Brochures and photographs do scant justice to Turkey's exquisite southern coastline -- a route familiar to saints, sultans, pirates, and one illustrious and infamous Egyptian queen.
The Turquoise Coast, which extends roughly from Antalya to Datça, is a slight misnomer because it ignores the emerald pools reflected at the base of thickets of pine trees and the rich sapphire of the open sea. To the west, the Toros (Taurus) Mountains tumble into the Mediterranean Sea, creating Eden-like pockets of rugged cliffs and shallow coves where land meets sea. Many of these mini-paradises are accessible only to the seafarer. Traveling east to Antalya, rocks give way to small patches of pebble beach, until they cede completely to miles and miles of sandy shoreline. And all along the length of the coastline, a short hop inland reveals long-since-landlocked ancient military and commercial port cities punctuating the fact that the Turkish Riviera is a rich depository of layers of ancient civilizations. Mentioned in Homer's Iliad are the Lycians, a heroic people that settled the coast from the Fethiye Bay to Antalya, from Termessos, where both Croesus and Alexander the Great came to consult the local priests prior to waging war; Xanthos, the capital of Lycia for much of its heyday; the sacred cult site of Letoon; Patara, Pinara, and Tlos, three of the six principal cities of ancient Lycia; Antiphellos, now the modern boating and resort center of Kas; the mysterious sunken city of Kekova and the nearby ruins of Apollonia and Aperla; Myra, the birthplace of a famous bishop more commonly known as St. Nicholas, or Santa Claus; the spectacularly sited Arycanda; the fiery Chimaera of Olympos; and the scenic trifecta of harbors of Phaselis.
The Carians, whose unknown origins invoke contradictory accounts by Herodotus, Thucydides, and others, dominated the southwestern region of Anatolia from the Halicarnassus to the shores of Lake Köyçegiz. The remains of Caria along the Mediterranean coast, some of which overlap with Lycia, bring us to the strategic harbor of ancient Knidos at the western extremity of the Datça Peninsula; and Kaunos, with its ancient theater and soaring Lycian rock tombs overlooking the scenic Dalyan River.
The legacy of these peoples can be found in the majestic tombs hewn into lofty cliffs, sarcophagi crowned with Gothic helmets, and ancient cities sunken beneath transparent waters. On a boat excursion into a secluded cove, it's practically inevitable that you will stumble upon an ancient theater, a toppled Roman bath, or the remains of a pagan temple.
Thirty years ago, the destinations in this section slowly began to transform from idyllic and unspoiled fishing villages into ports of call for small boats and yachts. These days, you can easily find European amenities and boutique hotels but unlike the polished seaside resorts of the western Mediterranean or the Greek islands, however, the Turkish Mediterranean still comes with a bit of a pleasingly rugged and untamed edge. As tourism continues to gentrify the face of the region, you just may have to drive up into the mountains a bit farther to find it.
A truly satisfying visit to these parts requires a week at minimum, and that doesn't even take into account the irresistible draw of a Blue Voyage. I have sectioned out the primary destinations, from where it's reasonable to make a base for day excursions to the surrounding sites (allotted here to the section to which they are most closely located).
For those with the luxury of time, the coast should be tackled by car, minibus, or dolmus (minivan-type public transportation) from end to end, allowing you to sample the diverse local flavors of each individual seaside village resort. This approach is obviously more labor-intensive than lying splayed on a chaise lounge at a beach resort, but if that's all you came all this way for, you may as well have saved the airfare. The more obvious (and convenient, given the availability of transport options) bases for daily activities and excursions are in Antalya center, Kas, Fethiye, and Marmaris center, while locales a bit more off-the-beaten-track (including just on the outskirts of these major centers) will offer more pristine (and possibly local village) settings. These include the secluded coves around Marmaris (such as those in Hisarönü, Selimiye, Bozburun, Turunç, Osmaniye, and Datça), the historic and natural attractions in the Dalyan delta, the magnificence of the Gulf of Fethiye (particularly Kayaköy, Faralya, Uzunyurt), and the quieter settings on the outskirts of Antalya (such as Üçagiz, Çirali, Tekirova, Manavgat, and Side). For those with limited time, I recommend picking a home base and concentrating on the ins and outs of any one of the primary hubs. Here is a hand-picked selection, from my view, of the best the Turkish Mediterranean has to offer.
The Turkish Mediterranean has long been a favorite getaway for British holiday makers, and for this reason, prices in this section will have originally been quoted in British pound sterling. Also, because this extended stretch of sunny coastline is no secret, it tends to get a bit overrun in July and August. Best instead to stick to the shoulder months of April, May, early June, late September, October, and if the weather cooperates, early November, when prices are lower as well.
The Lycian Way & St. Paul's Trail
The Lycian Way (Likya Yolu), a 500km (311-mile) footpath between Fethiye and Antalya, is the brainchild of Kate Clow, a British expatriate and advocate of the joys of Lycian Turkey. Over a period of time, she has researched, marked, and signposted a network of rural roads and mountain paths, which cover a variety of terrain through ancient sites and modern-day villages. Most recently, she's established a series of trails that follow (or closely parallel, where conditions require) the route taken by St. Paul on his three missionary journeys to Asia Minor. The latter three trails begin in Perge, Aspendos, and Egirdir, and take in not only Christian history, but also ancient bridges, aqueducts, canyons, lakes, and peaks. Covering the entire distance of a trail on foot could take a month, but the trails are set up for day excursions for independent outdoor enthusiasts, made more colorful with the help of her handbooks, The Lycian Way (Upcountry Ltd., 2000) and St Paul Trail (Upcountry Ltd., 2004). Kate also conducts 1- or 2-week tours departing from either Fethiye or Antalya. For information on the trail, log on to www.lycianway.com.