We continue our journey along the Lycian coast with our guide Peter Sommer.

Part 1 here.

As you set sail from another languid lunch stop and the boat’s captain checks his position on the GPS, spare a thought for Captain Beaufort cruising along this coast at the start of the 19th century. He complained in his diary how little he had to go on to find his way:

“the only accounts extant were those left by the ancient geographers…there was no nautical description of the coast, nor any charts whatever by which the mariner could steer”

His task was utterly painstaking. Dragging a 100 yard long steel chain marked with flags and poles on the shore, they took meticulous sightings and sextant angles, and plotted the resulting position points. Slowly but surely his team of surveyors worked their way along the coast, putting Lycia on the map, despite the heat and overgrown vegetation:

“their shoes cut on the rocks, soaked by the quagmires, or burned in the red hot sands were of but little use”

One of the prettiest places along the whole coast is Ü柦#287;ız, which means ‘three mouths’. This tiny fishing village is connected to the interior by a thin rutted road that twists tortuously through a wild landscape of knife edge rocks. Not surprisingly the village is there because of the sea. It’s beautifully protected by two giant spits of land as well as the long thin mass of Kekova Island which forms a natural breakwater. This has been a vital harbourage for some 2,500 years, and its history lies all about. On one side is an incredible necropolis (literally ‘city of the dead’) of stone sarcophagi standing up to ten foot tall and dating back to the 5th century before Christ; on the other; the storage buildings, churches, and houses of the Byzantine town a 1,000 years later. The modern village of Ü柦#287;ız is tiny compared to its predecessors. Here you can find a few small places to stay; a couple of shops selling food and carpets, a tiny mosque, some restaurants and a bar. That’s it. It’s a perfect place to moor up and idle away a couple of days.

{mosimage}Sail east and the Taurus Mountains suddenly recede from the shore revealing a large fertile plain at Finike, which is the source of many of Turkey’s oranges. A glorious hour’s drive inland rises up and up to the ancient site of Arykanda. Set high on the side of a mountain this Greek and then Roman town literally has it all. It’s been dubbed the ‘Turkish Delphi’ because of its spectacular location and excellent preservation, but unlike the site in Greece you’re more than likely to be the only visitors there. There are all the usual trappings of a prosperous antique city – agora, stadium, temples, baths – but the setting makes it truly stand out. The view from the top of the theatre down a steep sided valley to the distant mountains is simply heart-stopping.

There is more to Lycia than sailing and archaeology. One of the great highlights of the region now is the Lycian Way, Turkey’s first long distance footpath. Rated by the UK’s Sunday Times as one of the ten best walks in the world, the trail follows 500 km of ancient tracks and mule roads that linked the region before the coming of the car. Waymarked with red and white stripes, many sections of it follow the coast, so it’s perfectly possible to drop anchor and venture off for a gentle stroll or serious hike. Some gulet operators now offer specialist walking cruises, so you can trek along some of the very best stretches of the Lycian Way, with a boat ever present offshore, providing luxurious transport, dining and accommodation. What could be finer than walking along a Roman road or shepherd’s track, discovering remote ancient cities with breathtaking vistas, and then having a swim off the gulet at the end of the day?

{mosimage}In many parts of Lycia you can head a short distance inland and step back in time to a simpler, pre-industrial age – to a countryside worked much as it would have been in America and Europe a few centuries back. Go in the right month and you’ll find women in colourful trousers sickling down golden wheat grown on slender hill terraces. Walk along dirt roads and you’ll hear the tinkle of goat bells filling the air, with a goatherd ushering on his flock of shiny black charges. Very occasionally you might even come across some semi-nomadic charcoal burners arriving into harbour with the fruits of their labours after several months living and working in the forests.

It’s the timeless quality of Lycia that is one of its greatest attractions. Although a lot has changed since Francis Beaufort first mapped the coast and many of its ancient cities, there’s a great deal that he would recognise today. His survey revealed a magnificent coastline and an untapped wealth of archaeological wonders. It wasn’t long before a whole army of European treasure hunters were out looking for the best ruins to ship home. When the first consignment of Lycian ‘marbles’ – statues, temples, and tombs – arrived at the British Museum in London they caused such interest and excitement among the public that there was a Gothic architectural revival. Fortunately there’s a vast amount left to be seen in Lycia, and more and more is being uncovered by archaeologists every year. These ancient sites form a perfect backdrop to a splendid sailing vacation. In many cases it’s possible to sail directly into the ancient harbour of a Lycian city and moor for the night. How much better can cruising get? Sailing the Lycian Shore really is the experience of a lifetime.

Peter Sommer

Peter Sommer runs a specialist travel company, Peter Sommer Travels, offering archaeological tours and gulet charters in Turkey. In 1994 he walked 2,000 miles retracing Alexander the Great’s route across Turkey and fell in love with the country, its ancient civilisations, and its people. An archaeologist and documentary producer he has worked on many acclaimed BBC TV series including In the footsteps of Alexander the Great, and Tales from the Green Valley.

You can read more travel articles about Turkey at www.petersommer.com (*) ; email info@petersommer.com

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