Not that long ago getting to the Turquoise Riviera along Turkey’s sun-drenched Mediterranean sea coast was a difficult adventure involving a spine-crushing trek over the Taurus Mountains or a long boat voyage. Today, however, a coastal road (with some parts still under construction) connects some of Turkey’s ancient archaeological sites, stunning beaches, and small seaside villages now ready to welcome tourists.
The best and most frequently visited part of Turkey’s Turquoise Riviera begins in the eastern city of Antalya and travels the coastal road known as 400 to the river town of Dalyan in the west. Along the way expect to be awed at the crystal blue waters and plunging cliffs.
Antalya is Turkey’s third largest city and while most of the city is unremarkable, the old town center known as Kaleici, is a charming walk back to the ancient Ottoman Empire. In ruins as late as the 1980s this historic old town has been brought back to life and completely restored with care and accuracy to its original splendor. Antalya offers visitors palm-lined streets, beautiful beaches, one of Turkey’s best archeological museums, and a charming old harbor. Two days here is just enough to get the flavor of this historic harbor city.
Arrive here the way Roman Emperor Hadrian did in AD 130 through the gate that bears his name. Then, head to the Alp Pasa Hotel in the very heart of the old town. This charming old ottoman residence turned hotel has two beautiful garden courtyards, one with a small pool and outdoor café and one with ancient artifacts that were found on the site during the reconstruction. Deluxe rooms are small by our standards and simple, but feature a Jacuzzi tub to soak in after a long day of shopping and walking. Textiles are made nearby so be ready to bargain for clothes and shoes at the small shops that line the narrow cobblestone streets.
Just a few hours’ drive west along the Mediterranean Sea lays Turkey’s version of the famed cliff-side village of Positano. Like this spectacular Italian town, Kalkan is a laid back beach town on the steep slopes of a mountain that plunges into the sea. The small walking-only town center is dotted with small one- and two-story Greek-style buildings filled with art galleries, shops, and idyllic outdoor cafés. Long leisurely meals at sunset looking out over the bay are the perfect end to a day here. The British have really put Kalkan on the map and flock here in the summer months. This has brought in some very accomplished chefs and gives dinning here a more international feeling than other locations along the coast. The restaurant called Doy Doy’s just above the marina offers the best curried chicken around, and for a chic upscale spot try Aubergene, one of the newest places to open along the water.
Picking the right place to stay in Kalkan can make the trip. Try the White House situated right in the center of town which has a warm, cozy feeling to it. It has only 10 rooms and in keeping with its name everything here is clean and white from the tiled floors to the drapes. Rooms are small, but standard for this area and range from 60 to 90 Euros per night. If size matters the Asiyan Boutique Hotel just two minutes walk from the historic center offer huge rooms by Turkish standards with prices ranging from $60 to $100. The property is only a few years old and run by a delightful young Turkish couple. The size of the property is large and features a swimming pool, the only one in walking distance of the city center.
Kalkan is the in the center of what was once known as the Lycian Way, a federation of 19 states and one of the world’s first democratic nations. This makes it the perfect spot for exploring the rich and well-preserved ruins of some of the once great and beautiful cities that made up this federation such as Latoon and Xanthos.
The road trip ends at the small town of Dalyan which is perched on the banks of a dark green river teaming with fish. This winding river connects a deep fresh water lake with the Mediterranean Sea and was nothing but a small fishing village just 25 years ago. But, an English lady discovered over 140 bird species at the lake and the famous Loggerhead turtles (known locally as Caretta Caretta) and began organizing tours here. Today, the area is a vacation haven for the British who come for the views of the ancient Lycian Tombs that are cut high into the rocky cliffs, the hot mineral mud baths with reported therapeutic properties, and the beautiful three mile Turtle Beach that sits at the mouth of the river. Everything here is about the river and getting to the beach, the mud baths or the beautiful ruined city of Caunos is all by boat. Local public boats travel to the major sites, or hire a boat or water taxi to take you around.
If staying here for a few days, you will want a view of the river and the Lycian tombs which are lit up at night. I recommend the new Dalyan Tezcan Hotel. This very modern, small hotel has the best views in the city of the river and the tombs and rooms come with balconies where you can sit and watch the river sweep by. Prices range from $100 for a riverside room.
Dan Dawson is a travel journalist and dedicated world traveler who has written articles for many publications on adventures abroad. Tell him about your favorite vacation spot at www.WonderlustTravel.com.