THE TURKISH SHORE
Privatsea, Spring 2008
I never fail to travel along the Turkish Coast with less than four well thumbed guide books (all by George Bean of course), a pair of overlapping Admiralty charts and a sheath of photocopies that have been forwarded on by friends to reveal the most recent archaeological discoveries or the address of that isolated taverna that grills fresh fish. Months of advance consultation have gone into designing the perfect maritime route, carefully balancing the excitement of visiting a totally new landscape and the desire to explore a little-visited classical ruin with the need for a couple of dizzy all-nighter's on the town.
All this meticulous advance preparation is entirely necessary while you are in England but melts away once you are afloat on Turkish waters. For life takes over. The daily exultation of a dive in the morning light, waking up without aid of tea or coffee, as you hit the sparkling clear waters of the Aegean. Those long languid Turkish breakfasts served on the sun-ripening after-deck: of dark tea, pithy black olives, tomatoes, cucumbers, thickened yoghurt and homemade jams. Capped by the arrival of a succession of freshly made cheese omelettes and then the first round of Turkish coffees. Then it is time for another swim before the anchor is pulled up from your night-time berth. The reflections of the golden hue of eroded limestone rocks on the shore and the pine forested slopes of the mountains now begin to weaken. This is the time of the general swim, when the arm-band laden youngest children, sleepy fop-haired adolescents, gay uncles, single career-led friends, your mother or father-in-law will all descend into the waters. For if you were not aware of it before, there is nothing like a cruise in Turkish waters to wash away the differences between the four generations, the three classes, the two educations and the thousand creeds. For all are united by an innocent delight in the warm sun and water and day-after-day without decision-making.
Once everyone has showered the salt away and established their own deck space, it is time to move. Watching the shifting coast for signs of tombs, shepherds, deserted villages or looking out for fish and birds (armed with a pair of binoculors) takes my full attention just as sunbathing to i-pod's captivates others. The captain has no need of your detailed charts and will know the right coves for a mid-morning stop, so that everyone can be about their own chosen pleasures: to snorkel, to briskly swim to the shore inorder to dive off rocks, to open out a sketch book or be run ashore by the dinghy in order to scamper up and inspect some picturesque ruined Byzantine chapel. Then as the sun intensifies a canvas sail will be stretched across half the deck to provide protection from the full power of the sun at noon. So there will be time for another short cruise before lunch will be served at anchor in another cove. To drink or not to drink some chilled white wine becomes the central question? Which is then followed by the desire to enjoy a sweaty siesta with your chosen bedroom companion. If you are in charge of children, a rota system should be negotiated centred around the habit of an after-lunch read. You need a certain amount of authority and audibility to start this off (and to cope with any initial sulky reluctance) but if you choose something with a good plot, something by Eva Ibbotson, Cornelia Funke or Michael Murpugo, the enchantment of a good tale read aloud will add yet another languid attraction to the day.
The mid-afternoon is also a good time for the captain to make some headway, though this will be hard work if you are totally dependent on sail. The choice of the late-afternoon anchorage is where your captain can show-off his local knowledge to best affect. One day he might bring you upto some ruins that can be explored in the enchanted light of dusk, on another he can bring his boat up beside a taverna, or choose a deserted shore where he, the cook and the ships boy have time to set up a charcoal grill. It is at this time, if not before, that one can almost taste the connections with the past. For this was the way of all the merchant-venturers of antiquity, be they legendary captains such as Odysseus or Jason, or hard-headed merchants from Tyre, Athens, Corinth, Miletus or Ephesus buying up scrap-iron or ships timbers from these wooded shores. All would have worked their way around this coast, sailing by day, anchoring at night and barbecuing skewers of kebab meat on the shore in the light of dusk. They would also have been constrained by the same sailing seasons that we follow, avoiding the two equinoxes, perhaps risking a week in April or October but otherwise basing their sailing season on Hesiod's proscription of the fifty days either side of midsummer.
If you can get yourself into the full Turkish swing of things, the sunset drinks table should include a bottle of Raki alongside the gin and tonic and whisky and soda. Drinking a glass of Raki seldom fails to make a favourable impression on the captain and as a drink is at its best when you can taste the sea-salt on your lips. Raki is diluted with at least three-parts water to transform itself into lion's milk - 'aslan sutu' [two dotted accents above the two u's] and customarily drunk at a table dressed with a few meze dishes. It is the spirit of the Levant par excellence, first cousin if not half-brother to the Ouzo of Greece, the Arrak of Syria-Lebanon and the Pastis of Marseille. My wine-writer friend Kevin Gould has tasted them all, from the ubiquitous bar-room Yeni Raki to Fasil Blue (which 'delivers a hang-over while you are still drinking it. More hair than dog') but he has pinpointed "Organic Efe' and 'Sari Zeybeck' as the two to watch out for - though it will be no surprise that you have to pay for quality. Drink Turkish wine throughout dinner but try and remain sober enough to play a round of cards, poker dice or backgammon under the light of the moon, an especially relevant time for some light bonding between any teenagers and elderly bridge-players amongst your guests. If you fail to remain sober there is always the pleasant thought of that early morning dive, whichcan cut away at most of the damage of a hang-over.
Route advice? A week is ideal, three days will still make for a memorable experience but if you are going to charter a boat for a fortnight or more, give yourself and the crew a good twenty-four hour long break between guests. Any week in the hands of an experienced local captain will be better than all the advice gleaned from either charts or guide-books, in much the same way that the advice of the local sponge-divers is still preferred by marine archaeologists to the most sophisticated sonar devices. However there are some basic guide-lines that you should be aware of. Bodrum and Antalya have the best night-life and range of hotels but now suffer from too great a tourist hinterland. Goceck remains a small, relatively up-market anchorage and makes the obvious first-time choice. Second best would be Marmaris, a fairly low-market holiday destination which has sprawled out in recent years but yet remains confined within its own bay and overlooked by forested mountains.
The coastline immediately east from Bodrum has been totally ruined by pension-funded villa developments, and some of the bays to the north have been recently colonised by fish farms. So when you leave from Bodrum you will probably head south (for the shore to the west is forested and unspoiled - but also a tad dull). Antalya is the easiest town to assemble your boat-party at, for it has the best transport connections and the fullest range of hotels from gilded 5 star for your sister-in-law to bed and breakfast in an Ottoman house in the old city for the hippy neice. However be aware that the coast east from Antalya (ancient Pamphylia is flat and developed not a cruise destination) which pushes all the boats to the west. So that everywhere within range of Antalya's harbour (especially Phaselis and to a much lesser extent Olympos) can be over-run at midday by day-tripping excursionists. This is also true of the most famous, much photographed 'destination' of the entire Turkish coast which is the sunken Lycian tombs in the bays around Kekova island which has just too busy at lunchtime. However an experienced captain (given some warning of your taste for calm) can time a visit in the quiet hours of the morning or the evening.
Which major sites should we head for? I am a devil for the antique and have now visited the south-western coast of Turkey dozens of times, some of them dedicated to fortnight-long ruin-hunting campaigns. Even so I have still only seen half the sites listed in George Bean's four guidebooks to the classical sites of this region. After all this relentless activity my considered advice is to enjoy boat-life for what it is, and not to diminish this experience with minibus trips into the cities of the interior. See only what can be walked to from a boat in the cooler evening hours - which is most especially true during the summer months of June, July and August.
This still leaves room for plenty of cultural activity. Phaselis, for all the midday hum, is a wonderful sit to approach by sea, overlooked by towering, forested mountains, the ox-head promontory of the city looking out over the two ancient harbours.
Olympos is even more romantic but a lot less easy to explore, half submergd in the forest, its ruins straddling a mountain stream which trickles over the pebble shore to the sea. Like all Lycian cities, tombs litter the surrounding hills where the Chimaera can also be found, a stiff half hour climb up the eroded pilgrim path towards the springlike hollows from out of which flicker burning gas.
Myra is a little inland (on the edge of the modern town of Demre) but its spectacular cliff face-tombs and ancient theatre are well worth a visit, though the sanctity of the old Byzantine church associated with St Nicholas (hence the dreadful municipal statues of Father Christmas/Santa Claus) is a place apart.
An ancient earthquake at Kekova, dropped half the landmass into the sea to create this enchanting region of islands and barren headlands fringed by shallow clear blue-waters from out of which emerge a number of monumental tombs - like a classic image of a lost world. It is a place of utter enchantment but beware of the midday rush to get day-trippers into the village restaurants on time. In which case one can fill the time by exploring the Hadrianic custom-house and docks at the nearby ruins of Andrianake.
Kas stands over the ruins of Antiphellus. Despite new cliff-top development this Ottoman town remains a place of considerable charm with many of the old houses turned into restaurants, bars and killim filled galleries. The odd tomb emerges amongst the modern streets but the only real antique site is the small theatre on the peninsular to the south, form where you can catch a glimpse of the Greek island of Castelrizzo.
Kalkan is even more laid-back than Kas, a pleasant village of a resort with its craft shops, fish restaurants and cushion strewn tea-rooms. Rock bathing rather sandy shores here has helped keep tourism under some control.
Patara with its sand-filled theatre, triple gate-way and scattering of romantic ruins amongst orchards and farmland, just inland from the beach, can make for an entrancing walk in the early morning. A trickle of family run hotels cling to the valley but mosquitoes breed-well in the marshes to the west. Here, sunk amongst pools of water, alive with terrapins, frogs and courting kingsfishers are the excavations of the sacred sanctuary of Letoon. One of the birthplaces of Apollo and Artemis, ornamented with a triple temple (of which only the platforms remain), a theatre and a nypheum dedicated to their mother Leto. Again watch out for the mosquitoes after dusk and the subtle magic. One I was last there I bumped totally by chance into friend who by coincidence was also carrying a new born child - not only were they dressed identically they were born in the same week in the same London hospital. Inland from Letoon are the ruins of the near-legendary city of Xanthus where the Harpys tomb in the British Museum was extracted from.
The inner bay of Fethiye should be avoided (too many hotels) though the offshore islands remain enchanting.
The scattered ruins of Caunus are upriver, halfway between the sea and the riverine town of Dalyan. Overlooked with tombs and a citadel a happy hour can be spent here trying to identify the ruins of a classical courthouse, baths and the theatre. Even better when combined with a river trip up into the inland lake to eat perch and to wallow in some locally esteemed sulphurous mud.
Marmaris can be useful for some shopping (it has a covered souk) though the castle-ruins are at their best when seen at a distance. Generally I would encourage an early departure from the bay - filled until quite late at night by the dull thud of distant disco. Much more fun can be had in the many sheltered coves with their well-wooded hills in which can be found the ruins of the city of Amos, the Byzantine naval fortress of Loryma castle at Bozuk bay as well as some medieval church ruins at Gerbekse (Gerbe killise).
Cnidus is one of the highlights of any boat excursion, not so much for what can be seen here (an agora, a pair of theatres, antique city terraces and the foundations of the famous temple of Aphrodite) but for the situation. An isolated headland, with two harbours, a taverna with a few yachts parked in companionable isolation on what seems the westernmost point of Asia. Datca is the nearest local town (about halfway along the peninsular) which has a lively market and a fabulous restored Ottoman hotel if someone needs some isolated luxury after sleeping cheek by jowl in the a gullet cabin.
Bodrum is a half a days sail due north of Cnidus, though the largely unvisited bay to its south contains the pretty ruins of the island town of Cedrae (on Sehir Ada offshore from the village of Tasbuku) and the scaterred and neglected ruins at Ceramus - best seen if you have a bicycle on board as the Oren harbour is a way out of town.
The actual bay of Bodrum remains as pretty as a picture, dominated by the Castle of Petrumi, built by the Knights of St John of the Hospital from out of one of the seven wonders of the ancient world - the mausoleum of Hallicarnassus which stood just outside the city walls. Aside form its own very real Gothic charm (it was the very last Crusader fortress to hold out on the shore of Asia - until 1523). Its interest has been doubled by the creation of a museum of underwater archaeology littered with the treasures (including recycled glass) recovered from dozens of scub-digs. Close your eyes for at least an hour if you motor west of Bodrum (the hillsides scarred by rabbit-hutch like villa developments) opening them when you moor outside the ruins of Myndos - a wonderful enclave scattered with ruins, carefully restored farmhouses and tavernas.
North from Bodrum is the enchanting ruins of the city of Iasos (which has been patiently excavated and sympathetically restored by an Italian team at work here since the 60's) its maritime approaches guarded by an isthmus capped with a little fort. From the gribby little seaside resort of Alinkumyou can catch a taxi and break my golden rule by travelling inland to see Didyma. It is a small site but beautiful, no more than the ruins of a single temple complex - one of the ancient oracles of the god Apollo.
But don't be encouraged by the success of an expedition to Didyma by plotting any other inland excursions. Ephesus of the Virgin Goddess, statue-filled Aphrodisias, mountain-top Termessos guarded by its tombs, the monolithic sanctuary of Zeus at Labraynda or the near perfect Greek temple found within the ruins of Priene are all too far from the coast and much too complex to be enjoyed in a hurried day trip especially when seen under the blinding glare of a summer midday. For you find yourself dreaming of being on board a wooden boat surrounded by your family and friends, where lunch is being prepared, the drinks are being cooled and you are free at any moment to dive into the sea.
- Shoes that you can swim-in and then walk uphill-in
- Good supply of Sarongs and Kaftans
- Shawl/Jacket for coping with cool evening breezes
- George Bean's guide books: Lycian Turkey, Aegean Turkey, Turkey beyond the Meander, Turkey's Southern Shore.
- The Turkish Coast: Through writers eyes, a magpie's nest of stories, adventures and snippets of travel writing from this coast, edited by Rupert Scott (a resident of this coast - his house is just outside Datca), isbn 978-1906011093
- Cornucopia - top-notch glossy magazine dedicated to all things Turkish and Ottoman which is edited by Lord John Scott and his Turkish wife Berrin.
- Admiralty Charts or their equivalents, such as that produced by Imray: G35 Dodecanese and the coast of Turkey, isbn 978-184623021-9, and G32 Eastern Sporades, Dodecanese & the Coast of Turkey, isbn 978-184623027-1
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by Barnaby Rogerson