Our first visit to Turkey and we were looking for a resort that would offer what we needed: to be far enough away from the heavy tourist centres of Marmaris and Bodrum, and to have something to offer other than beach, beach and more beach.
Relatives recommended Kalkan on the Turkish Mediterranean coast. It’s classy, quiet and remarkably lacking in any new development. It has a distinct absence of any high-rise development and it’s close to a good deal of antiquity, so ideal for excursions and days out. It sounded ideal. We managed to find a one-bedroom apartment through Owners Direct (https://www.ownersdirect.co.uk/accommodation/p8090878) and flights from the north-west of England to Dalaman. In truth, this means a fairly hefty transfer by taxi which adds a little over £50 each way to the holiday, but there really isn’t any other way to do it.
The flight from Manchester to Dalaman is a little over four hours which isn’t too bad at all. The transfer takes about an hour and a half. Combined, it does make for a long day, but they say travelling is half of the fun and this has to be seen as part of your holiday.
Kalkan is an old fishing town that has ‘found itself’. It lies between Kas and Fethiye and is the only safe harbour along that section of coast. The vast majority of fishing has disappeared and most of the income now comes from tourism.
The white-washed houses tumble down to the beach and the whole town blooms with the bougainvillea. The greenery would suggest that it does rain, but it also averages over 300 days of sunshine per year and for us, in August, it was wall-to-wall blue and endless cloudless skies.
Our neighbours at the apartment had returned to Kalkan on many occasions. They loved Turkey and had stayed at nearly all the major resorts as well as chartering a gulet, one of the traditional two or three-masted boats that are available to hire if you have the wherewithal. They maintained that Kalkan was the jewel and nowhere else was quite as pleasant or well-kept. After visiting Kas and Fethiye, pleasant enough in themselves, it’s easy to understand why they held Kalkan in such high regard
If you’re coming into Kalkan from the Dalaman direction in the east, it’s basically one of two roads in and out. From Kas in the west, it’s roughly the same. To the north, the mountains above Berzigan form a steep backdrop to the town and away to the south is the Mediterranean with the next stop being Egypt and north Africa.
One of the absolute joys of the place is that there is a total absence of ‘the lout’. It’s not a resort for the ‘lads’. The bars are there, but they are fewer than one would expect and, whilst welcoming, are quiet and refined. There might be a large TV on the wall, as football is a passion throughout Turkey, but the volume is never loud enough to be intrusive.
One thing that they do aplenty is offer places to eat. There must be a restaurant for every ten people in Kalkan. It certainly feels like it. Ground floor, on the street, high up on the tops of buildings with balcony views over the sea and open to the star; they are everywhere. For the westerner with a favourable euro rate, prices present excellent value. You’ll often find, in seaside resorts, a surfeit of fish restaurants. For some visitors who do not favour fish (and I include myself in this), that can present something of an issue. Not to worry. There is more than enough choice from beef, pork or chicken as well as vegetarian or traditional Turkish options. It might be a Islamic country, but they’ve adapted the menus for the European taste. It’s not all chips, either. There is plenty of fresh vegetables, fruit and some exceedingly good local wines and beer.
At the Kaya Restaurant by the first roundabout as you start to leave town we were entertained by the restaurant owner. He popped over with a pack of cards to show us one or two tricks.
‘You’re very good, you should be on television’.
He then went on to tell us that, not only was he a member of the Magic Circle, but he also went annually to Blackpool to practise his skills and learn new tricks. Such a small world.
Most of the visitors to Kalkan are British. They account for 96% of the tourist business. If I’d known that prior to booking, I might have changed my mind. I want to be invisible on holiday. I certainly don’t want to feel British and be constantly reminded of where I’ve come from. I might be miserable and anti-social, but there we have it!
I have to say, in all honesty, it wasn’t a problem. It’s all couples and families. All ages, but invariably making the same decision as I had. Somewhere quiet, refined and reserved. Kalkan meets these criteria in every way. The shopping is up -market, lots of jewellery and clothing, aimed very much at the boating and yachting fraternity and those docking with considerable disposable incomes.
Kalkan can become a routine. Breakfast, walk down to the beach, drinks, back for lunch, beach, back for drinks, restaurant, drinks and bed. The sea is Mediterranean warm; clear and inviting. It’s easy to be lazy and to get fat.
The weekly market provides some distraction. Stalls with ‘Genuine Fakes’ and some of the best apple tea you’ll find, served hot to take away or in its dried form, an ideal souvenir. Spices abound and stalls provide a kaleidoscope of colours as turmeric, paprika, white and black peppers and a whole range of other highly-coloured spices flow out across the trestle tables.
Pide, or Turkish bread is also a specialty of the region and the market. Women sit cross-legged on table tops kneading the yufka, the dough, before placing it on a hotplate for a few minutes either side. It’s unleavened and a cross between a tortilla and a flatbread. Either way, the smell is delicious.
So, with wandering further afield on our minds, we went to see ‘the man next door’ who was advertising car and bike rentals. There are a few larger companies in Kalkan but we were advised that prices there reflected the target audience and that we would be better served elsewhere. The advice was good. After a long chat about his daughter who was away nursing in Igdir on the Armenia border, he proudly gave us the loan of his own Dacia Duster, which would have benefited from the use of one around the dashboard, and we set off to explore.
The countryside is remarkably green. As you drive higher into the mountains the roads are regularly filled with goats, usually tended by a farmer’s wife completely covered up in long dress, jumpers and scarves, despite the temperatures reaching the low 40s. The smell hits you before the sound of the bells hanging from their necks. The air is thick with the stench of goat. Many of the farm buildings are testament to the poverty levels out of the main towns and cities. This is subsistence farming.
Saklikent National Park
Situated in the Mugla province some 30 miles from Fethiye, lies the Saklikent Gorge. It’s part of the Saklikent national park. It’s only been a national park since 1996 but it’s already a popular site for visitors from all over the world. At nearly a thousand feet deep and over eleven miles long, it’s one of the deepest and longest gorges on the planet. In the late winter and spring, it’s a torrent of snow water arriving from high up in the Taurus mountains. In the summer, only a 2.5 mile stretch is walkable for tourists. Even in August, you feel the pull of the water and you navigate your way through it. It’s up to your thighs and icy cold.
However, you soon dry out in the August sun and there is a bar or restaurant or two dotted along the banks of the river to laze away another hour or so, Efes in hand, so cold, the condensation runs down the outside of the glass.
Lycia and the Lycian coast
The whole area is part of what used to be known as Lycia. The Lycian coast is now well known as a walkers’ paradise and there are many guide books directing you to the whole or parts of the walk, if you can cope with stout boots and backpacks in the heat.
The capital was Xanthos and Lycia fought for the Persians in the wars of the 5th century BC. It’s an ancient place with a vast history. Strangely, many of the historical sites are rarely visited and, as a consequence, they are free of the usual restrictions. It’s easy to wander over and through and the condition of the remains is staggering. Mild weather and little rain has meant that preservation has been of the highest order.
One of the six most important town of ancient Lycia, it was also one of the most powerful. It lies to the east of the Xanthos valley and easily managed by car. You wind your way through the countryside and arrive at a very welcoming cafe and car park. Two other tourists had the same idea. Four of us, that was it. It’s the same at all the archaeological sites we visited; they are deserted. No cost to park, no cost to enter. You’re free to wander. Just make sure you have a very large bottle of water….or two.
Tlos is dominated by the acropolis and a series of almost intact necropoloi. At the very top (and it is high), and for some totally unaccountable reason, someone has laid out a football pitch, complete with goals. However, this does not detract from the staggering age of the place and the fantastic condition of the architecture. It’s hard to appreciate that this dates back to at least four or five centuries before Christ.
Tombs are open and you’re free to enter and walk around. The artifacts have been taken away and are probably in the museum in Istanbul but the site remains, mysterious and, if anything really defines that totally-overused term ‘awesome’. Horrible expression, but you do stand there, in awe.
Myra is a little more organised. It’s the home of Father Christmas…..well, okay, St. Nicholas, hence its popularity. It lies just a mile or so from Demre, a rather ugly town of building depots and lorry parks. The actual entrance to the site of Myta is a little disappointing but there is such a surprise waiting for you as you enter.
Most of the ancient city is covered by Demre, which only serves to illustrate just how large and important the city was. It’s 5th century B.C. and was visited by St Paul, Hadrian and, of course, St. Nicholas.
By the 11th century, it was almost abandoned after a massive outbreak of plague and it lay like this for centuries.
The amphitheatre is is in astonishingly good condition. The carvings at the entrance of theatrical faces are in such clarity that one would only expect in an atmosphere-controlled museum, definitely not out in the open.
Patara lies just to the east of Kalkan. It’s mainly known for its beach and it’s a short car or bus ride from Kalkan. What is really amazing if that, on the road, you pass an almost totally unscathed and monumental triple-vaulted Arch to Modestus, Trebonius Proculus Mettius Modestus was the first governor general of Lycia in 100 AD. As the highest ranking administrator of Patara and environs a little modesty might have benefited him. He obviously missed the irony and constructed the arch in honour of himself and his position and, presumably, one arch for each of his first names. It stands there welcoming visitors looking as thought it was built eight, maybe nine hundred years ago. Even by 100AD the rest of Patara had disappeared under the sand and much still awaits excavation. The lighthouse of Patara is well over 2000 years old and probably the oldest lighthouse in the World. That’s there for the visitor to see and, again, close up. Likewise with the amphitheatre and nearby buildings. It’s amazing how well preserved they are.
It’s easy to become complacent about age in this place. Centuries and millennia just merge and time becomes vague. It’s so very, very ancient.
This is one of Turkey’s best kept secrets. I came across it through Google but never expected it to be so empty of visitors and so well preserved. It’s another Lycian city, there are so many, but it’s claim to fame was its obsession with hedonism. It dates back to the second millennium BC and covers a site that will keep you busy for several hours. If you can and do go, do your homework in advance. It’ll be worth it. A good starting point is http://www.lycianturkey.com/lycian_sites/arycanda.htm.
I could continue listing the many towns we visited, making our way through Turkish countryside. The views were long-reaching and impressive and we climbed mountain roads for many hours without finding more than the odd village or two.
Then we discovered Kayakoy.
Kayakoy is a fascinating ghost town and one of the few sites in the area for which you are required to pay an entrance fee. It’s where Turks and Greeks used to live in close proximity and, for a while, relative harmony.It lies about 4 miles south of Fethiye and used to be known as Lebessos and then, later as Livissi. In ancient days it was a Lycian city and Anatolian Greeks lived there until 1922.During the Greco-Turkish war of 1919-1922, it was an uncomfortable place to be if you were Greek and by the end of the war it had been completely abandoned. Persecutions had started as early as 1914 in Makri and for Ottoman Greeks the only way was out.
In 1917, inhabitants of other Greek towns in the area, mainly old women and children, were rounded up and forced on a ‘death march’ to relocation centres. The roads were strewn with dead bodies of those who were either too ill or too old to keep the pace.
By 1922, those who were staying in Livissi in the vain hope of reconciliation gave up and fled for Greece. The town was left untouched and abandoned until 1957 when the Fethiye earthquake reduced large sections of the town to rubble.
Today it stands as a memorial and a monument. The houses are under the protection of the Turkish government and the Greek Orthodox Church. It’s been adopted by UNESCO as a World Friendship and Peace village.
It’s an interesting place. In 2014 it was used as a centre for the closing scenes of The Water Diviner with Russell Crowe and fans of Louis de Bernieres might be interested to know it was the inspiration for Eskibahçe, the imaginary village in the 2004 novel Birds without Wings.
So, if you want glorious weather and golden beaches, fascinating antiquities and beautiful countryside, you could do a lot worse than visit this section of south-western Turkey and, in particular, Kalkan
Try it for yourself, you won’t be disappointed.