Highlights of Lycia
by Jack Scott
Ancient Lycia is a mountainous coastal region of south-western Turkey, often described as the Turquoise Coast. The epitaph is justly applied as it is one of the most unspoilt areas on the Anatolian tourist trail, featuring sparking blue-green waters, long sandy beaches, high cliffs littered with rock tombs and hills smothered in pine forests. The small resort of Kaş sits at its heart and is a great base to explore the embarrassment of riches that are liberally scattered across the countryside. Hire a car and explore the must-sees.
Kaş is a sparkling Bohemian jewel, surrounded by a pristine hinterland that has been mercifully spared the worst excesses of mass development due to the wilting two hour drive from the nearest international airport. The town has a laid-back, laissez-faire vibe with a good selection of restaurants and hotels to suit every budget and taste. Kaş’ twee smaller sister, Kalkan, is a few miles west along the hairpin coastal road and appeals to a wrinkly, wealthier crowd.
Fethiye is a vibrant and fast-growing resort with the largest expat community on the Aegean. Its appeal attracts Brits in particular. About 7,000 have made their home in the town and the conurbation of boxy resorts that flank the resort. Fethiye is a town in transition, regularly receiving an off-season nip and tuck. Fethiye’s small museum is worth a visit if only to see a stele (stone slab) discovered in Letoon and dating from 358 BC. The stele helped decipher the Lycian language as it is inscribed in Lycian, Greek and Aramaic. Carved into a cliff on the south side of the resort is the Tomb of Amyntas. Rock tombs are ten a penny in this part of Asia Minor. The Lycians were fond of interring their dead relatives halfway up a precipice. What makes the Tomb of Amyntas different is that it’s the size of a small temple.
14 kilometres south of Fethiye is the iridescent lagoon of Ölüdeniz (literally Dead Sea because of its calm waters). The beach at the head of the lagoon is one of the most photographed in the world and the image on a thousand and one posters. The downside to being a poster girl is that the beach is nose to nipple during the heat of the season.
Kayaköy is a picturesque tumble down and deserted former Greek settlement and the largest ghost village in Anatolia. The village was abandoned after the innocent-sounding ‘population exchange’ that occurred in 1923 following the Greco-Turkish War. The trade in souls was a curious and unique episode in modern history in thatit was mutually agreed by both Greek and Turkish Governments. 1.5 million Greeks from Anatolia and 500,000 Turks from Greece were forcibly expelled from their centuries-old communities and ‘repatriated’ to their so-called homelands.
Patara is home to two unique attractions – a stunning 18-kilometre secluded stretch of soft white sand and the ruins of ancient Patara, once the main seaport of ancient Lycia. Meander through the sprawling ruins which, until recently, were partially covered by dunes, then bathe in the shallow waters of the bay. A word of warning. Patara is used by rare loggerhead turtles to lay their eggs. As a protected site, little development is permitted and there’s next to no shade. It’s best avoided in middle of the day when the sun is at its strongest. And don’t step on the eggs.
Letoon and Xanthos
Taken together, the cult sanctuary of Letoon and the city of Xanthos, the former capital of Lycia, constitute a UNESCO World Heritage site. The delicate and partially reconstructed ruins of Letoon, once dedicated to the Goddess Leto and her twins, Artemis and Apollo, are hidden inconspicuously among some fields. Nearby, Xanthos tumbles over a hill top and awes with its scale and picture postcard aspect.
Built on five terraces high above a fertile plain, Arycanda was a leading city of old Lycia. The ruins are impressive and largely intact as the abandoned city’s high isolation prevented the dressed stones from being plundered in later periods. Unlike more famous sites like Ephesus, Arycanda isn’t overrun by coach tours so the chances are you’ll have it all to yourself. The city’s position, perilously perched on the side of a lush mountain provides a spectacular vista and a happy snapper’s delight.
The tumbledown and overgrown city of Olympos is located in a valley leading to a broad shingle beach near the present-day village of Çıralı and is the centrepiece of the Olympos Coastal National Park. The area is a back-packer’s paradise and popular for trekking and adventure sports.
This 18-kilometre gorge is hundreds of feet deep, transports vast quantities of crystal-clear snow melt from the Taurus Mountains every year and is virtually invisible until you get inside. Traverse the wooden walkways to get to the mouth of the gorge, wade knee-deep through freezing open waters and ascend the four kilometres that are walkable. Wear sensible shoes you don’t mind getting wet, be prepared for bruises as you will slip and don’t visit before April or you’ll likely drown.
If you’ve not been totally ruined out, take a trip to pretty Phaselis, yet another Lycian city. A 24-metre-wide ancient street runs through the middle of town lined with Roman-period ruins. Phaselis is a city of three pretty harbours, a perfect place for a dip in the warm waters and a picnic under the shade of a pine tree.
The Lycian Way
If trekking gets the blood racing then take a stroll along the Lycian Way, Turkey’s first long-distance walk. The stunning 500-kilometre coastal trail from Ölüdeniz to Olympos has featured in ‘Time’ magazine and was selected by the BBC as one of the world’s 30 best walks. The route snakes over the steep coastal cliffs, dips to isolated beaches and meanders through pine forests. It’s a hiker’s wet dream.
Jack Scott is the accidental author of the critically acclaimed ‘Perking the Pansies, Jack and Liam move to Turkey’ – a bitter-sweet, tragi-comedy recalling the first year of a gay couple in a Muslim land. www.jackscott.info
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