With a foot in both Asia and Europe, a pristine coastline and fascinating ancient cities, Turkey is very much back on the hot list this year. It’s best known as a great destination for a relaxing beach holiday. However, I’m not one to fly and flop, so Explore’s new Active Turkey trip walking and cycling along the foothills of the Taurus Mountains, canoeing from ancient Xanthos to Patara Beach and sea kayaking in Kekova Bay sounded just my thing.
Here are a few of my highlights from a visit at the end of April this year:
Canoe down the Xanthos River
The trip starts in Kayakoy, a peaceful farming community close to Fethiye and around 45 minutes drive from Dalaman Airport. From here it’s a short drive to Xanthos, the capital of ancient Lycia and the start of a 4-hour canoeing trip down the Xanthos River to Patara Beach. Joining a group, with a guide to ensure safety and smooth arrangements, is far easier than planning an independent trip and Paul our Explore guide was both enthusiastic and encouraging as well as being incredibly patient! Who knew that canoeing could be quite so complicated, I don’t remember John Smith and Pocahontas going round in circles or canoeing backwards, my partner and I in our two man canoe were somewhat challenged by the fast flowing currents. Due to snow melt the river was particularly high but after a while it calmed down and we got the hang of things and a chance to enjoy the lovely rural countryside, occasionally spotting a flash of blue as a kingfisher would dart by. The bare chested boatman accompanying us in a separate canoe, a cigarette dangling permanently from his mouth would smile sweetly and point out terrapins covered in mud sunbathing on the bank, the latter a mass of bright yellow acacia trees. The tranquillity of the afternoon only disturbed by the distant call to prayer. En route there’s a stop on the riverbank for a bbq lunch and at a local mud bath to experience the glorious sensation of mud between your toes. Walking back to the canoe with black stocking legs, the journey finishes as the river widens and joins the sea at Patara Beach. The 18 kilometres of golden sand is one of the longest beaches in Turkey and is a protected nesting area for giant loggerhead turtles. At its eastern edge there’s also the ancient city of Patara. Once the principal port of ancient Lycia, and birthplace of the 4th century bishop of Myra, Saint Nicholas – better known as Father Christmas.
Hike to the top of Mount Bozkaya
Movement and activity are especially important in later life. According to a recent analysis of their app users by Strava, the fitness company, middle-aged men and women are exercising twice as often as those 20 years younger, with the over 60s being amongst the keenest. Explore’s Active Turkey Trip offers plenty of opportunity to exercise especially during the moderate graded hike. The 12 kilometre trek goes from 1,500 m through pine, oak and ancient juniper and cedar forests until rising above the tree line to the summit of Mount Bozkaya (Grey Rock) which at 2,050m high has dramatic views over the surrounding peaks and valleys. I’ve done countless hikes around the world but it still surprises me that you don’t have to travel to the Himalayas or the Andes, to experience remarkable mountain scenery and a traditional way of life, seemingly untouched by modern life. We walked through bucolic fields and villages, head scarfed ladies shepherding sheep and goats, stopping for tea made from mountain sage as eagles soared above. I collected cedar roses (the pretty tops of cedar cones) to take home as pot pouri (or some might say another dust gatherer) and marvelled at the vegetation above the tree line, the spiky bushes looking like hedgehogs on steroids. The walk takes between four and six hours and is mostly along a smooth track but it can be rocky and uneven in places.
Enjoy an exhilarating downhill cycle ride
We had all levels of ability in our group but you do need to share a sense of adventure and be fit and confident on a bike. On one of the days I swapped my trusty walking sticks for a bicycle and an exhilarating mostly downhill bike ride in the foothills of the Taurus Mountains. All the activities on the trip were achievable and well organised and although the route was primarily downhill, there were some steep climbs to try. However, the ride is vehicle-supported, so you can decide on your own level of exertion – there’s no shame in having your bike towed on a trailer to the top of the hill if like I was, you’re too tired to continue. We were cycling on mountain bikes that have front suspension, at times on rough forest tracks but difficult sections can be walked.
Explore ancient sites
The trip was also a wonderful way of exploring some of Turkey’s lesser known ancient sites. Xanthos was at one time the largest centre of commerce and religion in the region with a fine Roman theatre and pillar tombs. Now a Unesco World Heritage Site, the city has had a turbulent past, falling to the Persians and then the Romans. In Byzantine times, the city walls were renovated and a monastery was added, but the city was finally deserted after Arab raids in the 8th century. Our kayaking trip took in the charming village of Simena, whose harbour is dotted with ancient sarcophagi (tombs), Roman baths and houses that cling to a hillside beneath a medieval castle. Hiking up to the castle, there’s a tiny ancient theatre (the smallest in Lycia, with a seating capacity for about 300 people) within its walls. Those with a hankering for culture, won’t be disappointed.
Sea kayak in the protected Bay of Kekova
I’m a water baby, both in or on the water (I am after all a Piscean) so it was the day sea kayaking in the tranquil and protected bay of Kekova that got my biggest thumbs up. We started early and after a safety briefing, paddled our double or single kayaks towards the rocky island of Kekova before any other boats or kayakers had taken to the water. It’s one of the most scenic areas in Turkey, a set of idyllic islands, bays and small ancient cities. The turquoise waters that give the turquoise coast its name were just crying out for a dip, so after a gentle hours kayaking, I was the first to pull my kayak a shore and head into the water for a refreshing swim. It’s also home to the so-called sunken city of Kekova, which is the result of various earthquakes that have partly submerged the streets and buildings, which are now visible in the crystal clear waters. At all times there was safety boat behind us, keeping its distance but still reassuring to hear the put-putting of the engine and know that it was there. After an appetising lunch of meze and grills at a waterside restaurant in Simena we took to the waters again, paddling through a labyrinth of rocks, passing the shoreline necropolis of Teimiusa to reach Ucagiz, our starting point.
Relax in Kas
The first and last nights of the trip are spent at a family-run hotel (the deliciously named ‘Muzzy’s Place’) in Kayakoy and the rest of the trip in the traditional harbour town of Kas. Kas is the antithesis of the big resorts further up the coast, it’s one of the most beautiful ports on the Turkish Riviera with a dramatic backdrop of steep limestone cliffs. No big beaches so to speak but this isn’t a trip for lying on the beach. However, the lack of sand means the water is crystal clear and there are still jetty’s and pebble beaches to swim from. It was a wonderful place to relax after adventure packed days with plenty of cafes and restaurants spilling out onto cobbled streets, and for the shopaholics amongst us to snap up some bargains. Turkey is currently excellent value.
As I get older I’m finding I have much more of a desire to accumulate memories rather than possessions and climbing Mount Bozkaya, watching the surrounding mountains shyly showing their faces as the clouds parted, kayaking in utter peace on a mirror calm sea and above all cycling downhill at speeds faster than my little 50cc moped could ever muster are a few I shall treasure.
Prices for Explore’s Active Turkey trip start from £745 per person including flights, internal transfers, seven nights’ accommodation, seven breakfasts, four lunches and two dinners. For more information visit www.explore.co.uk or contact 01252 883 962.