Head to Turkey off season, and you will be in for a treat. While the Great British nation mostly heads there in the sweltering summer, going to the Aegean coast in spring is a gift that just keeps giving!
The crossroads between Europe and Asia, Turkey is a fascinating country, and its stunning scenery, sandy beaches and great food, means Turkey is having a moment, and recognition from UNESCO and other organisations has helped it pulse more brightly over the recent years.
A short hop from all London airports, the southern regions of Dalyan and Fethiye are particularly appealing; Not as touristy as the resort-led Marmaris and Bodrum, these more relaxed destinations offer a more personal vacation, with family run and boutique hotels, perfect for a chillaxed vibe.
With the weather remaining in teens to early twenties throughout our grey and miserable winter months, December – April is the perfect time to jet over to Turkey for a bargain off-season holiday. And you will struggle to find a place better suited to nature lovers, water sports fans, or anyone looking for an a diverse and healthy break.
The mild weather and diverse coastline make the South Aegean a year-round destination for hikers and mountain bikers, which both fit with the region’s eco-friendly ethos. New routes and tracks have been developed in 2018 around the Koycegiz, Ortaca and Dalaman region, with well-marked trails range from ultra-technical tracks to gentle lakeside circuits for all levels of experience of walker and rider. Bringing your own bike is encouraged in most hotels, but if you just get the urge to hop on and explore the stunning scenery when you arrive, you can also hire bikes from Eco Trails or join an organised touring group.
Once you have worn yourself out from hiking or biking, a leisurely boat ride down the Dalyan river, is even more enjoyable off season. A slow meander from the Köyceğiz Lake, ending up at Iztuzu Beach, is a delight at any time of year. Traversing between the impressive Taurus mountains, you can’t help but me mesmerised by the 2,000-year-old Lycian tombs, which are proudly carved into the rock cliff face above the ancient harbour city of Kaunos, and time seems to stand still.
Finally, the river winds into the Mediterranean Sea and Turkey’s famous Iztuzu Beach, where the sea turtles come to breed. In the summer the turtles come out after dark, so no tourists are allowed there after 8pm; But in the winter months you are welcome any time. Even if it’s not sunbathing weather, the beach is well worth a visit for it’s endless sand and views. It is also home to the Caretta turtle hospital, which is run by volunteers and medical students who come from all round the world to study and cure the ailing turles.
Along with sandy beaches, crystal clear water and delicious seafood, Turkey has a colourful past, shrouded in mystery. Divided over the centuries by numerous wars, the Greeks, Persians, and Romans have claimed the land as their own, but after the fall of the Ottoman Empire in 1918, Turkey re imagined itself into the vibrant, colourful and cosmopolitan country it is today.
Take a trip to the Abandoned Village of Kayakoy, also known as the “Ghost Town”. Steeped in history, this village might look ancient, but is actually quite modern, and was a working village in the 19th century, with the Greeks and Turks living side-by-side. However, the loss of the First World War, the end of the Ottoman Empire and the attempted Greek occupation of the Anatolian region, were all factors in the decline of Kayakoy.
Now just a shell (it was further destroyed by an earthquake in the fifties), the deserted ruins of this once-bustling town are a sharp contrast to the surrounding towns where life is buzzing. The yacht-filled harbor at Olu Deniz is a stone’s throw away, but the village has nearly 350 homes sitting empty and useless. However, Kayaköy was adopted by the UNESCO as a World Friendship and Peace Village, and there are a smattering of low key bars and restaurants emerging, along with wild vegetation and artisan workshops popping up, which might slowly reclaim the land and return it to its former glory.
Another ancient site which is well worth a visit at any time of year s the Saklikent Milli Park; A natural wonder, visitors can explore the towering cliffs and walk through the gorge. Very narrow in places, it is advisable to take a guide and hike along the river bed; The water is very cold and flows quite strongly, so be prepared with sensible shoes (flip flops are a no no as they will get washed away!)
Once you get back to solid ground, the chilled village is a great pitstop of lunch. Enjoy swinging in a hammock, whilst listening to the sounds of nature, taking time out from real life!
A more novel way of seeing Turkey’s attributes are from above. Have you ever thought about voluntarily being pushed off the side of a mountain? Neither had I! But Fethiye has a reputation for paragliding, so I jumped at the chance to burst my gliders bubble at Babadag Mount. Words cannot express how free you feel as you float through the clouds and slowly transcend the mountains, over the deep blue sea. You are free falling with a guide who is basically your lifeline (and the weather condition is your god). But there is nothing more liberating, or more satisfying than the birds eye view you have, and as the beach beckons, the 1900 metres you have just travelled, seem another world away.
If you are craving a little more action, Fethiye is a more bustling city, with locals going about their business even in the winter; The tourist bars and restaurants might not be so busy, but there is plenty to attract a winter guest to this pretty seaside town. This port city is nestled on Turkey’s southwestern Turquoise Coast.
Downtown Fethiye fish market is a MUST. The place is always full of locals enjoying the fresh fish cooked by the local restaurants. Thursday is market day- don’t forget to haggle. It is also the place to snap up a bargain. There are plenty of fake goods in Turkey, and don’t be afraid to haggle! I can’t guarantee how long they will last though. But the Turkish Delight from the family run Servet Sekerleme is truly original and moreish!
No visit to Turkey would be complete without a Turkish bath to complete your holiday glow. Still popular with the locals, there are many open air mud baths available, and it is a very pleasurable way to while away an afternoon. Most will offer a large mud bath, a hot spring thermal pool and spa, and will more often be beside as a lake (ideal in summer and for the brave in winter) to wash off any debris. Visit Köyceğiz Lake and enjoy drinks or lunch at the restaurant, but don’t forget to bring a towel and soap.
Turkey is a great place to take you back to basics, and somewhere where you can appreciate traditions, natural beauty, authentic locals and adventure. Make of it what you will but there is no doubt you will want to come back- the cheese and spinach borek will have you hooked!