The Local Region
The local region is renowned throughout Turkey as an area of outstanding natural beauty with a stunning coastline and an array of characterful towns and villages that show Turkey at her very best.
The Gemile region is best known for the deserted settlement of Levissi, now called Kayaköy, the largest ‘ghost town’ in Asia Minor, which was abandoned in 1923 as a result of the forced population exchange between Turks and Greeks. Today the 400 roofless houses sit on a hillside overlooking the contemporary village below, an open-air museum bearing testament to a period of history which led to the creation of modern-day Turkey. It is best visited early, when the sun lights up the blues of the old houses and your most likely companions are the village goats and donkeys. When the valley floor shrouds in mist the atmosphere deepens, as respects are paid at the impressive basilica and eerie charnel house.
Several scenes from Russell Crowe’s 2015 movie The Water Diviner were filmed in Kayaköy and day-to-day life continues in the rural settlement which surrounds the abandoned part of the village. There are around 2,000 residents and the two main occupations are farming and wine production. There is a small selection of good restaurants and private houses scattered along the main street and a traditional village bakery, located near the central mosque, with freshly-baked, daily bread, simit (a delicious sesame bagel) and a tempting selection of sweet and savoury pastries.
The beach at Ölü Deniz is one of the most photographed in the entire Mediterranean. On one side is a stunning sheltered lagoon that has been protected by a conservation order, and on the other a stunning spit of alluring white sand. Baba Dag Mountain (the region's highest) stands impressively behind forming a magnificent backdrop. Although the village itself has fallen prey to the lures of mass tourism, the beaches are well worth a visit. We recommend the south east end to avoid the more commercialised areas, although if you are looking for a day on the beach you can’t really go wrong.
Thrill seekers will find that Baba Dag is the best place along the entire Lycian Coast to throw yourself off a mountain – the paragliding here is superb. If, however, you prefer peace and quiet go to Kidrak Beach, the next bay along and take in the magnificent view of Ölü Deniz from the mountain pass. Kidrak is a well-kept secret and remains relatively peaceful even in the height of summer.
Faralya is the first village driving south from Ölü Deniz along the Yediburunlar coast. Historically, the village was self-sufficient until the narrow, twisty road that clings to the side of Baba Dag was opened. Faralya has only changed marginally since, retaining its rural roots with the addition of a mini market and a few campsites for those seeking an alternative lifestyle retreat. Faralya sits above the gorge and infamous Butterfly Valley, a haven for weekly gulet charters and day boats from nearby Ölü Deniz. It is home to the Jersey Tiger Butterfly and the village was originally known as Uzunyurt. A dishevelled and steep path zig- zags unevenly up from Butterfly Valley, way-marked with painted red flags, to the mountainside village of Faralya. However, we suggest it is easier to approach by sea by taking a boat from Ölü Deniz.
Located about 5 kilometers south of Faralya, at the bottom of steep cliffs littered with pine trees, Kabak is ideal for outdoors, adventure enthusiasts. Once an undiscovered gem now a less well-kept secret, it is still an undeniably picturesque spot frequented predominantly by an arty, bohemian Turkish crowd. It remains tranquil as it is difficult to access, about a 30 minute walk down and requires sturdy footwear. On the way back we like to hop in the local tractor to avoid an hour’s steep climb. Fairlight Jones loves Kabak as it’s away from the tourist gaze is the best place to siesta under the shade of the pine trees - don’t forget to take refreshments with you.
There a few yoga-style camps scattered within the pine tree forest and up the cliff face behind. You can only reach the beach on foot- you can drive so far in the car and then you will have to leave it and walk. The beach is a mixture of boulders, pebbles and sand. Sometimes you might see a turtle nest but there are no sun loungers or umbrellas.
Gulf of Fethiye & Göcek
The simple beauty of the Gulf of Fethiye & Göcek region is accentuated by its accessibility: its just 20 minutes’ drive to Göcek harbour from the airport, which brings you straight into the heart of coastal Turkey. It’s another 40 minutes to downtown Fethyie, a buzzing, harbour and market town with an attractive seafront and one of the finest harbours on the entire coast. Both provide easy access to an archipelago of twelve islands with fine white sands, crystal clear waters and beneficent winds which make for wonderful sailing. Flanked by dramatic, tree-covered mountains and not a high-rise in site, their waterfront settings are exceptional. Beyond the two harbour towns an array of sandy beaches await, including some of Turkey’s best-known and more secret beaches.
Fethiye resides on the site of the former Greek city of Telmessos, still evidenced by the impressive Lycian rock tombs which peer down from the hillside over the town, the Hellenistic theatre and the Tomb of Amyntas. Yet make no mistake, Fethiye is a modern market town with around 150,000 permanent residents and the trading centre of the region. With both working port and an impressive natural harbour and marina, it serves the dual function of trading post and a centre for sailing and tourism.
Fethiye is low-key despite its prosperity mainly due mostly to restrictions on high-rise buildings – the natural harbour is among the region's finest, tucked away in the southern side of the town in a broad bay which looks out across to Şövalye Island which was used as a film location in the James Bond film movie Skyfall. A pretty boardwalk away from the harbour is great for an evening stroll to people-watch and lust after the impressive yachts moored in the harbour.
Fethiye is best known for its bustling, Tuesday morning market when the town is at its most vibrant, you’ll find an eclectic array of ceramics, leather good, jewellery and textiles exchanging hands throughout the streets of the harbour. It pays to seek out the covered produce market located just behind the main frenzy, an altogether quieter affair where locals rub shoulders with visitors stocking up on colourful fruit and vegetables. A farmer’s market takes place here on Fridays too and is fascinating to watch as locals come in from around the region and sell their home grown produce which tastes delicious.
Sample the freshly squeezed mint lemonade (made using lemons picked from the local groves) as you meander through the labyrinths of vendors selling an extraordinary range of goods. Try the vendors selling street food - the durum (similar to a doner) is among the best we have ever tasted.
This traditional, sea-faring village has grown up to support some of the Lycian coast’s most glamorous sailing from the likes of multi-millionaires to seasoned seadogs who consider Göcek to be the Turkish equivalent of Dartmouth or Salcombe. There is certainly something for everyone: from the super-smart marina awash with international flags and super yachts, to sun-kissed sailing flotillas ambling ashore from the high seas. Anyone can explore the seascapes by jumping on a water taxi from Göcek harbour, to discover wonderful archipelago of islands for which the region is known.
Göcek unfolds away from the waterfront to a plethora of good restaurants, a vibrant café culture, several glitzy beach clubs and covered bazaars selling ceramics, antique rugs, cushions and a vast array of pestemel (traditional hammam towels). Away from the larger hotels is a smattering of accommodation in the tiny streets behind and up in the mountain villages beyond. Most of the local residents are engaged in boating activity to some degree.
While here take time to enjoy the local hammam and spa - an invigorating Turkish bath and classical massage, or opt for one of the mud exfoliation treatments too. Relax afterwards with a mint tea or cucumber lemonade.
The Dalyan Delta
The Dalyan Delta is an area of breath-taking natural beauty. Streaked by wistful waterways and classical sites, away from the hubbub of the main street it retains much of its original charm.
With a maze of reeds and riverbeds, boats are the best means of transport and reveal the sensational birdlife including lesser spotted kingfishers, egrets and cormorants. Life is centred around the river and Dalyan means ‘fishing weir’ after the structures used to trap fish returning to the sea after spawning on Lake Köyceğiz - several of these can still be seen today. Lucrative pomegranate orchards took over from cotton as the main source of income and citrus fruits are also grown locally.
The town resides on the former ancient city of Kaunos, which dates back to the 9th Century and was an ancient Carian settlement famous for the King‘s Tombs which are hewn into the rock face, visible from the river. They are renowned for changing colour with the setting sun and are reached by a steep 15 minute climb which is rewarded by a truly stunning panoramic view over the delta. The site houses an upper and lower acropolis, Greek amphitheatre, Hellenistic fountain house and an early Byzantine, basilica church.
Mystical Lake Köyceğiz, the largest freshwater lake in Turkey, is home to numerous small wetlands and has a rich bird population with reportedly over 170 different species. The habitat is also home to an abundance of reptiles including the glass lizard. Lake Köyceğiz’s northern shore links with the Mediterranean via the Dalyan river, passing the ancient city of Kaunos before joining the mouth of the sea at Iztuzu Beach. The village of Köyceğiz has several old houses dating from the 19th century and the rustic, Monday morning market is well worth a visit.
The nearby İztuzu Beach, south of Dalyan, is a breeding ground for loggerhead sea turtles, an endangered species protected by strict conservation laws following a campaign led by David Bellamy in the mid-80s. Boats leave from the town along the river to the beach and turtle rehabilitation centre, which was awarded Best Open Space in Europe by The Times newspaper recognising the eco-friendly development.
To the west side of the delta is the bay of Çandır, heated by a number of thermal springs (with temperatures of up to 40 °C) and a spa resort at Sultaniye, which was restored in the 90s and whose mud bath is a perennial tourist attraction.
Market day in the town centre is held on Saturdays with an array of seasonal fruit and vegetables, local honey and olive oil where you will rub shoulders with locals on their weekly shop. It’s the ideal opportunity to enjoy good street food outside of Istanbul: try a donner and some succulent Gozleme. Don’t be afraid to haggle, either, it is a long established part of Turkish culture.
There are lots of beaches in the region which can be reached by car over the jaw-dropping mountain passes with untouched tiny coves and more established beaches alike.
Popular for sunbathing and swimming with a regular boat and dolmuş minibus service to the beach, be sure to avoid the wooden stakes which mark turtle nesting sites when settling in for the day. The 25 minute drive is particularly scenic with views of Sülüngür Lake. That said, we would say that the riverboat journey itself is an experience not be missed as it explains the very essence of the delta region perfectly. The gently shelving nature of the beach makes it popular for families with children however when windy, the surf can get up. Look out for turtle tracks in the sand.
The Bay of Asi is hidden between Dalyan and Sarigerme. A shingle beach sitting below a pine covered road it is beautifully quiet, mainly frequented by privately chartered boats, with excellent snorkelling and pretty caves. A small lokanta offers a selection of cold beverages and a good lunch menu.
South of Asi Koyu, between Dalyan and Sarigeme, Bakardi Bay is popular with day gulets departing from Dalyan. By road it sits beyond the craggy mountains of Gokbel and is about a 45 minute walk by foot. The water is turquoise blue and excellent for snorkelling. There aren’t any services on the beach so packing a picnic is essential.
Predominantly accessed by boat, Ekincik Bay is a favourite mooring place for the Dalyan Blue cruise. The views are spectacular and the beach is an impressive 1.5 kilometres long. The mountains provide an impressive backdrop and the ‘blue cave’ is popular with scuba divers.
The main area for people watching, shopping and coffee drinking is on the hustle and bustle of Maras street. Away from the centre are some exceptional restaurants on and around the river and coast, serving a range of delicacies from freshly landed fish through to traditional Ottoman casseroles, cooked (and served with a flourish) in a clay pot. More intrepid travellers should escape to the mountain village restaurants of the peninsula, where simple, yet mouth-watering dishes will reward your efforts.
Try the local pine honey which is sourced from hives on Lake Köyceğiz and is the main source of income for many villagers in the area. Pine honey can be kept without crystalizing as it contains a low water content which keeps it deliciously fresh.
Driving through the area you will pass hundreds of pomegranate orchards – do stop and try a glass of freshly squeezed pomegranate juice which tastes far superior to the tetra-pack versions on our home supermarket shelves.