by Linda Cookson, The Telegraph, December 4, 2017
My love affair with Turkey got off to an inauspicious start. It was well over 20 years ago, and my friend Debbie and I – strangers, in those days, to the art of researching a holiday – had set off blithely to Istanbul one January in search of winter sun. It was bone-chillingly cold, and it rained every single day.
We had one pair of socks between us which we de-iced on the hotel radiator each evening before tossing a coin to decide who would wear them the next day. (Not that this was much of a boon for the winner. It was like wearing boots made of cold wet toast.) Eventually it dawned on us that we could buy an extra pair – Istanbul being not exactly short of markets. Immediately, we got lost in the Grand Bazaar. I had my purse pinched, and we ended up in a police station.
As we sat shivering with misery in the police station, we were overwhelmed by kindness as one of the officers disappeared for a rummage through a locker room and emerged with two brand new pairs of police issue socks. His friend popped out to a street stall and brought in paper plates of menemen – delicious scrambled eggs, mixed with onions, tomatoes and peppers – to warm us up.
I never saw my purse again, of course. But that episode inspired in me a massive admiration for the courtesy and innate hospitality of Turkish people (apart from the rat-bag who stole my purse) – a first impression that’s been strengthened over the years by countless acts of generosity and friendship. What’s more, having visited almost every summer since that first trip, I’ve been able to get to know the country so much better.
I initially threw myself into exploring what became my favourite part of Turkey: the glorious Turquoise Coast. This enchanting strip of Mediterranean seaboard in the southwest harbours the bijou towns of Kalkan and Kaş and little fishing villages galore, alongside a treasure-trove of ruins dating back three thousand years to the ancient maritime kingdom of Lycia.
The fantastic gulet holidays on offer in the region were a brilliant revelation. For me, there is nothing – but nothing – as magical as weaving through silky creeks on board one of these beautiful traditional boats, visiting deserted pine-covered islands or crystal coves by day, then falling blissfully asleep on deck to the rhythmic rocking of your floating cradle as stars shoot overhead.
Later, I travelled further afield to other-worldly Cappadocia, in central Turkey, taking a balloon ride over its astonishing sherbet-coloured landscape of canyons and fairy chimneys as eagles soared high above and hoopoe birds cartwheeled below.
I’ve also revisited Istanbul many times, thrilled not just by the well-documented splendour of Sultanahmet’s ravishing mosques and minarets, but also by the city’s vibrancy as a fantastically varied waterfront metropolis. The Bosphorus ferry zig-zags between Europe and Asia for a beguiling 32km on its way to the remote fishing village of Anadulo Kavaği. Traffic-free Büyükada island, just 50 minutes or so southeast of the city across the Sea of Marmara, is what the Hamptons are to New York: a leafy rural idyll of clapboard houses and honeysuckled porches.
Only in the summer of 2016 were my Turkish travels disrupted after a barrage of terror attacks, closely followed by an attempted military coup. Visitor numbers dwindled, but then a miraculous recovery began. Perhaps people realised that Istanbul is hardly unique among cities in being targeted – and that southwest Turkey is as far from Syria as London is from Prague.
By this summer, Turkey was recording a 28 per cent rise in bookings and people began to return. Like a boomerang, I landed back on the Turquoise Coast to revisit my favourite haunts. To my joy and relief, it was as though I’d never been away. Harbour-town Kalkan was as gorgeous as ever – awash with papery clouds of pink and purple bougainvillea, crammed with atmospheric cobbled streets overhung by Ottoman balconies, and twinkling at night with its cheery chain of sea-front restaurants buzzing with smiley waiters.
It was exactly the same in neighbouring Kaş. Late in my stay, as I sat in the town’s central tea gardens, shaded by eucalyptus trees, an elderly man I didn’t know came up to the table and pressed a blue “Evil Eye” lucky charm into my hand. “It’s good to see you Brits back,” he said shyly. The pleasure, I was happy to tell him, was all mine.
Linda Cookson travelled as a guest of Fairlight Jones (020 3875 0351; fairlightjones.com). A week’s self catering in Kalkan’s romantic one-bedroom waterfront villa, Sun, starts at £675 per person, based on two sharing. The price includes transfers from Dalaman airport (flights arranged on request). UK carriers serving Dalaman include BA (0844 493 0787; ba.com ), easyJet, (0843 104 5000; easyjet.com ) and Jet2 (0800 408 1350; jet2.com ). Also try Turkish carrier Pegasus (0333 300 3555; flypgs.com ).
Linda Cookson’s favourite places along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast
1. A place to walk on water
The pine-clad Bozburun peninsula (also known as Loryma) is as unspoiled as you could hope. This is farming country, with hillsides dotted with bee boxes, small-holdings of sweetcorn and fiery red peppers, and fields of cotton and tobacco. It’s also home to the area’s gulet-building industry: wooden boat-frames tower above the roadside like the skeletons of giant fish. The coastal village of Orhaniye, though now something of a yachties’ favourite, still has bags of charm. Its mirror-smooth bay is protected by a tiny island topped by a ruined castle, and visitors can walk on water across a 500m sand spit.
Waterfront vineyard Sakin Vadi Winehouse (0090 252 487 1404; sakinvadiwinehouse.com) has two-person bungalows for €75/£66, B&B.
2. Cliff tombs and a mazy meander of backwaters
The Dalyan Delta harbours an amazing snake of a river that wriggles lazily from Lake Köyceğiz, towards the open sea. Over the centuries, silting has created mazes of reed-laden streams, navigable only by small riverboats which weave quietly downstream, as though through paddyfields, towards the colourful waterfront restaurants of Dalyan Town. High above, carved like mansions into the rock face, are 3,000 year-old rock tombs.
The riverside Midas Pension (0090 252 284 2195; midasdalyan.com) has doubles from £40 B&B.
3. A Swallows and Amazons island
Tiny, traffic-free Sovalye island in the Gulf of Fethiye is a charming Swallows and Amazons enclave with shingle coves, shady walkways and a pine-scented forest that you can circumnavigate by canoe in less than an hour. The bustling working harbour town of Fethiye is only 20 minutes across the water – its old quarter complete with a lively paspatur bazaar crammed with aromatic spices, rugs and leather goods, a tiled fish market where you can choose your own fish for the open grill and a picture-perfect duck pond café.
Tranquil Ece Boutique Hotel (0090 53327 2929; ecehotelsovalye.com) has doubles from €110/£96, B&B.
4. A ghost village
Clinging to the mountainside in the sleepy, agricultural Kaya Valley is the achingly evocative “ghost village” of Kayaköy, an eerie cluster of deserted stone houses, empty streets and little chapels housing the remains of fading frescoes. It was abandoned in 1923 after the Greco-Turkish population exchange, and was the inspiration for Louis de Bernière’s 2004 novel Birds Without Wings. The shells of roofless buildings bake in the hot sun.
Rural retreat The Fig Garden (0090 532 613 8107, thefiggarden.com) has mesmerising views of the village; a two-bedroom cottage costs from £399 per week.
5. Butterflies and a coastal trail
A primeval rocky canyon swirling in mist, Butterfly Valley is a miniature Lost World. More than 100 species of butterfly gather here, amidst waterfalls spilling down through fir trees to an unspoiled sandy beach. It’s reachable by boat from the nearby lagoon resort of Ölü Deniz, or as a downward climb from Faralya, a mountain settlement teetering 350 metres above the gorge. The antithesis of touristy Ölü Deniz, Faralya is an eco-friendly paradise. It’s on the celebrated Lycian Way walking trail, and the gentle, sense-stirring 8km hike from there to the beach-village of Kabak is a sheer magic.
Villa Mandarin (0090 252 642 1002, villamandarin.com) has doubles from €255/£223, HB.
6. Turkey’s longest beach
The 18km stretch of white sand at Patara has been spared development because it’s a protected breeding ground for loggerhead turtles and because of the Roman ruins behind it. The ancient city of Patara was the birthplace of St Nicholas, the 4th-century Bishop now better known as Father Christmas. After a contemplative stroll amidst its colonnaded ruins, which include baths, temples and a theatre, repair to the simple shack restaurant on Turkey’s longest and loveliest beach for a refreshing Efes beer.
The stylish Patara Viewpoint hotel (0090 242 843 5184; pateraviewpoint.com) has doubles from £45, B&B.
7. A crusader castle and a sunken city
The waterfront village of Kaleköy (on the site of ancient Simena) is a location scout’s dream. Flower-filled restaurants, higgledly-piggledy wooden jetties, and dusty backstreets climb steeply to a story-book Crusader castle. Just opposite is Kekova island, where the remnants of the sunken Byzantine city of Batik Sehir can be glimpsed beneath iris waters. As you sail across to the island in a glass-bottomed boat, you’ll glide past a part-submerged Lycian tomb that rises from the harbour like a stone treasure chest.
Pretty Sahil Pension (0090 242 874 22 63, sahilpension.com), bang on the seafront, has doubles for €70/£61 per night, B&B.