by Sally Hill  © 2006

Arriving at Antalya by bus from Central Turkey, Trevor, Mishca and I headed straight for Setur Marina, west of the city, on the Mediterranean Sea.  Later that day we were boarding a gulet for a week's cruise along Turkey’s Turquoise Coast to Kaş and back.  After several months of hectic travel we were looking forward to relaxing, exploring and soaking up the history of this fascinating area.

The sun shone down in a vertical haze.  It was August and hot - hot enough to fry eggs on the pavement.  Shrugging off our packs, we collapsed like wet rags in the only shade available.

Along the waterfront, gulets lay in the glassy water, cheek by jowl.  It was siesta, nothing stirred.  We studied the boats with mounting excitement and delight.

Each was a work of art, lovingly handcrafted from pinewood, which gleamed in the sunlight.  Traditionally these vessels were used for transport along the South West coast of Turkey.  Now they are built with the comfort and luxury of charter yachts in mind for the tourist market.

The prototype gulet is a ketch with a sharp bow, broad beam and rounded aft.  They are motor sailors, equipped with motors and one or two sails, although they rarely sail.  Because of their weight they are more suited to cruising and their top speed is a very leisurely 8-10 knots.  In length they vary from 16-35 metres – most gulets can accommodate eight to 14 guests in four to seven cabins.  Some are very luxurious sporting air-conditioning, ice machines, spacious mahogany interiors, teak decks and a large galley.  Cabin or private charters are available.  You can either rent a cabin, joining three to six other couples or rent the entire gulet and its crew with a decisive say in your route/itinerary and activities.  We had chosen the former.

Later that afternoon our captain, Ilhan, and crew of two (deckhand and cook) arrived along with the other passengers and we were welcomed aboard Sevgi 6. We were a mixed bunch: three Kiwis, four Belgians, two Germans and four Brits.  Our gear stowed we checked out the boat.  Each cabin had an en-suite with hot and cold water.  The three of us were sharing so there wasn’t a great deal of room.  There was a canopied forward sun deck with comfortable swabs and a canopied aft deck with cushioned seating and facilities for outdoor or indoor dining.  Safety equipment included a dinghy, a ship-to-shore radio, mobile telephone and life jackets.

The Brits left after dinner – “it is not what we expected.”

She was not luxurious (no air-conditioning here) but she was comfortable and spotlessly clean.  She felt, and proved to be, a well-loved, happy boat.

We spent the rest of the evening cheerfully chatting before settling for the night.

At first light, we breakfasted and set off along the coast.  Mishca and I had sweltered in the cabin.  Thereafter we opted to sleep in the open on the sundeck, as did Rudi and Hilde, Marc and Mieke and Levant and Adelete.  We were all witnesses to a week of spectacular sunsets, balmy moonlit nights and sunrises to die for.

The lick of the breeze as we basked in the sun was sheer pleasure.  This mountainous, rugged coastline is also known as the East Lycian Coast.  Holding a distinctive place in ancient Anatolian history, the Lycians are thought to be an indigenous, pre-Hittite people with their own language and customs.  The sites of over 30 ancient cities have been found, and even now the most obvious features of the Lycian landscape are the tombs and sarcophagi left where ruins have disappeared.

We reached Olympus at midday, a beautiful bay and stretch of beach overlooked by the ruins of Byzantine-Geonese fortifications.  The site of ancient Olympus is found on the banks of a shaded stream running between high cliffs.  It was making its own coins in the second century BC and is though to have been an important city in the Lycian Federation.  It is only an hour’s walk from here to see the eternal flame of the Chimaera, best seen in the dark.  Flames appearing from cracks in the bare hillside, unique to this spot, have been burning since antiquity giving rise to the legend of the Chimaera, a fire breathing monster with a lion’s head and forelegs, a goat’s rear, and a snake for a tail.

We spent the afternoon swimming and snorkeling in the warm crystal clear waters before motoring to a secluded bay and anchoring for the night.  Each night we joined, or were joined, by a few other gulets and ketches, some of which we soon came to recognise and although we never met we enjoyed the personalities of each, especially Sinbad the “party boat” which entertained us each night along with Mehmet, our cook, who sang beautifully.  Blessed with a wonderful voice he sang his way around the boat and we were seranaded each evening.

We experienced a glitch the next morning and were forced to head for Demre – plumbing problems!  We were, however, in for a treat.  While the problem was being seen to we were treated to a visit to the local haman (Turkish bath).  Nearly every town of any size has several haman.  Unusually we all, men and women, shared the main bath chamber or hararet at the centre of which was the göbek Laşi or “navel stone”, a raised marble platform positioned above the wood or coal fired furnace.  We lay in our bathing suits on the hot, smooth, surface with a high domed ceiling above, sluicing ourselves down with cold water.  We were then led to a semi-private corner room for a massage from the tellâk or masseur who used a kese (abrasive mitt).  After losing untold layers of skin and grime, we emerged and relaxed with an apple tea before heading back to the boat squeaky clean.  

It is in Demre where the Church of St Nicholas – Father Christmas fame – is found and just to the north is the ancient city of Myra, capital of Lycia in the fifth century.  Time being short, we missed visiting this site but Ilhan told us about the acropolis, at the foot of which lie remnants of the largest and finest theatre in Anatolia.  Also found are large numbers of rock-cut tombs sculptured from the western scarp.  They imitate wooden houses and shrines with pillared facades and reliefs.  

Back on Sevgi 6, problem fixed, we motored to Gök kaya Bight where we swam, snorkeled and anchored overnight.  All snorkelling gear was supplied, and many hours were spent floating in blue translucent water watching shoals of tiny fish, oblivious to the world above.

Ilhan knew the coast like the back of his hand.  He and his crew, Alper and Mehmet, worked as a very professional, happy and relaxed team.  Each night he chose a secluded cove where we anchored off the bow, then Mehmet would swim ashore and secure another line from the stern to a tree or some other solid support, to allow for the evening land breeze.  The coast between Antalya and Kaş is notorious for the meltemi wind which, even in high season can sometimes blow for weeks on end, causing moist air conditions and low visibility.  Luckily this was not our fate.  The weather remained hot and sunny, and the sea calm, for the entire week.

We had quickly adjusted to life on board.  Meals were simple, filling and tasty – mainly pasta, pide, salad and fresh fruit.  Clothing was minimal – swim suits, shorts and top and sneakers when we went ashore where we were free to explore by ourselves.  We cruised into Kale (castle) – Simena, past the island of Kekova, early next morning.  We were blown away.  This breathtakingly beautiful spot is an archeologically protected site.  Gulets, ketches and yachts lay anchored in a turquoise sea in front of the sleepy fishing village of Kale, climbing up the hill crowned by the ruined castle of the Knights of St Johns at Simena.  With a heat haze descending on the hills behind, it looked surreal.

Once anchored, we were keen to explore and leapt ashore beside the fishing boats tied along the harbour, wandered up past rustic pensiyons and restaurants, past the carpet shops, and through the colourful village.  It was already baking hot and few people were about.  Interspersed with the village houses were the remnants of ancient and medieval structures.  In ancient times, Simena was a small fishing village composed of two parts an island, and part of the mainland where Kale is today.  As we climbed the steep steps carved from the rock to the castle, we passed sleepy lizards basking in the sun.  The sense of history became palpable of layer upon layer.  The view from the top was awesome – sweeping views across the bay and of the boats below.  The Crusaders’ castle and its crenelatted walls were well preserved, resting partially on Lycian foundations.  Inside we discovered a small a small ampitheatre which would have seated around 300.  Looking to the East, scattered along the hillside amongst ancient olives and overlooking the sea, were many simple but beautiful Lycian sarcophogi.  Ancester-worship was important to the Lycians.  These are house-type sarcophagi, some of which are simple and some are carved.  Unique to Lycia, the shapes of the lids are tall pointed, arched roofs rather than the usual shallow gabled roofs.  In the water, near the harbour, and along the shore, we spotted more of these striking tombs.
Back on board, we motored across the bay to Kekova, to visit the other half of ancient Simena – the residential part.  Half of the houses are submerged and others half-submerged.  Catastrophic earthquakes in the second century AD are said to have caused a downward shift of land subsequently drowning the city.  We saw staircases descending down into the sea, and could clearly see the foundations of houses and the ancient harbour in the clear water below us.  Swimming here is banned as the area is protected, so we motored on to find a quiet bay.

We didn’t find a quiet bay but we did find a banana boat, and before long we were all aboard being towed around the bay at breakneck speed, spilling off in all directions – great fun.  Later we were visited by a young girl selling beautifully-decorated scarves.  Then we slipped away to anchor in yet another beautiful cove, to swim, snorkel and enjoy an incredible night.  Good food, drinks, and stimulating company – what more could one ask for.

Kaş, our next port of call, was formerly the Greek-populated timber shipping port of Andifli but is now a tourist mecca and a major stopping point for gulet cruises.  Beautifully situated, it backs onto sheer 500 metre cliffs peppered with rock tombs.  With Levant, one of our Turkish friends, we climbed the Hellenistic ampitheatre and up to the almost complete Doric tomb on the hill behind.  Levant picked cocoa pods to show us, and pointed out the different plants including hibiscus growing here above the town.  The town itself was very picturesque.  Lovely old houses lined the streets near to the ubiquitous carpet and leather shops, restaurants and night spots.  It was, however, good to return to Sevgi 6 and head away for the night to swim and relax.  We had run out of beer so our cook, Mehmet, swam to a neighbouring boat, and swam back against the tide with the said items in a plastic bag clenched in his teeth, much to our amusement.  

On the return trip we anchored off Phaselis and swam ashore to visit the magnificent ancient site.  Built around three small bays amongst the trees, as with Kale-Simena, here you could feel the spirits of those who had lived before.

Phaselis was founded by colonists from Rhodes.  In 333 BC they surrendered the city to Alexander the Great.  It became part of the Lycian federation in the second century BC until it, as well as Olympus, was overrun by Cilician pirates.  It regained its importance during the Roman era, and became a flourishing port and trading centre, trading rose oil and its perfumes, and timber from the surrounding forests.  An elegant Roman aqueduct remains one of the most prominent landmarks, and it was great to be able to explore the site at leisure.  Back at the boat we watched as a man shaped an oar with fire, beside the sea.

The next day was our last, and we headed for Antalya and Setur Marina for our final night and party together before we headed our separate ways.  It had been a brilliant week and everything we had hoped for.  We were relaxed, had made new friends, exchanged cultures, and immersed ourselves in history.  The best things about gulet travel are the leisurely pace, laid back days, the ability to swim, snorkel and go where the big boats can’t, exploring all the beautiful coves and inlets along this magical coastline.  Give us the chance and we would do it all again.

Sally Hill
73 Otipua Road
New Zealand
Telephone:  03  688 8087
Words:  2171
© Sally Hill.  2006.

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Un-numbered    Rugged mountains along the coast
1    Phaselis – fallen Roman masonry
2    Ketch and gulets in the harbour
3    We anchored in a secluded cove
4    Phaselis – Roman Aqueduct and ruins
5    Phaselis – a man shaping an oar with fire
6    Phaelis – anchored gulet
7    Phaselis – Sevgi 6
8    On board Sevgi 6
9    Fishing boats in Kale harbour
10    Close up of ancient structures
A    Kale-Simena, Knights of St John castle
B    A glimpse through castle crenellations
C    Captain Ilhan
D    On board Sevgi 6
E    Kale fishing village – Simena Knight of St John castle
F    Ancient structures mingle with the village houses
11    Sinbad the party boat
12    Sevgi 6
13    Gulet motorinng along coast
14    Early morning on deck
15    We witnessed spectacular sunsets
16    Street in Kaş – lovely old houses lining the street
17    Gulet motoring along coast
18    Gulet motoring along coast
19    Levant exploring a Doric tomb
1A    A sweeping view across the bay from Knights of St John castle
1B    Girl selling beautifully decorated scarves
1C    Simple, beautiful Lycian sarcophagi scattered along the hillside
1D    Phaselis – anchored gulet
1E     Phaselis – anchored gulet