Turkey’s historic isles a siren call
Sailing masts sway softly in the breeze as small boats of varying colours sit precariously in the clear waters. The sun is making its presence known, with diminutive clouds accomplishing little to relieve the heat. This is Gocek, Turkey — a secluded harbour surrounded by an archipelago of bottle-green islands.
A well-known departure and arrival point for travellers, Gocek was named Kalimche in ancient times, when it was a Lycian settlement. Situated between Dalyan and Fethiye, the harbour is a perfect starting point for a sail around the Mediterranean — whether it is a short cruise through the deep, inky-blue Turkish waters or seafaring abroad to the neighbouring Greek Islands.
Turkey has one of the longest sailing seasons in the Med, and April-late October is conducive to this. Our sail with MedSailors — a London-based company for ages 20-35 — was to take place over seven days, starting in Gocek and passing through Karacaoren, Kas and Kalkan, followed by Coldwater Bay and Fethiye, ending in the bays of Skopea Limani.
Gocek Harbour is a well-known port for sailing travellers.
Arriving in Turkey, we head to Gocek Harbour to ravenously fill our stomachs with meze and chargrilled meats cooked in a barbecue-style hibachi. A Turkish man in his late 50s balances piles of pide in his arms while, in the harbour, a yacht proudly displaying the Turkish flag sails past, its occupants soaking up the sun on the deck and giving us a glimpse of what our upcoming sail will hopefully entail.
Gocek has plenty of harbourside restaurants offering delicious local seafood.
Later, we meander down to the dock with our luggage in tow, greeting the sun-kissed captain of our MedSailors yacht and the other travellers in our flotilla.
We peer into the cabin that will be our home, decked out with wooden panels, four small rooms and a kitchenette. We begin our late- afternoon sail soaking up the sun on the hull, a refreshing sea spray showering the front of the boat. Later, on paddleboards, we explore a hidden cave of crumbling limestone before diving into waters so crystal clear that schools of brightly coloured fish can be seen frolicking below.
Karacaoren has magnificent sunset views.
Then, as the sun begins to dip behind the clouds in a purplish haze, our captain steers the boat into the bay of Karacaoren, just east of Gocek. Partially sheltered by reef, its clear waters and inner moorings make for perfect anchorage and snorkelling conditions. The only sign of human habitation is a rickety wooden taverna. A resident harbourmaster with long, dark dreadlocks and fading ankle bracelets directs us to our mooring point. He speaks in broken English to our captain and we learn of the abundant meze and fresh seafood the Karacaoren Restaurant prepares.
After a snorkel, the harbourmaster ferries us to the restaurant perched high on a hill.
With smells of fresh seafood lingering, he hands us menus detailing spicy Mediterranean casseroles, lobster mains and hand-caught fish. He tells us stories of local fisherman spearing lambfish, groper and swordfish near the small islands not far from the restaurant.
Given its height, the view from the restaurant is mesmerising, the lulling lights of the yachts contrasting with the meditative glow of the mauve and crimson sunset illuminating the islands and the faded Moon in the distance.
En route to our scheduled second-day destination we pass the Blue Cave. At 50m long, 35m wide and 17m high, it is said to be the largest-known sea cave in Turkey. The distinctive blue colour comes from the reflection of the water, which captures the shine of the sky on its surface. We anchor near the cave and, after some snorkelling, we put together a lunch organised by MedSailors — a salad of roasted peppers, olives and cheese just perfect for a warm day on the Mediterranean.
The Mediterranean-style houses of Kas spill down the mountainside.
We soon arrive in Kas, a former fishing village characterised by rich limestone cliffs, cobblestoned pathways and a bustling waterside area. As we wander the town looking for a bite to eat, the locals greet us with a nod or a gesture.
Cascades of purple bougainvillea shade the winding ancient paths, giving colour to the white stalls poking out from underneath shady umbrellas offering colourful fruits, spices and nuts, and an array of arts and ceramics. After dining on tahini and hummus, we finish the night off with a spot of shisha at a rooftop bar, the lights of Kas Marina sparkling below.
In the morning we are greeted by the early rising sun, the soft oranges creating a misty hue across the undulating mountains protecting the marina. The yachts can be heard rocking gently as the town sleeps on. We indulge in an early breakfast of fresh fruit before heading off to Kalkan, a short few hours sail away. Nestled at the foot of the Taurus Mountains, Kalkan was once a convenient hiding place for pirates before becoming an important port in the 19th century.
A tour bus arrives to meet our flotilla at Kalkan’s port and we board, heading towards Saklikent Gorge. Also known as the Hidden City, it is the second largest gorge in Europe. To make our way into the 300m-deep natural wonder, we make use of our rented water shoes and wade through the icy river, where locals and tourists alike are bathing, undeterred by the temperature of the water. The grey sculpted walls of the canyon tower above us, casting a welcome shade as we trek through the slippery rocks.
Later, we head back to the banks of the river, where locals have set up wooden seating areas for restaurants. We sit on the rugs and pillows with a drink — cooled by the icy temperature of the river — in hand.
Passing the UNESCO World Heritage-listed ruins at Letoon and Xanthos, we make it to Patara Beach just before sunset. The long, wide stretch of pure white sand is bordered on its ends by mountains and along its length by sand dunes.
From May until October, the beach closes after sunset and, as the sun sets behind thatched umbrellas, people float in the warm waves while Turkish men pack up the remaining sun beds and close the cafe resting on stilts overlooking the water.
The next morning we sail to Coldwater Bay, or Bestas Limani, named after the spring that feeds the bay from the Taurus Mountains. From here, we wander the marble streets of the Greek ghost town of Kayakoy before feasting in a local taverna. Kayakoy was abandoned following the Turkish-Greek population exchange of 1923, leaving its houses, about 500 of them, untouched.
Ruins at Gemiler Island.
We awake in Coldwater Bay to some homemade pancakes from an elderly woman who approaches us on a tattered boat. En route to Fethiye, we sail a short distance towards the historic Gemiler Island where we take a dinghy to its harbour. Once on the island, we explore the remains of some Byzantine buildings, churches and scattered mosaics, climb hills and walk over broken steps and archways, including an ancient covered walkway which, according to legend, was built for an albino princess who had to be protected from the sunlight.
While waiting for the dinghy to pick us up we dangle our feet over the tilting jetty, watching the schools of fish swim below.
When all five yachts are ready, we have a friendly race to the buzzing town of Fethiye, its natural harbour tucked away in the southern reaches of a broad bay scattered with pretty islands.
For lunch, we visit a lively fish market where we pick the fish we wish to eat and have it cooked in front of us. After lunch, we indulge in a traditional Turkish bath, or hammam.
On our sixth sailing day, we reach the beautiful bays of Skopea Limani. With numerous sheltered coves dotted with pine trees, this enclosed gulf is renowned as one of the most stunning sailing areas in Turkey.
We climb the hill near our flotilla, to get to the secluded beach on the other side.
Swimming in the clear waters, we spot loggerhead turtles and dolphins from afar — the perfect ending to an awe-inspiring holiday filled with natural and historical wonders.
© The West Australian
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