At the beginning of this year, Michael Buerk, veteran broadcaster and one of the UK’s most well known and respected media personalities, visited the London Boat Show.
While there, he told the Turkish media giant, Hürriyet, that he feels safer in Turkey than he does in London.
Being chipper about Turkey
Michael has long been an ambassador for this part of the world, but on this occasion his upbeat comments attracted widespread attention on the nation’s TV and in Turkish newspapers. This is because even though the tourism industry is being optimistic about the number of tourists that will come from Russia, the Middle and the Far East this year, they are unlikely to compensate for the downturn in tourists coming from Europe and the UK. As a result his positive feedback was warmly welcomed and much appreciated.
Having first met Michael Buerk 17 years ago, I already knew that he is a regular visitor to the southwest coast of Turkey. I was therefore keen to ask him what made him such a passionate advocate for Turkey; a true Turkophile, so full of enthusiasm for the country. I decided to send him an email asking if he could find the time in his hectic schedule to give me an interview. When he replied, it was to suggest that it would be easier for him if we were to communicate by email. This interview is based on the written communications that passed between us.
Sharing the love
When Michael agreed to be interviewed, the Fethiye Times team thought that, maybe, just maybe, his replies, showing his commitment to and passion for Turkey, could be infectious and encourage people to visit this historic, captivating and hospitable part of the Mediterranean.
In short, we are hoping that, having read this interview, anyone who has been in two minds about whether to come to Turkey this year, the Turquoise Coast in particular, will start booking their flights and holidays without more ado.
Please tell us more Michael Buerk…
Michael Buerk, as anyone who has been following his familiar voice on the radio and seen his face on television over the decades and reads his articles in the UK media will know, is a man on a mission.
Perhaps it was due to his love for Turkey, the south west coast in particular, that he found time in his hectic schedule to tell me why he feels as he does, and why he had felt compelled to speak those words about the country to the Turkish media.
Whatever the case, I was curious to learn when and how he first discovered Turkey. I learnt that his first trip certainly wasn’t a holiday. “As a (very) young BBC TV reporter,” he said, “I was sent to Turkey to cover the Cyprus crisis in 1974. I spent a long time in the country, reporting first from Ankara, then from the south coast around Mersin. While there I was arrested and put in jail for hiring a boat to take my crew to film the invasion fleet as it gathered off the Turkish coast. I was naïve and treated reasonably well. Later, I flew into Cyprus with the Turkish army and reported from the Turkish side of the conflict.”
It is certainly a tribute to Michael Buerk and the Turkish people he met at the time, that this first experience didn’t in any way deter him from visiting the country again.
The lure of the Turquoise Coast
I then asked him when it was he first came on holiday to the Turquoise Coast (Muğla and Antalya) and what it was that appealed to him and made him want to return – time after time.
Michael’s reply sheds light on why he was at the London Boat Show on that January day. “I had just discovered sailing, rather late in the day (I was in my early 40s and was looking for a holiday that would engage my teenage sons). I fell in love with sailing, and on my second and fourth “flotilla” holiday we fell in love with first the Gulf of Gökova, and then Göcek and Skopea Limani. My boys swiftly moved on. We stayed.” His passion for sailing has continued, going from strength to strength, and for more than two decades he has been regularly visiting the Turquoise Coast.
My next question was aimed at finding out why he continues to sail in the region: “You’ve kept two yachts in Turkey over the years,” I asked, “and you are really passionate about sailing. Could you tell our readers what it is that makes sailing in this part of Turkey so good?”
Maybe I could have worded it better: “Not at the same time!” [I suspect he might have looked rather aghast if this interview hadn’t been by email! Having one yacht is quite enough for most people] “The water, the landscape, the history, the food, the sailing, of course. But above all, the people. We have made many friends and met much kindness.”
When the air is crisp and clear…
Living in Turkey myself, I know that every season is special in its own way but I’m also aware that keen sailors prefer being on the water at certain times of the year. This led to my next question – at what time of year does Michael particularly enjoy sailing in this part of the Aegean and Mediterranean?
“I love April,” he wrote. “When there is still snow on the mountain tops, yet it is already really warm during the day. The restaurants all have big fires against the cold of the evening. It is crisp and clear, everywhere is green and the flowers are so beautiful. Also [there are] not so many other tourists!” I am sure there are those who would agree with him.
They treat us well
“So,” I wrote, “when you are sailing, do you have any preferred spots you like to visit?” I had a pretty good idea how he would reply. “Yes… but I am reluctant to share them because I don’t want too many others to discover them.” This is a common response, as anyone who knows the region will readily understand. But, thankfully, Michael didn’t refuse to share all his favourite places: “In Göcek, we always visit the Kebab Hospital – the name amuses our friends and we have always been treated well there. When we are sailing we love the little restaurants that can only be reached by boat. Recip’s Amigo restaurant in “22 Fathom Cove” in Skopea Limani is a favourite place.
“The restaurant and bay at Sarsala not far away, also in Skopea Limani, is a must. And Ali Tuna’s restaurant above Cold Water Bay, not far from Ölü Deniz is, perhaps, the most beautiful anchorage on the entire coast.” I wasn’t wrong on that score – and I’m sure there are thousands who would agree with him.
Is there more to Turkey than sailing?
There is, of course, so much more to enjoy in Turkey than the coastline. I know Michael loves the solitude of being at sea. Even so, I once managed to persuade him to visit Girdev Yaylası, sweet meadow pastures at nearly 2000 metres above sea level, in the highlands above Fethiye. He appeared to enjoy the trip but I suspect he was pleased to return to his yacht at the end of the day. In view of this, I chose my words carefully: “While I know you like to spend most of your time sailing, are there any stand-out places on dry land in Turkey that have impressed you?”
“Yes,” he confirmed, “We mostly stick close to the water, but there is so much to see inland. The remains of so many empires are a continuing fascination, particularly the extraordinary Lycians and the monuments they have left. Further off the beaten track, the great stone heads in honour of King Antiochus at Nemrut Daği in south- eastern Turkey are stunning in their surroundings and the nearby ruins at Gobekli Tepe are said to be twice as old as Stonehenge and the oldest temple in the world. Cappadocia is one of the most extraordinary places I have ever been to.” I think he has ticked many, if not all of the boxes. All these are truly remarkable places.
And what about the food?
Anyone who loves Turkey will know that Turkish food is delicious. I wondered what dishes Michael particularly looked forward to eating and what he thought about Turkish food in general. For the next few lines it was clear that he was revelling in the idea of Turkish food: “I love Turkish food, the mezes particularly.
“It was here I discovered the aubergine, surely the world’s finest vegetable. I grew up, like most Englishmen, an unthinking carnivore, but if I lived in Turkey full time I could easily be a vegetarian.” If it were me being interviewed, I surely would have mentioned the fish and the seafood too.
For many people who visit Turkey, even regularly over a long period, learning the lingo can prove to be a bit of a problem. Turkish is a language that many Brits find difficult to wrap their tongues around, so I asked Michael whether there were any useful Turkish phrases he’d learned over the years that he’d suggest visitors might like to learn. His answer was certainly concise but even so, these two words certainly sum up Turkey for many people. “’Problem yok’.” he wrote; adding, almost but not quite as an afterthought, “It rarely is!”
Some simple advice
As someone who has been coming to Turkey for so long, I decided to ask him, “Is there any advice you’d like to offer first time visitors to the area? Once again his reply said everything that needs to be said to people visiting the country: “Go everywhere. See everything. Meet everybody.” Yes, I thought, that’s ‘what to do when in Turkey’ in a nutshell.
As Michael’s life-style is pretty hectic he cannot spend all his time sailing on the Turquoise Coast or even visit the country as often as I’m sure he’d like to. “When you aren’t able to be here [in Fethiye],” I asked, “What do you miss most about this part of Turkey? How many readers will agree with his sound-bite response, I wonder?
“The sun, the sea, the place and the people – not necessarily in that order.”
Could this be a moral maze?
My last question to Michael Buerk was one that (unfortunately) has become very topical of late, especially during the last year or so. Nevertheless, it was with some reluctance and a heavy heart that I wrote: “Some people in Turkey feel that certain elements of the foreign media (British media in particular) have exaggerated the risks of coming to the Turquoise Coast. How do you view the coverage?” There are undoubtedly some strong feelings in Turkey that this is the case.
Ever the diplomat, Michael Buerk wrote, “I don’t think that’s true.” It must be said, his reply surprised me but his explanation does help to clarify his perspective: “Recent events have been reported, certainly, but I have not seen any campaign in the newspapers or on TV to try to persuade people it is too risky to come to Turkey. As with other countries, the British Foreign Office does issue advice to travellers and I am not sure to what extent that advice distinguishes between different parts of Turkey – the Syrian border area as distinct from the south western holiday coast. That advice does have insurance implications for travel companies, cruise lines and so on.”
A timely reminder…
I am sure Michael Buerk would like Fethiye Times to remind its readers that the Turquoise Coast is in south west Turkey – more than 1000 kilometres away from the closest part of the Syrian border. That’s as far away as London is from Madrid. In this region, it is the sea, the coast, the mountains, the history, the food and the people who are waiting to greet you.
Thank you, Michael Buerk, for describing so eloquently why you love this beautiful part of Turkey. And why you will continue to come here… Fethiye looks forward to greeting you with a cheery “hoşgeldiniz” on your next visit.