It was the kind of party you wished could have lasted for days. A bunch of travellers, sweating it up on a moonlit beach, revelling in the midnight humidity and the techno beat of The Chemical Brothers.
It could have been any island dotted across the Indian or Pacific – but this was the Middle East, an isolated stretch of sand in a forgotten cove on Turkey’s Lycian Coast. A place virtually inaccessible by land, where patrons arrive by traditional gulet, kick their shoes off, along with their inhibitions, and spend the night drinking and dancing at a shore-side bar.
It is here visitors can pretend, if only for the night, that nobody else in the world could possibly have it this good – the sort of experience where you have to step back for a second, curious that somehow you made it into this idyllic picture.
Under the northern hemisphere stars, visitors eventually return to their boats; those who don’t slip into the warm dark waters of the Mediterranean, opt for sleeping on deck.
There’s far more to be said of a sailing excursion along Turkey’s southern coast than, say, island hopping across the Greek Isles. Sure, the Greeks have it all going for them – babe-drenched beaches and enough ouzo to blur the edges of a weeklong escape – but there’s something about the Turkish equivalent that equates to a far more organic experience.
You’ll understand it after you’ve jumped from the deck of a yacht and swum to the shore of a tiny village such as Kale. It’s here, tucked along the coastline between the fishing town of Fethiye and the thriving metropolis Antalya, that you’ll meet traditional Turkish families who’ve long relied on a steady trade of travellers.
You have to appreciate the simple lives these people lead. They’re a long way from the city, but still exude the Turkish penchant for a good sales pitch. Kale’s more enthusiastic hosts are pre-teen salesmen who’ll greet you at the shore and coerce you into buying the sort of crooked trinkets you realise only later that you didn’t like anyway. But in a place such as this, it’s hardly fair to begrudge the locals of what is their primary source of income. It’s by no means an impoverished lifestyle; rather a humble one which they appear content living. After all, it is their home, which is increasingly regarded as one of the most remarkable natural backdrops Turkey has to offer.
A stone’s throw from Kale, across the Bay of Kekova, lie eerie reminders of past civilisations long swallowed by the mighty Mediterranean. Diving on sites such as this are strictly prohibited, but the waters remain clear enough for visitors to try to at least fathom what everyday life was like here thousands of years before.
But it’s the contemporary civilisations on the Lycian Coast which these days prove an even greater attraction to those long lost beneath the surface.
Further up the coast, the bay of Oludeniz provides an ideal anchorage for any sailing adventure. The beach still attracts as many Turkish nationals as it does tourists each season. Aerial photographs of the peninsula adorn travel agencies and postcard stands around the country, and ultimately prove the greatest marketing tool. Annually, tourists flock here by the thousands to baste on the pebble beach, soak in the salt-rich waters and feel damn-right good about life.
But the final day of a gulet sailing trip will almost certainly lead you to a far more elusive destination. Olympus is a village synonymous among hardy travellers on the Middle East circuit, a place that has built a reputation around the very fact that nothing much has been built here at all. It has long generated its own publicity by way of backpacker fable. Stories get swapped across smoky hostel dining tables; some claim to have been there, while others can’t really comprehend it until they see it for themselves. Come to Olympus and you’ll be sleeping in tree houses, walking bare foot and smoking sheesha in no time. It’s a place where patrons forget too easily what day it is or when they last phoned home.
The one certainty is that a few days in Olympus would bring a Mediterranean cruise and your Turkey experience to a fitting end.