The Lycian Way was the first and is still the most popular long distance walk in Turkey. Whether doing the whole route or just a part the path will connect you with some of the great things this part of south west Turkey has to offer.
The Lycian Way
Please tell anyone you meet who insists that the southwest coast of Turkey is only about mass tourism that they’re completely wrong.
For, just a few kilometres away from the neon lights and loud music of the mass tourism resorts, there are still authentic places, layered in history, abundant in nature and home to men, women and children whose daily lives have remained virtually unchanged for decades, if not centuries.
The visitors who venture to these remarkable places find a different way to reenergise, while in the heart of some of the most spectacularly rugged, wild countryside and awe inspiring panoramas in the eastern Mediterranean.
Type ‘Lycian Way’ into your preferred search engine and you will find more than 375,000 results to confirm that this, the first long-distance trek in Turkey, (covering the scenic 509 kilometres from Fethiye to Hisarçandır, just 25kms short of Antalya), has found a place in the hearts and minds of those fortunate enough over the past 14 years to have discovered this extraordinary and unique destination.
A Clever Idea
It was back in 1999 that Kate Clow’s clever idea – to connect and brand the ancient footpaths and trade routes that snake across the Tekke Peninsula – came to fruition. Many of the paths used by the Lycian Way are in fact genuine Roman roads, some with the paving still intact, as well as paths from other periods: including Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman.
But while the paths themselves may have been in existence for millennia, it was Kate Clow who developed the brand and named this first trekking path in Turkey the Lycian Way: thereby providing a perfect structure for combining the region’s magnificent scenery, rich culture, ancient history, wildlife and natural diversity together with plenty of photo opportunities and a healthy dose of adventure.
She also used the media to great effect and, as a consequence, it was not long after according to British broadsheet The Sunday Times, that the Lycian Way became one of the top ten treks in the world.
Thankfully, the value the role of the Lycian Way has to play in environmental tourism, is now being recognised by the Turkish Ministry of Tourism and Culture and the Governors of Muğla and Antalya.
Prestigious institutions such as Garanti Bank helped at the beginning by funding the initial waymarking project.
More recently, local branches of the Rotary Club, Skål and the Chamber of Commerce have also lent support in various ways and as a result the Lycian Way is emerging as one of the leading quality tourism brands in Turkey.
Increased awareness about this kind of tourism has been born out, both at domestic and international travel and tourism fairs, by the high level of interest shown in it, together with the other eleven long distance treks and is an important watershed for adventure and cultural tourism in the country. It is a market in which Turkey has a strong competitive advantage, if it chooses to take advantage of the opportunity, not least because of its spectacular geography, cultural and historic heritage and traditional hospitality. It also generates jobs in the region, providing employment for some 80 tour operators and guides.
Tourism is a competitive and constantly evolving industry and the region’s cultural heritage and its crucial role it can play in attracting and promoting quality tourism is important.
Traditionally, the Turkish tourist season is from the beginning of May until the end of October but the walk is a way to diversify tourism activities during the summer months and extend the tourism season into the spring and autumn.
For, while the concept of the Lycian Way is only a little over a decade old, the region of Lycia itself, over which the trail winds, is truly ancient; scattered as it is with wonderful examples of cities, settlements and tombs from the Lycian, Greek and Roman periods.
Connecting Ancient Sites
The Lycian Way connects 27 historic sights of real significance and the most famous ones, at places like Xanthos, Letoon, Patara, Aperlae and Olympus, are particularly exquisite but the whole region bears witness to its rich, colourful and all to often bloodthirsty past.
While minarets dominate the skylines of villages and towns on the Lycian Way, Christianity, from its very earliest days, once had a strong presence in the region. This is clearly evident from the Church of St. Nicholas or his alter-ago Santa Claus, who as well as rewarding good children every Christmas also happened to be Bishop of Demre.
Although the Lycian Way passes through developed areas with hotels, restaurants and everything else that tourism brings with it, very often Mother Nature still has the upper hand on the Lycian Way.
Two sections of the trail are very remote and far away from towns and villages, so three nights camping is the only option: but what better is there than to sleep under a starry canopy?
Some stretches of the trail cross extremely demanding terrain that required higher levels of fitness and confidence. However, even then, there is a chance to relax on an unspoilt beach, or swim in the crystal clear turquoise sea.
On its way across the Tekke peninsula the Lycian Way passed through hamlets where local families will always invite visitors into their homes for a meal and, for a modest sum, offer you a simple bed for the night and, if you are lucky, a delicious Turkish breakfast the following morning.
A high proportion of the trek is within the boundaries of national parks – the Beydağlar Park in particular – and nationally owned woodland. (Incidentally the Turkish constitution says that the ministry in charge of the forests has a duty of care to the villagers living within them, including providing funds for sustainable tourism enterprises.)
The Lycian Way meanders through forests of pine at sea level and, at higher altitudes, gnarled cedar and juniper.
It will take you to the legendary everlasting flames of the Chimaera and offer chance to hear birdsong, watch eagles and other raptors soar above your heads.
The Lycian Way will allow you to see endemic species and wonderful wildlife along much of its route.
The Lycian Way has many different and distinctive qualities: the high altitude mountain crossings are cool even when the mid-summer temperatures make the coastline sweltering.
The coastal sections are perfect for treks at the beginning and end of the year. Springtime offers the best opportunities to see flowers and the autumn for fruit and forest colours.
Some parts of the Lycian Way are accessible paths close to the sea or traversing shady woodland areas, while others involve a scramble along barren rocky footpaths with precipitous crevasses, hairpin bends and steep, shale slopes.
The level of walking ability required is determined by the diversity of landscape and geography along the trail but it does mean that some part of the Lycian Way is suitable for everybody.
It is certainly the case that the Lycian Way is becoming an increasingly important attraction for tourists and travellers coming to Turkey, particularly if they want an authentic experience of the country, off the beaten track and away from the commercial mass-market resorts.
For them the Lycian Way is quite literally a breath of fresh air and a way to see the real Anatolia, behind the anonymous touristic façades.
Furthermore, concepts like the Lycian Way offers economic potential to small and remote villages, and the opportunity to benefit from the economic opportunities this kind of tourism brings.
In a country with such a wealth and diversity of landscapes, history and culture, walking the Lycian Way provides a magnificent opportunity to see some of the most astonishing jewels in Turkey’s crown.
For the average walker the entire length of the 509 km, a walk around Xanthos in the Eşen Valley, or a visit to the idyllic Adrasan, Olympos or Chirila will give visitors a taste of what else is in store.
Fit and Healthy
Essentially, anyone with a will, an appropriate level of fitness and a pair of walking boots can bear witness Turkey’s ancient heritage, amazing panoramas and exquisite countryside first hand; and all this comes courtesy of the Lycian Way.
Many different kinds of people come to Turkey to walk on the Lycian and other trails.
A love of trekking embraces all ages, social classes and ethnicities.
Independent tourism and locally run businesses benefit from this kind of tourism and frequently travelling independently or through a specialist tour operator is the only way to visit the more remote locations on the Lycian Way.
But this kind of tourism brings much needed income to these areas and there are now 80 companies organising treks.
Also, is has been noted that the kind of tourists and travellers who enjoy this kind of holiday experience are very often the ones that spend money at a local level and appreciate Turkish culture and heritage.
The Lycian Way, indeed all cultural and adventure tourism is not dependent on the wall to wall sunshine on offer between May and October and extending the tourist season is an essential aspect of trekking tourism; but then the heat of summer is not the ideal time to undertake a long-distance trek.
Independent tourism generated by the Lycian Way benefits local economies and encourages the kind of visitor who is adventurous, enthusiastic about Turkish culture, and perhaps invest in a local craft, such as a carpet or kilim.
A Must Do and Must See
In conclusion, there are for sure many different target markets and for some the idea of trekking may seem a strange way to spend a holiday, but it is certain that the thousands of people of all ages who have explored the Lycian Way over the past decade, would say that there is nothing better than donning a back-back, lacing up their walking boots, and setting off on an adventure into, what is for them at least, the unknown.
The footpaths and trails of the Lycian way are ancient trade routes, intersected by narrow paths used over the centuries by shepherds taking their flocks to new pastures. The Lycian Way passes through villages that remain relatively untouched by tourism and some very remarkable ancient sites.
It also meanders along beaches, and clings to rugged cliffs, offering unbelievable views of the turquoise Mediterranean far below.
Protecting the Lycian Way and its surrounding environment, thereby protecting its future for our own future and that of our children and grandchildren, is strategically imperative and crucial for the future of sustainable quality tourism in this region.