Kayaköy … otherwise known as “that village up the mountain”, “the ghost town” or “that place they have ostriches and camels”.
If you’ve been, then, of course, you’ll know it’s all true – but the village actually has a lot more to offer and, if you’ve got a little time to spend exploring, it’ll more than likely prove to be time well spent.
Commercialism hasn’t quite blanketed the whole of the Kaya Valley just yet and there are still glimpses of life as it was when tobacco and not tourism was the mainstay of the local economy. But there are some modern touches too – and not all of them detrimental to a community steeped in history which can be traced back to Roman times.
The Ghost Town
The history of the ruined village on a hill on the south side of the valley is already well-documented elsewhere – both in fact and fiction – but not so much the unique atmosphere of the place which is difficult to capture in words. Neither foreboding nor frivolous, there is still something in the stones echoing a lost community that saw both happiness and tragedy in its time. Sit up by the old chapel early on a spring morning and you can watch the mist swirl and then disappear among the ruins – both eerie and stunningly beautiful.
In summer – if you can stand the heat – colourful lizards and butterflies flit among the rocks while, in the winter, the greenery returns, trying once more to envelop the remains of buildings that once were homes to hundreds. Stand still and listen and it’s easy to imagine people still living out their lives – ghosts among the tumbled gables and walls, testament to an age of change which was sometimes cruel, sometimes ruthless.
The Bars and Restaurants
Kayaköy isn’t just about poignancy. The village is a thriving community and, now tourism plays a part, it benefits from a fair number of bars and restaurants catering for visitors staying in the apartments and villas which have sprung up over the past decade. Indeed, construction of a new boutique hotel in the very shadow of the ghost village is underway while the forest road from Fethiye is being significantly improved. A number of fine dining restaurants are complemented by smaller establishments serving both traditional Turkish cuisine and food to satisfy European tastes.
Click here to read our article on the Kayaköy Festival that took place in May this year.
Kayaköy is an eclectic mix of modern and traditional. Farming practices that date back centuries are still practised in some of the fields – some even using horses.
Folk still meet on benches on street corners to chat and watch the world go by and the tea rooms are still a male bastion dominated by the click of the okey counters and cigarette smoke. But, equally, on some nights of the week, modern pop songs echo around the valley as some of the venues hold their weekly music nights for visitors – bracketed of course by the muezzin’s call to prayer.
Kayaköy is surrounded by forest – something many find surprising in a country they presume to be arid. The network of old farm and drovers roads linking the village to Fethiye and Hisarönü – and even the Blue Lagoon and beach resort at Ölüdeniz – offer plenty of shady walks, which can be a Godsend in the hot summer months.
Once you get to know them, it can be fascinating exploring routes which will take you to the Old Windmill, the hilltop community of Kınalı, the ruined monastery at Af Kule or the rock tombs at Belen
Birdlife is plentiful in the Kaya Valley, with nesting storks, buzzards and even eagles soaring in the blue skies at different times of the year. European bee-eaters are regular visitors in the spring and the autumn, rollers pass through in the summer while residents include Syrian woodpeckers, redstarts, wagtails, blackbirds, robins, tits, chaffinches and, of course, the ubiquitous jays.
But, move quietly in the woods and you may be lucky enough to see wild boar, porcupine, red squirrels, a hare or two, pine martens and foxes – although, between spring and autumn, a tortoise or two is always a safe bet.
Kayaköy may not do much in the way of razzamatazz. It might not be the place to go for shops or amenities. But, if you’d like to touch base with Turkey as it was before the “wild west” it’s ready and waiting. For how much longer though remains to be seen …
This article was written for Fethiye Times by Steve and Rebecca Parsley, journalists from the UK who have now made their home in Kayaköy. Photographs were taken by Steve Parsley.