Why Turkey’s south western beaches are taking flight this spring
Ancient sites and untouched beaches: Angelina Villa- Clarke on a fab corner of Turkey’s Turquoise Riviera
In the abandoned town of Kayakoy, the streets are dusty and thyme grows tall and wild, scenting the air with a sweet piquancy. Derelict houses have gaping windows; ancient churches are in ruins, their frescoes faded and mosaics crumbling.
Glance into the distance, however, beyond the pine forests on the hills below, and you can see the bright turquoise glimmer of Turkey’s south-west coastline. In this ghost town, the eeriness has a captivating quality, transporting you far away from the merriment of the seaside. Kayakoy is a 30-minute meandering drive uphill from the sun-baked, coastal town of Fethiye, and a morning spent here gives a meaningful snapshot into the region’s past.
Originally called Levissi, Kayakoy has been abandoned since 1923, as a reminder of a dark patch of Turkey’s history. It was once home to some 6,000 Greeks who were forced to leave following the ‘population exchange’ which was the result of the war between Greece and Turkey. Preserved in ruins, a visit here is a poignant one.
Back in the welcoming arms of Fethiye, it is easy to fall back into the carefree ways of this corner of the Mediterranean. A stroll around the marina means you can gaze at the luxury yachts, and pit stop at one of the seaside tavernas. Look out for Menemen, found on most menus it is a variation on shakshuka, made with eggs, tomato, green peppers and spice, while pide is a flatbread topped with ground beef and melted cheese – delicious washed down with a glass of sweet black tea.
The bazaar (on Tuesdays and Fridays) is also fun to wander around, taking you into the heart of the old town, where you brush shoulders with locals buying groceries and haggling over freshly-caught fish. The stretch of coastline is spectacularly pretty – dramatic rocks and vertiginous forests shielding the impossibly cerulean waters, which are dotted with secret bays and hidden coves.
There are enough ancient sites to keep history buffs happy, from the Lycian rock tombs, dating back to the 4th Century BC, found high above Fethiye, to the Temple of Artemis in Selçuk, one of the Seven Wonders of the World (not only that – it was the best of the bunch according to Antipater of Sidon, the ancient Greek poet who devised the list). The Lycian Way, a hiking trail that stretches some 300 miles from Fethiye to Antalya, is ideal for those wanting an active break, taking you past the area’s highlights.
A 20-minute drive south from Fethiye brings you to Hillside Beach Club, found camouflaged in the hills over Kalemya Bay. Just before you arrive you’ll drive through a shipyard, where local carpenters work on the bones of towering ships. It’s an insight into the fact that the seafaring heritage of this area is still strong. As well as a thriving fishing industry, Fethiye has long beckoned visitors from afar to arrive by boat, including the ancient Greeks who arrived in the 5th century BC to make this their home.
These days, of course, most travellers arrive by plane into Dalaman Airport, and within an hour can check into the white-washed rooms at Hillside Beach Club. Set along a wide arc of a beach, the resort has been inspired by a local village, the pink roofs of the rooms peeking out from pine and carob trees, and adorned with tumbling, shocking-pink bougainvillea.
On the main beach, there is a huge selection of sporting activities, such as paddle boarding, tennis and volleyball. You can learn to sail, try knee-boarding or go sky-skiing. Every morning and evening there is a choice of yoga classes, from Iyengar to Vinyasa, and at Artside, you can try your hand at a number of creative pastimes, such as silk painting or marbling. There’s a strong line-up of annual events, with the resort teaming up with the British Film Institute (in May to June) to offer a week of summer screenings, as well as interactive workshops, talks and cinema-themed activities.
The sunset sailing takes you to the effervescent Aquarium Cove, named so because of its rich marine life. You can dive in and snorkel with stingrays and clownfish
Hillside also hosts an offshoot of the London Jazz Festival (29 September to 2 October) and, in August, there’s an annual classical music concert, which sees the Antalya Symphony Orchestra play on a floating stage.
For doing nothing, Silent Beach is just the place. You reach it by following a winding path cut
into the cliffs, wandering past floating sun-platforms bobbing in the water, and by a little ‘beach library’– a cabinet filled with books for you to borrow – found on the path. The clue is in its name. With no phones or children allowed, it is blissful. To wind down even more, book into Thanda Nature Spa. Tucked behind Silent Beach, it is built over a running stream and has an organic design, with sea-grass matting lining its walls and pebbles inlaid into floors.
Traditionally-inspired treatments include the Turkish hammam and the Aegean Seeds Massage, which uses essential oils of grape, fig and pomegranate extracts. Authenticity is key at Hillside, with local cuisine championed at the Main Restaurant where chefs serve zeytin piyazi salads, made with diced tomatoes, onions, chopped herbs and dukka (a mix of herbs, nuts and spices), and the Turkish flatbread Gozleme, stuffed with herby minced lamb, delivered straight out of a stone-bake oven.
There’s also freshly-caught local fish, from Eskina to Bream; Cipura to Bluefish, cooked to order and delivered to your table with Lahmacun bread and haydari (garlic yoghurt with mint). For dessert, you can indulge with syrupy baklava, pistachio cakes and Künefe, which is made with spun pastry and layered with melted, unsalted cheese.
For something special, the Pasha On The Bay restaurant offers a seemingly endless series of Turkish mezze dishes, served at tables by the water’s edge. Or, at the beachside Italian Restaurant, you can tuck into a seven-course menu, which changes daily according to what produce is available. Think misto fritto; artichoke salad; Linguine with lobster tail and seabass cooked with rosemary and Aegean vegetables.
One of the highlights at Hillside is a trip aboard a traditional three-masted, wooden gulet boat. The sunset sailing takes you to the effervescent Aquarium Cove, named so because of its rich marine life. You can dive in and snorkel with stingrays and clownfish. As the sun dips low, the sky is streaked with pink, copper and gold. It feels like this is one of the last undiscovered corners of the Med.
Visit Turkey yourself
Nightly rates at Hillside Beach Club start from £322 based on two people on a full board basis. Hillsidebeachclub.com
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