Running along Turkey’s southern coast from Fethiye to Antalya near the Syrian border, the Turquoise Coast is a quite simply stunning stretch of land that incorporates Ottoman towns, small fishing villages dazzling beaches.
If you’re looking for a mix of rural beauty, culture and sun-time galore, this is a spot where those three mix in a perfect combination.
I started my journey in Fethiye, which is a bustling seaside town on the west side of the coast. It’s accessible by air from Istanbul and by low-cost airlines from Europe, making it a handy starting point. Its vibrant rooftop nightlife and boutique hotel scene also make it a great place to spend a night or two before heading along the coast further.
The best way to travel the length of that coast is on a wooden yacht, called a gulet. These can be hired from a range of companies along the harbour side and offer varying routes the whole way along the coast to just outside Olympos.
And this really is a sensational way to see a beautiful part of the world. The gulets are multi-cabin and come complete with a chef that cooks up Turkish specialities for the duration of the trip, while an onboard bar keeps things lubricated.
Between Fethiye and Olympos the boat will stop at a selection of sights and beaches along the way, giving you the chance to swim, sunbathe, hike, see local sites and just chill out onboard as the journey goes by.
With an all-Turkish crew manning the ship, you also get to kick back and chat with some locals and learn more about the culture first hand. This is a massive bonus, and something that staying in a hotel can often mean you miss out on.
Among the stops along the route, are diving at Kas, as well as visiting numerous idyllic beaches, including the world famous Oludeniz. Snorkels and flippers are supplied onboard for all to use and they come in handy when you jump in to find a superb array of sea life swimming just below you. Swimming with turtles just before dusk is one of those wow travel experiences when you thank yourself for making this trip happen.
Also at the pit stops in theses coves, other boats come to you with activities on offer, such as a party boat, a pancake (gozleme in Turkish) boat serving serious crepes and nutella, and watersports boats, which you can partake in for a small fee.
Culture wise, most yachts stop at Kas where there is an old city to take in as well as a Hellenistic Temple located just outside the old town. Walking up the hill to reach it in 35C heat as I did is probably not advised!
The route also passes Kekova, the sunken city, a series of ruins left by earthquakes in 2AD that have left the mostly residential ruins of the city visible a few feet below sea level.
After Kekova, Kalekoy is on the itinerary, a gorgeous little town built into the rocks of the coast with an Ottoman fortress built at the top that gives stunning views out across the coast.
The last stop on the itinerary is Smuggler’s Cove, where all yachts stop off on their last night. Located on Kekova Island, it’s a little bar/nightclub on the edge of a beach where everyone comes together to dance and drink the local alcoholic spirit – raki. With sore heads the next day, you’re dropped off by dingy to the shore and then a bus takes you to the town of Olympos. There one can rent tree houses built in the pine forests that surround the town. They are minimal, wooden bungalows, but comfortable, and the town itself is so blissed out and mellow the longer you stay the harder it is to leave.
The town itself is located a few minutes’ walk from one of the most beautiful beaches you will see on your travels, with Lycian ruins running along the cliff above the beach and also at the entrance. It could not be a more picturesque setting.
Also nearby are the Chimaera. These are naturally occurring flames that are visible on the slopes of Mount Olympos. Shuttle buses from your accommodation run there each evening and leave you at the base of the slope. From there you can hike up the steps to reach the flames and sit by the fire while looking back down over the valley.
All of these stops lead to plenty of sensory overload, but after the guts of a week living on boats and in tree houses, five-star luxury is what I craved, and likely what you will too.
From Olympos, Antalya is the next big town along the coast, and with a beautiful Ottoman centre, replete with intact walls and ancient sites, a stunning harbour, and an international airport to get you back to Europe, my tip is to check into the Ramada Plaza Antalya and max yourself out on cocktails. The hotel has its own pool, bar, restaurant and beach built onto the coast , not to mention a stunning view out across the bay.
All that could keep you happy for weeks, but the town centre itself is also worth venturing into in order to see the old town, called Kaleici, which is preserved inside the walls. Walk the length of the walls, take in the Mosque and the clock tower and amble down to the harbour. It’s impossibly beautiful and gives a superb idea of what an old Ottoman town was like, with old rambling streets and fantastic architecture. Then add in the restaurants, and you have a city that makes a perfect place for R&R.
Seraser is the best restaurant in town, fusing Turkish and European cuisine, and serving it on an outdoor terrace. Parlak is also good, located just outside the city walls, and serving a superb collection of mezes and grilled meat.
While Divan Café is the spot to sit back on your last night, smoke some apple-flavoured shisha, and reminisce on what a beautiful coastline you have just visited.
Words and photography by Tadhg Peavoy