Kemer, Southern Turkey

Vasco da Gama
Ian Strathcarron
Sun 18 Oct 2009 18:22

Anyone wishing to prolong the European summer should come to the south coast of Turkey in the first two weeks of October. The days are still hot, the sea is like a warm bath and most of the tourists have left so you have the place to yourself. It’s best to sail here as we have done as you can anchor in quiet bays of breathtaking beauty; or you can book a passage in a gullet, the wonderful wooden coasting vessels of Turkey, which once carried cargos of fruit, but are now adapted to provide luxurious accommodation in a romantic wooden ship which looks like a Spanish galleon.

Our marvellous Turkish adventure started in Bodrum, an elegant coastal town where the harbour is dominated by the crusader castle of St. Peter, built by the Knights of St. John in the 1400s. From here we sailed south to the two peninsulas which jut out like fingers from the land into the southern Aegean Sea, called Datca and Bozburun. This is a very under populated region these days, but was once an important part of the Greek province of Anatolia, becoming Asia Minor under Roman domination and eventually part of the Eastern Roman Empire of Byzantium. All of southern Turkey is adorned with remains from these important civilisations as well as remnants of the more ancient Hittite, Lycian and Lydian empires.

The Datca and Bozburun peninsulas are rugged and mountainous and the low-lying areas are covered with scrubby olive, oak and pine trees and famous for a large concentration of butterflies and tortoises which add to the delights of the region. We visited Rupert Scott in the beautiful house he and his wife Mary have built overlooking a quiet bay. We anchored in the bay and dinghied ashore, then walked up a dusty track to the house between smallholdings where hens, goats and donkeys roamed and a cow peered out at us from an unpainted and unused Greek church.

A day’s sailing took us across the bay where Marmaris, the sailing centre of the region, is situated and we tied up in a big marina in Fethiye. Fethiye is at the centre of a large enclosed bay, so in the marina we felt as though we were in a lake, with mountains on all sides. Recent earthquakes have devastated the region, and the new town is built on the mountainside in the style of red-roofed Swiss chalets. The Lycians built temples and tombs into the rocks and these still survive in great numbers. Our friends Maggie and Roger Bamford joined us in Fethiye and we sailed east into the part of the coast known as the Turkish Riviera. The coastline was like the cote d’azur or the rugged regions of Mallorca, but without any buildings, very few roads, and still grazed by wild mountain goats. We swam from the boat at every anchorage, and tied up at town quays at the famous resorts of Kalkan and Kas. We loved Kas and stayed two nights so we could explore the ancient Greek theatre, sample the food and rakki in the atmospheric restaurants and shop for gorgeous souvenirs in the bazaars.

While Roger, Maggie and I enjoyed ourselves, our captain studied the pilot books and kept us entertained with some more marvellous anchorages. We sailed into an area known as Kekova Roads (or Roadstead), once Lycian, Greek, Byzantine and probably everything else, but now is a quiet series of bays of great beauty, surrounded by mountains and while we were there, a sea like glass, with every shore graced with romantic ruins. Kale Koy is a small resort, sheltering on a hillside topped with a Byzantine castle, the gabled houses tumbling down the hill, with the bay decorated with Lycian tombs and a sunken Byzantine city which was almost destroyed in an earthquake.

We eventually sailed into Finike, a popular overwintering marina, but wanting to get as far east as possible before the winter weather arrived, we sailed on until we reached Kemer, a modern town but with a particularly attractive marina, so here we will leave Vasco da Gama for her winter’s rest, framed by palm trees and high mountains, and grateful for her strength and ability to carry us so far, so safely!