The first week of our Eurotrip we spent exploring the Turquoise Coast of Turkey. Well, actually the trip really began inland in Pamukkale, where we spent two days exploring the ancient city of Hierapolis and the wonderful white baths. Turkey was the kick off point for a 36 day tour through both Turkey and the Balkans–Croatia, Bosnia and Herzegovina and Montenegro.
Traveling through Turkey, you realize that for the most part you can get by without speaking the language. All tourism agencies, hotels, hostels and many restaurants have English speaking employees, but it’s typically a gesture of respect if you make some effort to learn the language of the country you’re visiting even if it is just hello or thank you!
Denizli Airport was where Rand decided to use his stopover with Turkish Airlines before flying to Istanbul through Ataturk Airport later that week. I took Pegasus airlines from Istanbul because I wanted to save my stopover to be able to spend a few days visiting with family in France on my return.
Pamukkale is located in the Denizli province in Southern Turkey, and is approximately a 45 minute flight from Istanbul. It was given its name because of its cotton like appearance from afar. Pamukkale means cotton, kale means castle. However, looks deceive because Pamukkale is anything but cotton-like. The terraces are travertines of sedimentary rock deposited from the nearby thermal springs, which have formed hard, rigged pools along the mountainside in the course of thousands of years.
Pamukkale had originally peaked my interest with Homer’s Odyssey (the film version because I don’t recall the epic actually mentioning the travertines in the book) and ever since then, I have been determined to one day see it for myself!
The park’s entrance is 20 tl (~ $10), but what I didn’t know beforehand was that the ancient city of Hierapolis is also within the park’s entrance cost. You can easily spend a whole day walking around the area. Hierapolis was used as a spa city from 2 BC by Ancient Greeks who would travel here to retire in old age. The city was largely developed and to this day many of the ruins still remain. A host of ruins can still be seen today, such as a large amphitheater which is currently under renovation, but still accessible, The St. Philip Martyrium , several thermal spring water bath houses used as healing centers, temples to Gods such as Apollo and Pluto and a rather large cemetery that has been looted over time.
We spent about six hours exploring the ruins and weaving through the crowded travertines filled with tourists–too many for my liking. In a way it felt like many of the tourist come by busload on package deals. After exploring the water for a bit we found travertines away from the crowds and right after we got in, security signaled us to get out. There are efforts being made to preserve the travertines’ pristine whiteness so part of that comes with limiting the amount of pools visitors can enjoy especially because thousands of visitors from all over the world come through every day during the high season. I would recommend only spending one whole day in Pamukkale and if making hotel reservations, to stay in the proximity of Pamukkale rather than in the city of Denizli. Even though Denizli is just a few miles outside of Pamukkale, getting there can be a hassle and costs about 20 tl on a shuttle bus. If you are flying out of the Denizli airport, it’s much simpler to arrange a shuttle service out of Pamukkale then having to find your way to the Otogar (bus station) then to the airport.
We stayed in Pamukkale Hotel for $40 a night. It is a family run pension that has excellent service, a complimentary Turkish breakfast every morning, fig trees in the garden, a swimming pool and services in English and Italian. While it’s not 5 star luxury accommodation, the location is perfect, the exterior is clean and kept, the rooms are furnished simply and the bathrooms are clean. My biggest worry about reserving a stay in a small town pension is that I am going to cringe as I walk into the room, but that was absolutely far from the case. There were a couple of resort style accommodations near the park, but none that we were able to redeem points with so as an alternative, Pamukkale Hotel offered a convenient and suitable accommodation.
Taking off to the Turquoise Coast from Denizli is convenient because after you’ve seen the UNESCO World Heritage Site of Pamukkale, you can venture the coast going north or south. We decided to travel south down the coast with Fethiye as our starting point. It’s about a three hour bus ride with by bus for 25 tl per person (~$13) and there are a handful of companies servicing the route.
Fethiye is an ancient port city where the Lycian people had once inhabited and the evidence of their presence can be seen throughout the city. Ancient temple style tombs are carved into the rock cliffs overlooking the city. If you’re watching the hills through the window of your bus on the trip from Denizli, you will see these tombs in agricultural areas and wonder how they were able to achieve such feats on sheer vertical walls. The tombs in Fethiye are a short walk from the city center and are visible from the harbor. Stairs lead up to one of tombs, but the other tombs are inaccessible due to safety reasons, but you get a clear view of them from the dirt path offshooting from the stairs. You can go inside and explore the tomb at the top of the stairs, but sadly it has been vandalized with graffiti and littered with broken glass bottles. There is a 5 tl fee to walk up the stairs, which clearly isn’t used to maintain the site, however it is still worth seeing the Lycian tombs. There are three tombs that resemble Grecian temples, the others are smaller and look more like rectangular caves. Also, throughout town you will see abandoned and unkept Lycian cemeteries with one or two tombs still in tact or looted open.
For vacationers, Fethiye is known for its islands, warm crystal blue water and seafood.The bay is littered with small islands, we were able to visit a handful of them on a ‘12 island boat tour’ that take tourists out and around the bay. We went with a company called Oasis which served us grilled fish for lunch and a chance to get our Mediterranean tan on. Boat tours generally cost about 30 tl, but it may vary depending on the time of the season and day of the week. You can also shop around for the boat you would like to tour with, there are about 50 boats docked on the harbor from sailboats to gullets.
While in Fethiye it’s a no brainer to have at least one night of seafood, which was a welcomed break from the kebabs or doners. The region was the home of many Greek fishing villages and while that is no longer the case, the spirit of fishing is still there. The fish market has different fish vendors to choose from, when you get there make sure to shop around. The vendors are in competition with one another so you can try to bargain for a better price. Once you’ve made your selections and paid for the fish, the restaurants in the same courtyard will cook (fry or grill) your food for 5 tl per person, that’s about $2.50 per person and includes salad and bread. It’s a lively experience with restaurant goers enjoying the open air atmosphere and live music.
Three hours south of Fethiye lies a smaller town that we found had a much more welcoming feel. The town of Kas, pronounced Kash, is centered around the harbor where there are restaurants, hotels, shops and bars and can be walked through in less than 10 minutes. The beaches are rocky in Kas, but the warm water and coves prevail any discomfort of walking over the pebbles. The beaches do get crowded, but a short ferry ride for about 60 Euros will get you to the Greek Island of Rhodes for a bit of privacy. Kas is also a popular location for scuba divers and sea kayakers wanting to explore the small islands and coves nearby.
We took part in a “Jeep Safari” tour which we turned out to be a fun day and would recommend for anyone seeking a little adventure. Since we didn’t rent a car in the Turkey portion of the trip, small adventure tours turned out to be good way to explore the region. The jeep safari trip had eight people in it and we explored Kas in an open top safari Jeep. It included breakfast in a nearby village underneath grape vines, a trip to Patara Beach (a former Lycian community and actually where the first parliament was ever established as well as the first light house), canyoneering in the longest known canyon in Turkey which included a kebab or grilled fish lunch and finally a stop at a pristine blue cove, called Kaputas, for a swim.
There are private beaches in Kas, where you have to pay for a lounge chair because they’re claimed by the restaurants and bars behind it, usually for 5 tl (~$2.50), but you can find a few public beaches just outside of town. Pebble Beach is a beautiful beach which is about 500 meters south of town, and is easy and safe to walk to. The beach area offers lounge chairs, but you can use them as long as you buy something for the restaurants or pay the small fee. The prices are reasonable for food and their menu has burgers, fries and kebabs.
One our way into Antalya we decided to use our Marriott free night certificate for a one night stay at the Renaissance Beach Resort. The resort is actually just out side Antalya, in a small strip of beach resorts know as Belbide. After a great stay at the resort we headed into Antalya for a night.
Antalya came off as a weird mix of big city tourist trap that feels like it should be on the beach, but there were no beaches to be found close to the city center. We enjoyed walking around Old Town Antalya which was beautiful and rich with Byzantine architecture and even had recent archaeological excavations taking place. I would say that spending a day in Antalya is enough, there are unique bars and restaurants to peruse and eat in, but you may be hard pressed to fill several days here. Several times we stopped in Simit Saray for baked goods; it’s an international chain based out of Turkey with good snacks and for cheap.
Antalya is known for its beaches, but it’s the beaches outside the metropolitan area. You will most likely have to stay in a resort outside of the city or you can take a 20 minute dolmus trip.
A Quick Glimpse of the Renaissance Antalya Beach Resort & Spa (full review to come)
The Renaissance Resort had all inclusive dining and drinks with international as well as the local Turkish cuisine. The drinks were rather strong and hard to enjoy, but if that’s how you like it then you can enjoy the several bars within the resort.
Like Kas, the Aegean Sea off the coast of Antalya was warm, clear and turquoise so you can spend literally hours just floating in the water or sitting beach side. The resort offered several activities like zumba, water aerobics, pancake making for kids and for an additional cost guests can jetski or parasail.
In my opinion, the only way to truly enjoy the beaches of Antalya is through a resort and this being said by someone who is not a complete fan of all-inclusive resort stays.