The Likya Yolu is a mythic and ancient way; a 500 kilometre walk around the Teke Peninsula on old roads and tracks, past traces of Lycian, Greek and Roman civilisations, following turquoise fringed beaches, through coastal villages and high up into the rugged Taurus Mountains.
A ferry from Rhodes and a day in Fethiye to ground ourselves. The bay, the double arc of the mountains, small fishing boats moored next to luxury yachts. In the water, flying fish and loggerhead turtles. Weathered fishermen preparing their nets before setting out to sea. Headscarved women down from the mountains to sell their milk, cheese, honey and herbs at the Tuesday market. Romani musicians playing at the fish market. Night falling.
Ovacik to Faralya (14 km)
A golden morning. The water shimmering. Up through fragrant green forests. Looking down on secluded bays, offshore islands and the infinite, indigo sea. Human voices falling from the sky as paragliders drift overhead. Pale orange poppies and wild fennel. A winding, rocky track. When we are still, we can hear the silvery songs of birds sheltering in the Hollyoaks. An Arab cistern. A shepherd’s summer hut, built from rocks and salvaged timber. Abandoned villages. An abundance of mountain herbs.
Stopping for çay (tea) at a humble wayside cafe and, later, for gozleme and ayran (a salty yoghurt drink). A man dressed as a woman sitting cross-legged in the middle of the road; a goat herder of some renown. The steep mountain a grey ghost of boulders and scree slopes since an earthquake in 1953. Olive trees, orchards and meadows. The call to prayer reverberating across the valley. A steep descent down a dry, rocky track. Farmers and beekeepers about, as are young travellers walking short sections of the Lycian Way interspersed with days spent beach hopping by boat. The sun warm; the shade welcome.
It’s our third attempt to do this walk; a cancer diagnosis and the death of Anna’s mother in 2009 and a minor stroke for Michael in 2016 stopped us in our tracks before we even set out. Now we’ve finished day one of the walk and are relaxing on a sunny balcony looking out across a green valley, home to the brightly coloured Jersey tiger, a day-flying moth. A deep sigh of contentment as all the promise of a month’s walk on the Lycian Way is realised in this moment.
Faralya to Kabak Beach to Kabak (8.5 km)
A leisurely morning on the terrace of Melissa Pension talking about Turkish politics to Mehmet, our host. There’s a general election in a few weeks and the outcome will determine how liberal or authoritarian a country Turkey is in the future. Breakfast is a feast. Eggs from Mehmet’s chickens; tomatoes, olives, cucumber and melons from the garden; oranges and apples from the orchard; feta cheese, yoghurt and tahin-pekmez (‘Turkish nutella’); good bread and Viennese coffee thanks to Elisabeth, Mehmet’s Austrian partner.
With just a two hour stroll to Kabak we take all the time we want, wandering and chatting with Judy and Graeme, two lovely Canadians walking the first few days of the Lycian Way. Pink flowering oleanders, white fruiting mulberry trees, pine and oak trees. The ruins of a temple; its carved uprights, doorway lintels and a sarcophagus still intact. Sheer, rugged limestone cliffs; mountain peaks lost in the clouds. Small, traditional farms situated on hillsides where springs flow. Persian red squirrels, dusky blue butterflies, chameleon green lizards. An abandoned house, its flower garden spilling down the hillside.
A swim in the buoyant Mediterranean, the waves gently breaking over the pebbles on the beach. A climb up to the Olive Garden where we’re staying and a swim in its freshwater infinity pool, a rectangle of aquamarine blue perched high above the turquoise sea. Pomegranate trees with vivid orange flowers, roses in bloom, a profusion of geraniums. The serenity so profound it’s difficult to imagine anything disturbing it until we strike up a conversation with a young Afghani man. He’s just finished his Master’s degree at a Turkish University and if he doesn’t find work or secure a PhD scholarship he will be forced to return to Afghanistan where he’s in danger of being killed, a fate that has already befallen his father.
Kabak to Sidyma (16 km)
A tropical storm breaking over Kabak. Thunder and fork lightning. The sea and the mountains erased by low dark clouds and driving rain. We sit it out for a couple of hours and then, judging that the tempest is abating, put on our wet weather gear and walk out into the day, climbing up out of Kabak on a rugged, narrow goat track. Judy and Graeme decide to wait out the storm and take a different route, so we won’t see them for a couple of days.
Steep, forested mountains plunging down to the sea below. The rain spent, the sky clear, the day warming. The trunks of wild strawberry trees glowing bronze-red where the sun breaks through the pines. A carpet of mint underfoot; sage and thyme growing wild in rock crevices. The headstone of a man killed in WW11 and remembered in the mountains he cherished. Views across the ocean to the far distant horizon from the ruins of a solitary farmer’s house who worked up here each summer until he died. The olive trees he planted are still tended, the ladder he handcrafted still in place.
Sidling around and always steadily up the mountain. The track rocky, then soft underfoot with fallen pine needles. The call to prayer from the mosque echoing across the valley just as we have a last glimpse of Kabak. The muezzin unknowingly farewelling us. Birds of prey riding the thermals. A herd of goats and their shepherd. A çay stall in a forest clearing; a couple of plastic chairs, çay brewing over a twig fire, a young man keen for customers and conversation. Later we stop to chat with a Ukrainian woman who walked the Lycian Way end-to-end last year. She has returned to re-walk her favourite sections and rekindle an old flame. From the clifftop village of Alinca we follow the contours of the land, past stone terraces that fall away steeply to exposed rock slabs. Way down below is a miracle of turquoise fringed bays, blue lagoons and a forested isthmus. A lone white yacht. Juniper and cedar trees.
A goat herding family settling into their yayla in the meadows high in the mountains. Although there are far fewer nomads than there once were, the annual migration from winter village to summer encampment (yayla) still takes place, providing summer pastures for animals and relief from the sweltering heat of the lowlands.
A gentler descent on a track skirting a broad valley. The first sweet red mulberries of spring pilfered from a tree overhanging the track. Women in headscarves, floral blouses and şalvars (bloomer-like trousers) carrying great bundles home from the fields on their heads. A woman weaving under a shady tree. Centuries-old traditions still a lived reality in these remote rural communities. The women acknowledge us even when they are out alone and make sure that we know the way to the next village. Sidyma is our destination late this spring afternoon, to see the acropolis with its curved seats and the necropolis with its monumental 2nd and 3rd-century tombs, some still bearing inscriptions and carvings including reliefs of Eros and Medusa. Fatma warmly welcomes us into her home in this former Lycian city, lighting a fire for us and serving us a feast of food, a vegetarian banquet fit for a sultan.
Sidyma to Pydnai (17 km)
The gift of a hand-woven bracelet, an affectionate farewell. Walking out of the village on an old Roman road, the morning sun warmer than it has been. Skirting a field where a woman is cutting wheat with a sickle and a tethered cow is grazing. Hollyoaks and orange poppies glowing in the sun. Tortoises moving slowly and awkwardly across the track. A gentle dappled walk through pines and across the pass at Bel. A woman welcomes us on to her wide balcony and provides us with çay and gozleme for a few lira, the transaction seamless despite the lack of a common language.
Then out into rougher country, zigzagging across a sheer limestone cliff face, the waves crashing on rocks way below us. The high sea cliffs giving way to a long expanse of sand. Pale yellow butterflies, carob beans hanging green on the tree, figs forming. A remote summer yayla; two shaven-headed boys on the lookout for walkers. We stop for an ayran and as we sit and drink the boys shyly watch our every move. As well as providing income, we’re a welcome if unsettling distraction from their goat herding responsibilities.
A couple of friendly dogs follow us for several kilometres until we lose them crossing the rickety bridge over the Özlen River. The remains of a naval fort, an ancient enclosure guarded by towers and built of polygonal stonework, each block smoothed to give a hard-to-scale finish to the walls. A cave with a spring flanked by a fig tree and an olive tree and a rundown pension by the river, ducks and terrapins in the water and a menagerie of farm animals foraging in the dirt just beyond the perimeter of the outdoor restaurant.
Pydnai to Üzümlü (20 km)
The marshlands that are a haven for birds are under threat and the path to ancient Letoon is swallowed up by plastic greenhouses that are multiplying as people abandon small villages to take up cultivation here in this fertile river delta. Fortunately, a good-natured tomato grower and his daughter take it upon themselves to guide us through the dispiriting plastic maze on this sleepy Sunday morning.
Letoon was the holy sanctuary of the goddess Leto and her children, Apollo and Artemis. Its ruins include a Greek-style theatre; three temples, one of them from the 2nd century BC; tranquil, column-lined, ceremonial pools; and a Byzantine church. Despite it being such a remarkable archaeological site there are just two other visitors, a friendly couple from Yorkshire. As if Leeton didn’t offer enough cultural riches for one day, we go straight on to Xanthos, thought to be Lycia’s political capital (Letoon was its religious capital). There are a few more tourists here but again we are privileged to be able to wander, unaccompanied and unencumbered, through the ruins of this once-great Lycian city.
Herodotus attributes the founding of Xanthos to Sarpedon, a hero of the Trojan war. Its tombs housed the dynastic rulers of Lycia from the period of the Persian conquest to Alexander the Great. In 42 BC the Roman General Brutus laid siege to the city and captured it. ‘Thereupon, the Xanthians set fire to everything, threw their wives and children into the fire and killed each other.’ Although lost as a Lycian city, Xanthos flourished for a time under Roman rule until earthquakes and pirate raids led to its abandonment. Charles Fellows, a British archaeologist and explorer, discovered Xanthos in the early 1840s and appropriated some of its finest monuments for the British Museum.
Children dressed in ragged clothes. Picnickers brewing çay over twig fires. A dusty car, gaudily decorated with pink ribbons and bows. Later on the honking of horns, the beating of a drum and singing. A village wedding. Olive trees, pomegranates and orange groves. Into the dry scrubby hills, following an old stone aqueduct lined with wild thyme and lavender. The remains of a fort, the Turkish flag flying to denote its status as a national monument. A steep climb up a treeless hillside to Üzümlü, a winemaking village. Grape vines growing on high trellises. At the Villa Cennet Bahcesi (Heavenly Garden) Debbie, an English woman who left a safe marriage to pursue romance and adventure in Turkey, offers us tea and cherry cake before showing us to our room. Views across the valley to the sea, a hot shower, stippled sunlight, clean white sheets. Bliss.
Üzümlü to Gelemiş (22 km)
An owl calling. Nightingales singing. Humble stone cottages with goats, chickens and vegetable gardens alongside grand villas with lush acreages, infinity pools and sweeping vistas. Most of these villas are illegally built, their owners hoping for a political miracle to set things right.
Losing the track and finding ourselves on a perilous wooden bridge high above a creek. Tentatively retracing our steps, back across the same derelict bridge, to find the footpath through a wooded valley to Akbel. A woman herding her goats along the busy main road. Men softly clicking their prayer beads as they take çay at the tea house. Out of the village, keeping the mosque on our right; clouds sitting on the highest peaks of the mountains. A message being broadcast from mosque to mosque along the valley. Delicate white lace-flowers and thorny scrub growing side by side. Seabirds in the sky overhead. The engineering marvel that is the Delikkemer aqueduct, built by the Romans 2,000 years ago, its siphonic system is made of interlocking stone blocks, each with a 30 cm hole through which the water flowed. It is still not understood how the 1,000 blocks, each weighing 800 kilograms, were cut and assembled.
A spring, home to green frogs; the ruins of a medieval tower; an orchard. A feast of white mulberries. A descent through cool, green pine forests. A white eagle soaring above Patara, a city of the Lycian League and from 43 AD capital of the Roman province of Lycia. Named after Pataras, son of Apollo and the nymph Lycia, it was buried for centuries under sand dunes and marshes and is now being excavated. The main city road lined with marble columns, the impressive, reconstructed Lycian League Assembly building, the theatre, a temple to Athena, a huge circular lighthouse, a granary, monumental tombs; all wonders of the ancient world now revealed to the 21st-century traveller. Montesquieu, the great French thinker, regarded Lycia – the world’s first democracy – as ‘history’s earliest and perfect example of government.’
Gelemiş to Kalkan (18 km)
Wild mountains and stunning seascapes. Islands, turquoise bays and the secluded Pinaronü Beach where we stop for a swim. A day of two halves. First roads, then rocks. Free climbing across a precipitous, jagged wall of limestone high above the sea, the hot sun bearing down on us. Earlier we passed a sign marked ‘su’ with an arrow pointing down to a small farm. We ignored it and only now, parched, do we remember that su is the turkish word for water.
We met up with Judy and Graeme again last night and are walking with them today, their last day on the trail. We’ll share a meal with them this evening and then say our goodbyes. There’s no one else on the track. Locals say there’s been a drastic decline in tourism over the past couple of years though Kalkan seems to be an exception. It’s a British beachside enclave and there’s no end to the villas being built, shops selling fish & chips and people speaking English.
This is the first in a three-part series on walking the Lycian Way, Turkey.
Anna Molan & Michael Fogarty