We set off to drive from the Bodrum peninsula to Antalya, a drive which took most of the day. We had decided to take the inland route via Denizli rather than the coastal route which we wanted to take on our return. Our route took us across the mountains where we saw many roadside stalls selling locally produced honey – every single clearing in the forest seemed to be filled with row after row of square, blue painted, wooden hives. Men and women stood at the road side waving plastic bags at us and it wasn’t until much later that we found out they were selling wild mushrooms – it’s definitely autumn here now and the weather has been wet recently – perfect conditions for wild mushrooms. Elsewhere we saw necklaces of bright red chillies strung up to dry in the sun and the wind. We had thought we might stop for the night in Korkuteli as it appeared, from the map, to be situated by a large lake but of the lake there was no sign. The town was in a miserable state of dilapidation and it was bitterly cold so we pushed on towards Antalya arriving in the early evening but in the dark and decided to drive a bit further south in search of a smaller town in which to find somewhere to stay that night. Kemer, whose town logo was a pomegranate, proved the answer to our prayers and we found a room in a small family-run pension. Next morning in the garden below our room we watched three local women shelling pomegranates. It’s harvest time for the pomegranates at the moment. One cut the top off and scored the shell into quarters. The other two women, with the pomegranate held in the left hand, used a large stick to thump the fruit on the outside of the skins thus loosening the pips which they then tipped into a bowl. The pips were probably destined to be converted into pomegranate molasses.
We left Kemer and drove further southwest along the coast and out along the Gelidonya Burnu (peninsula) – lots of pine forest and sparkling blue water in the rock bound coves.
In the villages we saw huge local women overflowing in all directions with their voluminous flower patterned pantaloons, garish socks and tattered slippers. We stopped for a fish lunch – delicious – accompanied by a salad of lettuce, tomato, cucumber, onion and parsley with a simple dressing of lemon juice and olive oil.
We had been advised to visit the Olympos valley where the ruins of old Olympos can still be seen. We drove down the valley and across a dry river bed, passing many of the so called tree-houses which provide accommodation for the predominantly Anglophone backpackers but we weren’t tempted to stop and explore. There is no coast road between Olympos and Cirali so we pushed on through the mountains to the valley plain of Cirali with its many pensions hidden amongst the pomegranate orchards and its stunning backdrop of mountains.
Cirali’s beach is famous as it is one of the few remaining breeding beaches for the caretta turtles and is closed for part of the summer when breeding takes place.
We found a place to stay and prepared ourselves for that evening’s adventure. We were going to climb up the mountain side to visit the eternal flame of the Chimaera*. The path is part of the inland Lycian Way and leads further on to a Byzantine chapel and the Tholos of Hephaestus (which we didn’t see, sadly). We started our climb shortly before sunset and there was just enough light for us to complete the stiff 30 minute climb before the last of the dusk faded completely. En route we passed a wishing tree where people had tied scraps of fabric or paper on to the branches with their wishes inscribed on them.
We were as spellbound by the sight of the flames coming out of the earth as early settlers in this area must have been for there are records of the flames going back hundreds of years.
We descended by torchlight and headed for a local café where you could eat à la carte or opt for some of the home cooked food. If you chose this, you could go into the kitchen to investigate what was on offer that particular evening. I had stuffed aubergines. We had a bottle of the local red wine and enjoyed watching Shrek 3 in Turkish, even if we couldn’t understand much, with the children of the café’s proprietors. Next morning I took some photos in their pomegranate orchard
and bought a bottle of the pomegranate molasses (it makes an excellent salad dressing, somewhat reminiscent of balsamic vinegar). The pomegranates on sale were enormous for the rains came early this year.
Amongst the pines masses of tiny wild pink cyclamen carpeted the forest floor.
We continued our route along the coast. As we came down from the mountains towards the town of Kumluca buildings that were constructed on rocky outcrops appeared to be floating on a sea of glasshouses in this region of tomato cultivation.
We stopped off in the town of Demre to visit the church of St Nicholas. Apparently this was the birthplace of the St Nicholas who later became known as Father Christmas. The church/museum was a simple Byzantine building with some painted frescoes in one wing.
artist’s impression of what the church might have looked like
The statue’s left foot has been worn smooth and shiny by many people touching it in an act of faith.
Needless to say St Nicholas mania seems to have taken over and there were many stalls offering St Nicholas memorabilia/icons, etc. for sale in the surrounding streets. Still, it was interesting to see for oneself a piece of legendary history.
Just before Kas we turned inland on an inland loop which would eventually take us to Kalkan. We were going to stay the night at a remote B&B on the Bezirgan plateau run by a Scotswoman and her Turkish husband, who is apparently a very good cook. We stayed in the 150 year old farmhouse which had belonged to his grandparents and which they have now converted and restored.
Errol cooked our dinner – a green salad with figs and small pickled gherkins with blue borage flowers to make it even more attractive, and a moussaka. Although my husband slept peacefully that night (he is accustomed to farm noises) I was awake most of the night as the local cockerels appeared to have no respect for other people’s slumber. In the morning we breakfasted on the terrace surrounded by beds of rosemary and masses of geraniums
before descending to the coast to Kalkan which we had first visited 20 years ago.
This cat had made itself comfortable in one of the plates for sale in Kalkan
The old quarter appeared to have changed little and still played host to shops selling carpets and antique silver jewellery. We found a place to stay the night and then set off to visit the ruins at Patara (reputedly the birthplace of St Nicholas). This part of the Lycian coast, as it is known, (formerly Ancient Greece) is littered with the ruins of ancient cities too numerous to count and many of which are still unsurveyed and unexplored. Patara boasts a large amphitheatre
and originally had a harbour with storehouses for the many products which were traded around the Mediterranean in ancient times (olives, grain, and wine).
From there we drove inland to visit the famous Saklikent canyon, whose full length was only fairly recently descended by canoe and portage. Long before we arrived we were hailed as we passed each café by locals wishing to sell us their trout or gozleme (thin pancakes like French crêpes). We stopped at one and dined off gozleme filled with cheese and herbs and washed down with glasses of tea.
Before leaving we purchased one of the jars filled with layers of different types of nut (almonds, walnut and pistachios) topped up with honey. At the gorge entrance we bought our tickets but refrained from hiring a pair of rubber shoes to walk along the gorge floor in the ice-cold water which rushes down. Unusually for a river bed the stones are sharp as opposed to being rounded by constant tumbling in the water, hence the possibility to hire suitable footwear. The walls of the canyon rose high above us and little sunlight penetrated the depths. The water was that milky blue-ish green of glacial melt water.
Several people had crossed the river and gone further ahead (apparently you can walk a couple of kilometres along the bottom of the canyon) but the poor things looked frozen as they waded back across.
There are a couple of restaurants where the tables have been put on rafts at the water’s edge – it must be nice and cool there in hot weather. We drove back to Kalkan and dined in one of the local restaurants overlooking the bay and reminisced about our first visit. We returned to our hotel hoping for a better night’s sleep but were forced to re-think this as the music coming from the next door bar was very loud. If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em so we did and we eventually got to bed about 1am.
Next morning, suitably fortified by an English breakfast of bacon and eggs (pork is generally unobtainable in Turkey except in tourist areas) we started our drive back along the coast past the resorts of Fethiye, Dalaman and Marmaris. We had decided to try to find a route along the coast rather than head inland towards Mugla-Yatagan-Milas but this proved very difficult. Detailed maps of Turkey are virtually non-existent and no such maps like the British Ordnance Survey maps exist. Detailed maps, if there are any are the preserve of the military. Needless to say it took much longer because of all the twists and turns in the road.
*”Even in antiquity the Chimaera was regarded as a symbol of the volcanic character of the Lycian soil,” Harry Thurston Peck noted. Ctesias (as cited by Pliny the Elder and quoted by Photius) identified the Chimaera with an area of permanent gas vents which still can be found today by hikers on the Lycian Way in southwest Turkey. Called in Turkish Yanartaş (flaming rock), it consists of some two dozen vents in the ground, grouped in two patches on the hillside above the Temple of Hephaestus about 3 km north of Çıralı, near ancient Olympos, in Lycia. The vents emit burning methane thought to be of metamorphic origin, which in ancient times were landmarks that sailors could navigate by, and which today the custodian uses to brew tea. (Wikipedia)