The Turquoise Coast
The Turkish Riviera is where the Mediterranean Sea laps at Turkey’s southwestern shore. With it’s blue jeweled-toned waters, the Turkish Riviera is aptly referred to as the Turquoise Coast. One look at the water and the validity of the nickname is confirmed. The Turquoise Coast is saturated not only with sea views, but also history. In this region, ancient cities and Lycian ruins span the coast line. A long-distance trail named The Lycian Way connects these pre-Roman Lycian ruins over a 500km stretch. We visited three towns along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast before tackling the Lycian Way (blog link coming soon).
A recommendation from an acquaintance in Istanbul landed us in Dalyan. Our first impressions of the small sleepy town were, “this must be where British people go to retire” and “holy resort sprawl.” Cheerful sun-flushed Brits seem to rival the number of locals and the resorts, though quaint, extend in all directions from the main riverside strip. Being a ‘package tour’ type town, Dalyan isn’t exactly a backpacker destination. It’s more of a lounge in the sun and take it easy kind of deal. But if that’s what you’re looking for, Dalyan is the perfect venue. With its quiet, laidback vibe, it is a good choice for a relaxing, affordable, and family friendly vacation. The Turkish charm and hospitality is likely why holiday-goers continue to return to this cherished town.
Dalyan is a scenic fishing village that sits along a river. The river feeds into a waterway system ultimately emptying into the Mediterranean Sea. Private and public boats await to take tourists on tours or to nearby beaches. It’s a picturesque view from the center of town where ancient Lycian Rock Tombs are carved into a towering cliff across the river. Along the waterfront there are countless restaurants, bars, shops, and tour agencies. The food is tasty and authentic, if overpriced in comparison to other less touristic towns. More often than not, prices are quoted in pounds. Restaurants proudly advertise that they serve “Typical English Breakfast” (beans for breakfast?) and western-fare for those desiring a taste of home.
While in Daylan, we took a day trip to İztuzu beach. Just a boat trip or minibus ride away from Dalyan, this beach is a striking strip of white sand that forms a natural barrier between the fresh water of the river delta and the salt water of the Mediterranean. İztuzu beach, also called turtle beach, is a nesting site for Loggerhead turtles. Home to such a fragile population, the beach is now a protected area, closing daily from 8pm-8am. Nesting sites, indicated by wooden stakes, are to be avoided.
An English environmentalist known fondly as “Kaptan June” has received recognition in the area for her activism. She’s worked ceaselessly to protect the delicate Loggerhead turtle nesting grounds from development and opened a rehabilitation center for injured turtles. She advocates for the use of propeller guards. Many boats docked in Daylan don a Kaptan June seal which means they adhere to turtle safe practices. We can personally attest to the necessity of propeller guards as we unwittingly witnessed a floating, decapitated turtle during a boat trip in the area. It was a disturbing sight.
12 Island Tour
Yep, we signed up for a packaged tour and despite my aforementioned judgement, we enjoyed a lovely and relaxing day on the water. We floated through the calm, crystal clear waters of the Gulf of Göcek while taking in the scene of small islands, pine forests and sheltered bays.
We spent the day chatting with a fun, crossfit enthusiast from Alabama. She’s relocated, indefinitely, to Turkey and dreams of building a cross-fit gym for women and children. She spoke passionately about the weekly English language class she teaches to adults in Istanbul where her liberal female students preferred topic of conversation is their disdain for the “patriarchy.” That said, she loves Istanbul, believes it is where she’s meant to be, and finds it incredibly progressive. We did too.
Spending a quick two days in the harbor town of Fethiye, we kind of missed the mark and didn’t make it to the Saturday market or the abandoned “ghost town” of Kayaköy. I suppose it’s the nature of a backpacking trip not to be able to see and do it all and be okay with that. Sometimes we do fall victim to an underlying fear of missing out: “Did we do enough? See enough? Should we have done x, y or z? Did we make the most of _?” We must consciously remind ourselves that travel for us, at this moment in time, is our lifestyle, not a vacation.
Well intentioned people are always telling us, “eat this!” Do that! Go here! You’re on vacation, enjoy!” But actually, we are not. If we indulged everyday on unhealthy food or spent money frivolously, like on vacation, we wouldn’t be able to take this longterm backpacking trip. So, we try to prioritize and honor our health and well-being and not wear ourselves too thin. Truthfully though, it’s the unexpected and unplanned moments of travel that reveal the most interesting cultural insights and provide connection with others, like Scott’s entertaining haircut in Fetiyhe. It was unlike any haircut either of us have ever witnessed; exceptionally thorough, bordering on aggressive, and incorporating fire to singe off unwanted hair. You can read about his amusing experience here: Tales of a Traditional Turkish Haircut: Foam, Fire and a Facial.
Despite missing the main sights, we can speak to the beauty of Ölüdeniz Beach. Ölüdeniz is one of Turkey’s most recognized and photographed beaches, 16 km south of Fetiyhe. The water is such a vibrant shade of turquoise it doesn’t even look real. Aside from sunbathing and swimming, paragliding is the thing to do. Dozens of colorful paragliders float down to the beach every hour. We stayed in a hotel in the next town over and as the minibus wound up the cliffs toward our hotel the view of paragliders over the water was magical.
From our beautiful hotel, Keyif Faralya, which overlooked butterfly valley, we could see through hikers trekking the Lycian Way. They camp out or stay in panysions (small guesthouses) along the route which passes through Fetiyhe. All guesthouses offer food for through hikers with affordable options like gözleme pancakes. We didn’t see too many of these crepe-like stuffed pancakes in Istanbul, it seems that they are more popular in the southern region of Turkey.
Ah, Kalkan, the Brit’s best kept secret. Where again, prices are quoted in pounds, “English Breakfast” abounds, and locals speak with an British accent. Kalkan is a quaint tourist town on a peaceful Mediterranean bay. (But Kate Clow, the Lycian Way Pionner, sadly reveals in her guide book, that despite the pristine appearance, Kalkan is home to large “unsustainable” villas with careless planning that sit empty most of the year and waste “excessive water” to fill pools). These villas spills down the mountainside onto a rocky beach where seaside bars and restaurants overlook the water.
The hilly town has Greek origin with characteristic white-washed houses in the center, similar to the nearby Greek Island, a quick boat trip away. In town it’s possible to get lost among the cobblestone labyrinth like alleys. Pops of rich purple and pink bougainvillea blooms against the turquoise water add a paradise like feel. Outside of town the surrounding land is largely undeveloped making Kalkan a quiet and peaceful retreat, the tranquilly only broken by the occasional call to prayer or scooter whizzing by. Being such a laid back destination, Kalkan attracts older couples and families.
We ended up in Kalkan after a cancelled house/pet sitting gig. It was our first time using an online housesitting platform and proceeding a friendly video interview, we made a commitment to house sit for a month for a British couple living in Kalkan. The day before we were to arrive, they cancelled via a lengthy jumbled voice message. Very, very, uncool.
Disspointed and scrambling to arrange last minute plans, we decided that because we had anticipated spending a month in Kalkan, we would carry through with the initial plan. We had an advantage by visiting in Kalkan during shoulder season (May), where tourists start to visit but haven’t reached their full summertime presence, and we landed a great deal through Airbnb. (Airbnb though legal in Turkey has an array of restriction and hoops to jump through for property owners. Speaking of restrictions, wikipedia is banned in Turkey, proving to be much more of a nuisance then initially expected!)
We were in Kalkan during Ramadan, though this was hard to observe. It was really only noticeable with the presence of delicious daily Ramazan pide, sold in the bakeries and supermarkets in the late afternoon. Yum. We thoroughly enjoyed our stay and the quiet morning coffees on our balcony in Kalkan.
Kalkan’s small beach has crystal clear water, but the beach itself it rocky. To compensate for this the surrounding hotels offer pools and “beach clubs.” The beach clubs provide sunny oceanside platforms above the water allowing for ocean access and sunbathing on flat ground. They supply umbrellas and chair-side drink service. If this doesn’t do it for you, there are other stunning beaches are just a short distance away, a standout being Patara Beach.
Patara Beach and Ruins
Patara is Turkey’s longest beach. Protected in a National Park it’s a quiet destination. A lone restaurant claims the beach offering food and umbrella rentals. The rest of the beach is unmarred white sand. Behind the beach is an archeological site, the ruins of the ancient city of Patara. We visited both beauties on a day trip from Kalkan.
Food in Kalkan
The price of food in Kalkan is inflated for tourists, especially around the harbor, but very affordable compared to food back in the states. I’ll use the price of ubiquitous Turkish tea (çay) as my barometer; we saw çay for 1 lira (17 cents) in other cities and in Kalkan, one “fancy” restaurant quoted us 10 lira ($1.70) for the 4 ounce cup of tea. Hard to pay that when you know the actual value of a glass of tea which is poured from a large pot of steeped black tea. That’s not to say that there aren’t more low key and “less frills” options available. It is only fair to contrast this bloated price with more local-centric restaurants with owners who encouraged us to linger around after our meal with a complimentary cup of çay.
Kalkan is known for it’s ritzy rooftop restaurants. They’re a perfect venue for watching sunset over the water. We splurged at such a place for Scott’s birthday where a bottle of wine, shared appetizer, two entrees, water and dessert rang in under $50.
A real treat in Kalkan is çiğ köfte durum from the only stand in town. Çiğ köfte durum is a vegetarian’s dream; it’s a thin wrap (durum) filled with a spicy bulgur paste (çiğ köfte), which is packed with fiber and protein. Add a pickle, parsley, hot sauce, lettuce, pomegranate syrup, spice and everything nice. It’s delicious, less than a dollar, and my new obsession.
Boat tours are a common daytime activity in Kalkan. We spent a day cruising the clear turquoise waters and calm coves around Kekova with Define Tours. The boat passed by a sunken Lycian city and the Simena Castle in Kaleköy among ample swim stops.
The first night of our stay a bold visitor walked straight across our balcony. Since then, her presence was a daily occurrence. I want to say that we temporarily adopted her, but I think she may have adopted us. We named this sweet little cat, Pistachio. (Who needs pet sitting anyways?) Stray cats are as ubiquitous in Turkey as smoking cigarettes, drinking çay and extending hospitality.
The top of her ear was clipped, which indicates that she’s been “fixed.” While strays are common the Turkish people tend to be pretty good to them…we’ve noticed many fat, er well-fed, stray dogs. P was a welcomed addition to our stay. We bought her some food and looked forward to her visits and proceeding cuddle sessions. The little scorpion we found in our bathroom one day was not nearly as delightful. Fortunately, we didn’t see it again.
After a relaxing month in Kalkan we are rested and ready for more adventure. We’ll leave our extra travel gear at the resort to lighten up our backpacks and hike the Lycian Way. We’ll miss this little slice of paradise and our precious Pistachio.