For the longest time, Turkey’s turquoise coast, nicknamed the Turkish Riviera, has been overlooked for its more high-profile European counterparts. Extending along the southwest coast of the country, from the Aegean to the Mediterranean Sea in the south, this sun-drenched piece of rugged coastline has been under the radar, but it is slowly getting its due, and with good reason.
The beaches here rival those of any summer destination in Europe, the waters are crystal clear, ranging from hues of teal and aquamarine green to cerulean blue, while the food is fabulous wherever you go. Add to that a selection of luxe resorts and trendy boutique hotels, slick clubs, and hideaway beaches, and one wonders why this destination wasn’t talked about more. So, where do you start? While the towns of Antalya, Bodrum, and Marmaris are the party hotspots, they do tend to be touristy and overcrowded, especially during the summer months. It’s best if you choose going offbeat instead, and renting a car to drive along the coast, making pit stops at picturesque waterfront towns and serene blue bays that are packed with things to do and see. Here’s a handy guide on how you can make the most of your trip across this incredibly gorgeous coast:
HIRE A GULET TO SEE THE COAST’S MANY HIDDEN BAYS AND LAGOONS
There’s no better way to explore the stunning waters of this coastline than hiring a traditional Turkish wooden sailing boat called gulet. Once ubiquitous during the time of the Ottomans, these gulets are now chartered by tourists to go beach hopping and explore secluded bays. Hire one for the day or even half a day as you sail across the calm blues of the Mediterranean. The town of Kaş, located just a short distance away from the Greek island of Meis, is the perfect starting point. From here, you can charter a gulet (only way to get there) to explore the famous island of Kekova, that is home to a historical sunken city and archaeological site. Sitting just a few metres below the turquoise blue waters, these ruins date back to the Lycian era. Along the way, you’ll find secluded coves and bays where you can dive off your boat for a leisurely dip in the Mediterranean.
SKIP THE LUXURY BEACHFRONT RESORTS FOR A BOUTIQUE STAY IN THE IDYLLIC COUNTRYSIDE
If you truly want to appreciate the beauty of the turquoise coast, don’t just stick to the large beachfront resorts for your stay. Instead, hop into a car, and drive down the seemingly never-ending coastline between Bodrum and Antalya that’s dotted with lush olive and lemon groves. You’ll be spoilt for choice with the number of chic boutique properties and hotels in towns that have managed to avoid the influx of mass tourism. An option worth considering is the town of Kalkan — once a fishing village and now an upscale getaway for locals and expats. Datça, a rustic port town jutting out into the Aegean Sea, with bougainvillea-filled streets, stunning boutique properties, pristine beaches, and postcard-perfect turquoise bays, is another worthy pick. Göcek is up and coming, with its secluded resorts and marinas, making it an attractive stopover for yachts.
EXPERIENCE MYKONOS-LIKE PARTY CULTURE
Summer and beach clubs are synonymous. And be rest assured, the ones on the Turkish Riviera won’t disappoint. The beach clubs here vary, from slick and sexy to those with a boho-chic, laidback vibe. Head out in the afternoon where you can grab yourself a sunbed, nosh on flatbreads and sushi, and later jump into the sea for a swim. Come sundown and the tempo picks up with the perfect music and drinks for company. Yuzu Beach Club and Om | Paparazzi in Çeşme are popular with locals and tourists alike. For something a bit more relaxed, you have the Sea Me beach club near Fethiye. You might feel like you’re transported to Ibiza with its chic cabanas, teepees, and sun loungers, coupled with decor in soothing shades of cream and taupe. Sip on cocktails, sample food like pizzas and grills as you unwind to lounge music, or simply take a dip in the sea. It can be tough getting a reservation at these beach clubs, so make sure you book beforehand. Q Lounge at D-Resort in Göcek is another perfect spot for a sundowner and a popular pick with the well-heeled yachting crowds.
DISCOVER UNDERRATED, LESS EXPLORED BEACHES
Miles of rugged coastline means plenty of hideaway coves and beaches to explore. Kaputaş beach is one of the best kept secrets on this stretch, where the deep blue of the Mediterranean contrasts with the earthy mountains. Hidden below steep cliffs where the sea laps against white sand and pebbles in its own little bay, this is one of the most sought-after beaches in Turkey for its sheer natural beauty. You’ll have to find yourself a parking spot on the highway — a tough ask, but worth it to experience this beach. Further down is Patara beach, said to be one of the longest in Turkey, offering over 17 kilometres of white sand and turquoise blue sea. You also cannot miss out on Oludeniz beach, just off the harbour town of Fethiye. One of the most picturesque and photographed beaches here, the calm and bright waters of the blue lagoon is a big draw. Water sports are a big deal, so take your pick from activities such as paddle boarding, kayaking, windsurfing, kitesurfing, and others.
SAMPLE SOME OF THE FRESHEST FOOD IN TURKEY
Everything on the coast is fresh, locally caught, and grilled to perfection. Meats, seafood, and cheeses are dominant on any table, and the meals here can be as simple or as elaborate as you want them to be. The smaller, rustic restaurants located in centuries-old cobbled lanes are where you will probably find some of the best food. If you’re in Kaş, go to Pell’s for some lip-smacking fare and craft cocktails, while Oburus Momus does great vegan food. Spaghetti Ci in Kaş is where I had the best Italian food that I have ever had. For great local cuisine, grab yourself doner kebabs from street vendors, or mussels — fresh from the sea — with a squeeze of lime. Crack open a cool beer to cap off your meal. Breakfast (locally known as kahvalti) is a big deal wherever you go in Turkey, but here on the coast, you can expect mezzes and platefuls of olives, crusty bread, and a whole variety of cheeses and preserves that you can spoon fresh honey over, Turkish-style eggs, and much more. If it’s fine dining you’re after, Fethiye has some great options. Head to the Yacht Classic Hotel, where its sophisticated waterfront restaurant, Mori, serves classic French cuisine and Turkish fare with a great wine list. Order yourself a medallion steak, and a crisp glass of red to go with it. There’s also the swish bar, where the James Bond film Skyfall was shot, a great place to unwind. Citrus at Casa Margot is another spot for fine dining, and it offers Turkish and Mediterranean cuisine.
STAY ON A YACHT OR CHARTER ONE FOR A TRUE-BLUE MEDITERRANEAN EXPERIENCE
With several towns boasting of beautiful harbours and marinas, it’s no surprise that yachting is a big activity here. So, to truly live the Mediterranean life, why not charter one for a couple of days? The blue lagoon in Oludeniz is renowned for its crystal-clear waters, and should be a must-visit on your itinerary. Whilst you’re here, don’t miss out on butterfly valley — a lush, secluded piece of paradise that’s typically accessible by boat. Spend the day kayaking, or snorkeling in the aquamarine waters. Lounge about on your yacht as you enjoy a freshly-caught seafood meal, surrounded by surreal blues and pine-covered hills.
VISIT ANCIENT GREEK AND ROMAN RUINS
When you’re able to pull yourself away from the sheer beauty of the coast and its pristine waters, there’s also plenty of history to be explored. The ancient city of Ephesus is a wonder and a UNESCO World Heritage site. At one time, Ephesus was one of the most important port cities of the ancient Mediterranean world and you can spend almost an entire day here, exploring the ruins, terraced houses, colonnaded pathways, Roman and Greek temples, and amphitheater. Pamukkale is one of those Instagrammable destinations filled with mineral-rich thermal pools and white travertine terraces cascading down a cliff. Pro tip: you can soak in Cleopatra’s antique pool (said to be favored by the Egyptian queen herself) fed by the same hot springs to get a true sense of history and grandeur this place once commanded.