. At last! There it was, a loggerhead turtle coming up for air. Then there was another, and another! The rapt audience, a mixture of Turkish and European tourists, gasped along with it.
Caretta caretta, as loggerhead turtles are more properly known, is not only an endangered species but also spends the bulk of its life out at sea. To see one of these elusive creatures up close, then, is pretty special. It was only because the turtles make for the shore to lay their eggs at this time of year that we were privileged with a sighting. As for their destination, Çıralı Beach in southwestern Turkey, all I can say is not only are the turtles beautiful but they also have impeccable taste.
One of the benefits of swapping grey days in England for 300 plus days of sunshine in Antalya, and the Bristol Channel for the Mediterranean Sea, is the numerous little mini-breaks that I can take, knowing full well that the weather (at least in the summer) will always be perfect. Antalya is well placed for these excursions and fully set up for tourists. Buses leave regularly in all directions, and there are day trips and tourist outings that can be booked through the many travel offices around the city. You can find whatever you’re looking for here, whether it’s visiting the ancient city of Termessos, whitewater rafting at Köprülü Canyon, escaping the heat at lakeside Eğirdir, mountain climbing on Tunç or even skiing at Saklıkent. These are all within easy reach for a weekend break from Antalya. However, if I’m just seeking a bit of rest and relaxation, I head to Çıralı every time.
A little piece of paradise
This little piece of paradise on Turkey’s spectacular turquoise coast is a world away from the all-inclusive resorts swamping the Mediterranean shore to the east -- and it has a quieter atmosphere than backpacker-orientated neighbor Olympos. There are plenty of activities on offer here: Canoeing, cycling, snorkeling, yoga and trekking the Lycian Way are all possible. The ruins of the city of Olympos are just a three-kilometer stroll down the beach, and in the evening you can visit the eternal flames of the Chimera. Flames have been burning here for at least 2,500 years, and it is a mind-boggling sight to behold. It also makes a great spot for a barbecue.
Knowing that Çıralı is located just 80 kilometers from Antalya and that I am likely to come back again and again means that I didn’t feel obliged to partake in any of the above activities on my most recent trip there and found that, in this hot weather, flopping on the beach with a good book was quite enough exertion. Interspersing this with an undignified sprint across the hot pebbles for frequent dips in the crystal clear water or into one of the many beachside restaurants for a spot of meze or a refreshing glass of something cold, I filled the days quite nicely. However, the sweltering temperatures and the promise of refreshing sea breezes eventually lured me to sign up for a boat trip.
Boat trips leave Çıralı Beach daily and can be booked through www.CiralaBeach.com. Different tours are available, but the one I chose visited Paradise Bay, Porto Genoise, Sazak, Akvaryum, Çoban Harbor and some hidden caves. The breeze was indeed cooling, the service friendly and the views incredible. We stopped off at each of the different bays, and the boat dropped anchor long enough for its occupants to dive into the water, splash about to their hearts’ content, then re-board and recline. A barbecued fish and salad lunch was a treat, but the highlight was, without doubt, the sight of the turtles. Languidly grazing the seabed or sculling up to the surface for a breath of air, the creatures were blissfully unaware of the rapturous adulation of their adoring fans.
One of the 17 most important turtle nesting sites in Turkey
Çıralı is partly protected because it has been labeled one of the 17 most important turtle nesting sites in Turkey. For this reason, visitors are advised to avoid using torches or lighting fires on the beach at night -- amongst several other turtle-friendly guidelines. While this small village has grown exponentially from 40 years ago, when just two sheep-farming families are alleged to have lived here, its protected status has, so far, sheltered it from the mass development like that which can be seen in neighboring resorts such as Tekirova or Kemer. Çıralı practices a model of eco-tourism, which, combined with small-scale agriculture, provides the village with its economic backbone and has helped to retain its identity, enabling both tourists and turtles to enjoy this beautiful place.
Two months from now, some lucky (early-rising) tourists might get to see the cute hatchlings of the turtles we spotted, making the treacherous journey from nest to sea. For the moment, though, I was content making the leisurely journey back to Çıralı, then hobbling across the pebbles once more to find a chilled beer and delicious flame-grilled dinner in the shelter of the charming, family-run Cemil’s Pension. Although envious of the flipper-loose and fancy-free life lived by the Caretta caretta, and their immaculate choice of nesting site, witnessing these delightful creatures in such a wonderful environment, and knowing that I can jump on a bus and be back here in just an hour, was good enough for me.