Turkey’s Lycian Way: An epic walk with beautiful beaches at every turn


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(CNN) – Turkey’s Lycian Way traverses steep mountains covered with pine, carob and strawberry trees.

It passes through 25 historical sites, including the UNESCO World Heritage sites of the ancient cities of Xanthos and Letoon. And the entire route takes 29 days to complete.

Sounds tiring, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, there is plenty of easy access to sun, sea and sand. Whether you’re an all-day beachgoer or a back-to-nature camper, there’s something for everyone.

All have the allure of a backdrop of towering mountains, the rustling of the wind through the trees and the endless expanse of clear blue water that meets the sky.

The Lycian Way consists of 335 miles (540 kilometers) of marked hiking trails on the Tekke Peninsula, stretching between Fethiye and Antalya on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast.

It occupies an area that once belonged to the Lycians, a democratic, highly cultured and independent people who lived from the end of the Bronze Age to the end of the Roman Empire.

They were ruled by the Persians, welcomed Alexander the Great, learned from Greek culture and were once a Roman province. By the time the Byzantine Christians came to live here, the Lycians had well and truly made their mark.

Here are the highlights of the tour.

Oludeniz

Oludeniz: Eternal turquoise.

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At the western end of the route is Ölüdeniz, a name that literally means Dead Sea, but it’s nothing.

This blue lagoon glass sheet feeds the Mediterranean, maintaining its turquoise and aquamarine hues even in the harshest weather.

In Lycian times, Ölüdeniz was known as the “land of light and sun” and on a hot summer’s day, as the light reflected off the burning sand at the mouth of Kumburnu Bay, it’s easy to see why.

The lake is part of a national park, so there is a small entrance to access the beach.

Once you get there, do as the name suggests, dipping in the water every now and then to keep things cool.

Alternatively, the more adventurous can admire the scenery of Babadağ — Father Mountain — descending with a tandem paraglider. At just over 6,233 feet (1,900 meters) high, it’s not for the faint of heart.

Butterfly Valley

The beach at Butterfly Valley is best accessed by water.

The beach at Butterfly Valley is best accessed by water.

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Less than three miles from Ölüdeniz is Kelebekler Vadisi, known in English as Butterfly Valley.

Almost vertical rock walls descend 1,148 meters to a green valley dotted with olive, fruit, walnut and other trees.

A powerful waterfall, the source of which is located in the village of Faralya at the top of the cliffs, descends from the back of the canyon. This water forms a stream that runs through the middle of the valley, flowing into the sea in a spectacular game of teal and azure.

Home to 105 species of butterflies, compared to most other beaches on the coast Butterfly Valley has few facilities, and that is on purpose.

In 1981, a cooperative bought the valley from the people of Faralya. Their goal was to preserve its natural beauty, avoiding commercial development. Six years later the government declared it a national reserve.

Access is easiest from the water. Tour boats anchor at sea for a few hours every day and those who want to spend the night can use the shared taxi boat service in Ölü Deniz.

No permanent buildings are allowed, so accommodation consists of tents, basic huts and bungalows.

Laptops, tablets, and cell phones stay charged for a few hours at most when the power is on. The focus is on nature. During the day the silence is broken only by the lapping of the waves on the shore and at night the crackling of the fire and the bursts of laughter at beach barbecues and gatherings.

Patara

Patara Beach: 12 kilometers of soft sand and gentle dunes.

Patara Beach: 12 kilometers of soft sand and gentle dunes.

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Next comes the old city of Patara. Patara Ka XIII. It dates back to the 13th century and became the main city of Lycia under the rule of Ptolemy III. In the century, because of the access to the sea.

Famous names abound in its history. It is the birthplace of St. Nicholas (aka Santa), a prophet of Apollo rumored to have lived here and boarded the ship that took St. Paul to Rome.

Today, the remains of this once prosperous maritime city and important center of Christianity play second fiddle to Patara Beach, known for its 12 kilometers of soft sand and gentle dunes.

Locals and tourists alike marvel at the tiny, delicate white grains of crushed quartz that spread across the beach, falling from the crystal clear waters into the sea.

A very special category of foreign visitors are the endangered sea turtles. Patara is one of the few farms left in the Mediterranean.

The turtles come every year between May and October and each one lays 100 eggs. After being covered with sand, they return to the water, leaving the next generation to their fate.

At hatching the baby turtles have to make do with crabs, dogs, foxes and birds, so few of them make it to adulthood.

Patara was declared a special protection area in 1990. Now there is an abundance of birds, plants, small wetlands and of course magical beaches.

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Kaputaş Beach: as if someone cut a triangle in the cliffs.

Kaputaş Beach: as if someone cut a triangle in the cliffs.

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Seen from the air, Kaputaş Beach looks like a triangle cut out of the cliffs, like a big pie wedge.

A narrow ribbon of asphalt curves around the rock face and access to the beach seems impossible. Standing on the road and looking over the edge you can only see a staircase of 187 steps.

The descent looks like hard work in the peak heat but the effort to reach the bottom is worth it. A dip in the sea, where a stream of cold underground water feeds the sweet Mediterranean, awaits. It’s just a tonic on a hot summer day.

Buyukcakil

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

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At Büyükcakıl (Big Pebble Beach), the sometimes short and sharp waves are perfect for those who enjoy a more active beach experience.

Salt water mixed with fresh water from an underground spring breaks over the rounded stones that form the shore that gives the beach its name.

Swimming shoes are essential and those with children beware, the stones underfoot suddenly give way to the sea.

In high season, the beach is lined with colorful umbrellas and sunbathers. After a hard day’s swimming (if necessary), it’s a great place to watch the sun go down before heading to Kaş, just over a kilometer to the west.

It’s Turkey’s main seaside town, with a twist. Lycian tombs serve as street markers, while an underground water cistern is accessed by a bar with seven rock-carved columns — one of only two remaining from Hellenistic and Roman times.

Olympos and Cirali

Çıralı Beach is surrounded by history.

Çıralı Beach is surrounded by history.

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A long stretch of sand to the eastern end of the Lycian Way lies in an area ringed with history.

Mount Olympus is to the north, the Ancient City of Olympus to the south and Mount Chimaera in between. Mount Olympus or Tahtalı Dağı as it is called in Turkish, was believed to be the home of the gods.

According to Homer, it was here that the evil sea god Poseidon wrecked the storm that wrecked Odysseus’ ship on his way home from the Trojan War.

Today a tourist destination, the ancient city of Olympus was once the center of the Lycian federation, founded in the Hellenistic period.

Inscriptions on the walls and a sarcophagus from the IVth century BC. They are from the 2nd century, the coins were created here in the II century. century and Cicero described it as a city adorned with art and culture.

Mount Chimaera, Burning Rock or Yanartaş in Turkish, is named after the small natural fires that come out of the cracks in the rocks.

They are most visible at night, but with the height of the fire reaching about two feet, don’t expect a huge pyrotechnic display.

Instead, marvel at the fact that they were believed to have been burning continuously for 2,500 years. Sailors used the glow of these flammable gases to navigate their ships and some say they were the inspiration for the fire-breathing Chimera in Homer’s Iliad.

This part of the coast is divided into two beaches, Olimpos and Çıralı, each with its own different character.

The northern end of Çıralı Beach is sheltered by a fertile plain of palm and olive trees and has a peaceful atmosphere, while the southern end, called Olimpos Beach, is known for its treehouse accommodation and nightly fireside parties.

Stay at one beach alone or try each of them in turn. Both share the same gorgeous expanse of water with its brilliant palette of extraordinary shades of blue.