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.

Michael Buerk – DHA

While there, he told the Turkish media giant, Hürriyet, that he feels safer in Turkey than he does in London.

Being chipper about Turkey

Göcek – www.telegraph.co.uk

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.

Early morning sailing on the Fethiye coast – Jane Akatay

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.

One of the most well known faces on UK TV

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

Looking towards Coldwater Bay and Ölü Deniz – Jane Akatay

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.

The Turquoise Coast www.studinter.ru
The Turquoise Coast www.studinter.ru

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.

Two yachts?

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?”

Still sailing after all these years…

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.

Why Michael Buerk loves Turkey and for him going there is “problem yok”
Sailing in Fethiye in the warm sunshine when there is still snow on the mountains…

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.

Why Michael Buerk loves Turkey and for him going there is “problem yok”
www.sunseayachting.com Wall Bay Anchorage

“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.

Why Michael Buerk loves Turkey and for him going there is “problem yok”
www.sundowners.org.uk -Coldwater Bay

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?

Meze at Kaplan Dag Restoran

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.

Why Michael Buerk loves Turkey and for him going there is “problem yok”
Smoky aubergine

“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.

Why Michael Buerk loves Turkey and for him going there is “problem yok”
One of the fish courses at Yacht Classic

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.”

Why Michael Buerk loves Turkey and for him it's “problem yok”
Sailing into the blue from Fethiye

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.

Finally…

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.

Looking out over the bays and islands of the Gulf of Fethiye

12 COMMENTS

  1. Great article, we sailed South West Turkey on a number of occasions over five years and in fact did a bare boat charter with Michael Buerk’s yacht out of Gocek on one of our visits. We only gave up for health reasons but envy those still able to visit South West Turkey. Like Michael most of our time was spent sailing the Gulf of Gocek and Fethiye, Olu Deniz area, but we also found time to hire a car and visit many of the historical sites. We have close friends near Fethiye and in fact one of your pictures above shows his yacht with the blue hull. I envy those still able to visit this area.

    • Thanks for your positive feedback, Gary. Your final sentence, however, suggests that you’re not able to come to this beautiful part of the world any more… I hope this is only temporary and you’ll soon be sailing here again and visiting the many wonderful historical sites.

  2. Thank you for the interview with Michael Buerk. He says what hundreds of us are thinking about Turkey. Most people do not understand how vast the Country is. They do not realise the Syrian border is a lifetime away from the tourists other spots. As someone who makes at least two trips (each 4 weeks long) every year for the past 16 years I am perhaps biased. I also agree with keeping some places secrets of as not to have them spoilt, Over the years we have stayed at almost every resort there is including Istanbul and find it difficult to pick a favourite. Let’s hope the numbers start rising again this year.

    • Thank you for your comments, Brian. They are most welcome. We hope that interviews with people like Michael and articles, explaining how far away places like Fethiye and Bodrum are from the hotspots in the southeast, will have a positive impact on the number of tourists visiting this beautiful country. Fingers crossed, eh?

  3. Brilliant article. We have been coming to Turkey for over 20 years now, most years and sometimes twice. Have visited many places and love them all. We will be in Fethiye in May and are counting down the days.

    • Thanks Kate. It’s great to read your positive comments. You obviously love Turkey very much too. The weather is wonderful here in Fethiye at the moment. You can be pretty sure it will be sunny and warm in May. Meanwhile, as you say, carry on counting the days!

  4. Having worked in on that part of the coast in the 90’s i can say what a great place it is to visit.
    Please get and book your flights you wont be disapointed.
    Its a fabulous place with great food, people and amazing coast line.

  5. Thank you for this great article we also love Turkey too having spent the last 14 years going to Datca and Fethiye for holidays twice yearly. It has the most beautiful scenery, high mountains, forests, lovely beaches and clean clear blue waters and great food. We hope to return again this year all being well.

    • Thank you too, Doreen. Datça is also one of our favourite places. Nowhere better for peace and quiet… Hope you make it here this year.

  6. A really good article and I too hope the tourist industry picks up. I worked as a holiday rep in Turkey a few years back and found the turkish people warm and accommodating. The country is also beautiful. Im booked to visit twice so far this year as i have a friend in Fethiye who has relocated there, lucky girl !

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