Several months ago, as I was indulging in a favorite pastime (planning purely theoretical, budgetless vacations from the pages of Condé Nast Traveler), I came upon a photograph of a beach in southwestern Turkey. It was a beautiful sandy gorge flanked by steep walls of golden rock, but it was the water—the impossibly azure Mediterranean Sea—that kept me from turning the page.
By August, I would be standing in the cool turquoise waves of Kaputaş Beach for myself, one of several awe-inspiring experiences I would have while road-tripping along Turkey’s Lycian Coast. Named for the ancient civilization that once ruled the region between Dalyan and Antalya, the Lycian Coast is the rugged riviera of modern-day Turkey—a sublimely beautiful shoreline that has largely escaped the scourge of overdevelopment. It’s a landscape of pine-covered mountains and pristine shallow coves; quaint fishing villages and quiet country roads. And there’s no better place to spend the weekend than the sloping seaside village of Kaş, a beautiful and charming harbor built on the remains of ancient Antiphellos.
So hop in the car and don’t forget your swimsuit. We’re hitting the Turquoise Coast for the next three days.
The Virgin Suicides
Established in the mid-first century B.C., the Lycian League was the first known democratic federation in history—a coalition of 23 ancient cities that exemplified political unity and individual liberty. The league would eventually dissolve into the Roman Empire, but its influence remained, both in the modern democracies it inspired (that’s us, America) and the mysterious ruins it left behind.
Driving southeast on the scenic D400 from Dalaman Airport, make your first stop at the ruins of Xanthos, the oldest and most important city of ancient Lycia. Famed for its tombs built on high rectangular pillars, Xanthos is also known for its fierce and tragic history. On two separate occasions, the city’s people chose to commit collective suicide rather than surrender to invading armies. And a few miles south, the principal Lycian port of Patara was both the winter home of Apollo and the historic birthplace of St. Nicholas, the man who would be Santa Claus.
Rock The Kaş-Bah
After a morning in the rather charmless outskirts of Fethiye and Kalkan, your first glimpse of Kaş—beautifully unraveling into a wide, island-filled bay—will be a welcome one. Kaş has been a magnet for yachters and divers for decades, yet the town has managed to retain the unassuming character of a workaday fishing village; a colorful, friendly place scattered with jasmine and bougainvillea.
Although the neighboring Çukurbağ Peninsula has no shortage of boutique seaside hotels, it’s hard to beat the ease and style of Saylam Suites, located on the hillside just above town. The views from the upper balconies are incomparable, while restaurants, cafés, and the alluring lounge chairs at Büyükçakil Beach are only a short walk (or complimentary hotel shuttle) away.
Evy Rose Has Its Thorn
In a town full of restaurants boasting classic Turkish meze, locally caught seafood, and canopied garden terraces, Chez Evy has managed to stand alone. A former chef for private yachts, Evy has cultivated an intimate dining experience on (yes) a canopied garden terrace, but the concise menu focuses on simple, delicious French-inspired dishes. Make a reservation for one of the shared tables, and you’ll have a set of new friends by dinner’s end (Terzi Sokak 2).
Sinking In The Rain
A short mountain drive 20 miles east of Kaş will take you 20 years back in time, as the tiny harbor of Uçağiz paints a portrait of the sleepy, tourist-free village that once defined the entire Turquoise Coast. Today, the town’s jetty is your launching point for a blissful day on the water with Mehmet Tezcan, an Uçağiz native and captain of the delightful boat Kumsal. With Mehmet as your personal guide, you’ll spend the day swimming with sea turtles and gliding along the transparent waters of Kekova Bay. And on the northern shores of Kekova Island, keep your eyes peeled for the sunken ruins of ancient Simena, the city submerged by a catastrophic earthquake in the second century.
Back in Kaş, bring the day to a close in the quiet garden of Bahçe Restaurant, a family-run bistro famous for its flavorful meze (İlkokul Sokak 31). And if the weather’s fine, as it always is, stroll down to the harbor to join the locals for an after-dinner Efes or two.
Kaş Is Gorges
If it’s lovely enough to inspire an entire vacation, why not see Kaputaş Beach at its very best—before the afternoon crowds descend on this small, stunning gorge between Kaş and Kalkan. Thanks to its brilliant turquoise water and coarse yellow sand, Kaputaş is a perennial favorite among local swimmers and sunbathers. Just be sure to pack plenty of water, a picnic, and an umbrella—the sun isn’t going anywhere this morning (D400 west of Kaş, park on the road).
The Hiker’s Guide To The Galaxy
Although the Turquoise Coast is most frequently traversed by car or boat, the Lycian Way—a 316-mile footpath connecting Fethiye and Antalya—has drawn hikers to the region since it was mapped by British expatriate Kate Clow in 1999. And while you may not be in the market for a month-long trek, there’s no reason you can’t sample the goods in the mountains near Kaş.
Day hikers will enjoy panoramic views from the ancient mountaintop city of Phellos, the trail to which can be found in the nearby village of Çukurbağ. Not so confident in your trailblazing abilities? The wonderful staff at Bougainville Travel organizes regular day-long excursions for visiting hikers (Ibrahim Serin Caddesi 10).
Island Of The Blue Dolphins
As the sun begins to fall behind the mountains, soothe your sunburned skin and aching legs on the harborside balcony of Dolphin Restaurant. The menu of traditional meze and fresh fish is extensive and tasty—and there’s no better place to soak in one last panoramic view before this long weekend is in the books (Sandlkcl Sokak 7).
A Few Notes
Although many hotels, including Saylam Suites, offer door-to-door airport transfer service from Dalaman and Antalya, don’t underestimate the freedom and ease that a rental car will provide. When reserved in advance, you’ll find competitive rates from the major international chains at both airports.
Okay, you really don’t want to drive? You’re in luck. The legendary Blue Cruise—an intimate, personalized voyage along the Turquoise Coast—is an outstanding alternative. Just find a good captain, a vessel, and a group of seafaring friends with a week or two to spare, and you’ll be exploring deserted Mediterranean coves before you know it.
It seems odd to write about the Lycian Coast without at least mentioning the world-famous Blue Lagoon of Ölüdeniz. My advice? If you’re near Fethiye early in the morning, stop by the Ölüdeniz nature preserve when it first opens. Just be warned, this lovely beach will be swarming with tourists by mid-morning.
TITLE: Büyükçakil Beach | FRIDAY: The seaside town of Kaş; Saylam Suites; Kaş town center; Kaş town center | SATURDAY: The port of Uçağiz; Kekova Bay; swimmers in Kekova Bay; the ruins of ancient Simena | SUNDAY: Kaputaş Beach; Dolphin Restaurant; Ölüdeniz.