The Warm and Sweet Waters of the Aegean: a Week in Fethiye

Dalaman airport had long been a mystery to me. You may wonder why I cared about Dalaman airport in the first place, well I did, I’m one of those people who binge watch aviation videos on YouTube and reach for their phone to check Flight Radar whenever they hear the distant rumble of an airplane above their heads. I just couldn’t connect Dalaman to anything, it was in Turkey, alright, but where were all those people flying to Dalaman actually headed. The answer was revealed as I was searching options for a double whammy Turco-Greek seaside holiday. I’d identified Fethiye as having excellent weather in September while also being comfortingly close to Rhodes, with a twice-a-day ferry connection linking the two. All I had to figure out was how to get to Fethiye, and there it was. Dalaman airport. A gateway not only to Fethiye and the (drone)picture perfect Ölüdeniz to the east of it, but also the popular Marmaris and Datça resorts to the west. So this is where all those people landing in Dalaman were actually headed to.

It’s one of those typical minimalist metal hangar affairs, Dalaman International Airport, planned strictly to swallow the throngs of summer tourists. You can almost feel its winter silence and stillness as you walk through the corridor to the baggage retrieval area, where your baggage hasn’t yet arrived. The smaller the airport, the fewer the flights, the longer the time for your luggage to arrive. Nobody is in a rush here, we’re all on holiday. Even the staff working the conveyor belts. The list of arrivals is a strange universe as well. Domestic connections from Istanbul and Ankara. Dozens of flights from the UK. Dozens more from Russia. And that’s it, the odd European charter flight getting lost among the Sochis and Birminghams.

It now made sense why the price of the airport transfer was conveyed to me in pounds sterling. Days later, as the news of the queen’s death flashed up on my phone screen, I was surrounded by throngs of her subjects, an England away from England, with better weather and better food. Rows of bars showing Premiership games (when not postponed). The sweet and sour whiff of Chinese restaurants, the spiciness of curry mixing with the familiar smoky scents of the traditional Turkish grill. English breakfasts on all terraces, but thank God, nobody dared ruin our day with a porridge. I can’t say I was delighted by this cultural oddity, but it had to do.

I’d chosen our hotel like you throw darts at a map (I do that most of the time, with varying success), so it turned out we were at the upper end of town, a solid walk away from the centre. The town’s Greek name, Makri, the long one, made a lot of sense as I forged my way along the seashore from our beach at Çalış towards the port. I was out in the midday sun, that would be me, dogs, and Englishmen. The observation was literally correct. Fethiye has a population of well catered for mutts, forever teetering on the edge between being strays and restaurant mascots. Englishmen were out on their jogs; I knew they were English because of that special salmon pink tint of sunburnt Anglo-Saxon skin and the Accrington Stanley kits.

But the route is lovely, one of the most pleasant seaside promenades I’ve been on. Çalış beach is an unfussy affair, with long sandy stretches and shallow, warm water. The view is quite splendid, green crests embracing the bay on both sides, the silhouette of Kızılada ahead and the twin peaks of the Babadağ, the ‘father mountain’ looming large on the horizon. Restaurants line the shore, and in most places, you’ll be able to rent a sunbed and an umbrella by ordering a meal or a drink from the adjacent establishment. Up next is a nature reserve of sorts, humbly called Kuş cenneti, bird paradise, though the most exciting types of birds I glimpsed were some fancy ducks, and plenty of pigeons. But perhaps the whole point of a paradise for birds is to keep humans as far away as possible from them, so after being taken on a detour, you face the glory of Şehit Fethi Bey parkı. Known as Meğri in Ottoman times, Fethiye was renamed in 1934 in honour of Fethi Bey, one of the first pilots of the Ottoman Airforce, who lost his life in 1914, while attempting the first ever Istanbul to Cairo flight. The park, some questionable statuary work aside, looked inviting enough, but was deserted. The heat, I remembered, the heat, and was later delighted to discover that the park gets positively boisterous come evening, so much so that the fun spills over onto the grassy patches separating the promenade from the road, with hundreds of impromptu picnics being held late into the night.

In ancient times, what is today Fethiye was known as Telmessos, and before switching to Ancient Greek, its inhabitants spoke Lycian, an Indo-European language related to the Luwian which was probably spoken by the Trojans of the Iliad. Memories of long gone days persist in the landscape around town, such as the Tomb of Amyntas, carved into the hillside around 350 BC, when the town and its surroundings were part of the First Persian Empire. The nearby hillside fortification was closed for repairs at the time of our visit, and the ancient amphitheatre, located close to the port, is also undergoing ‘maintenance’, but it can still be glimpsed from the meandering street which runs right above it in the old town.

On the other side of the hill lies a ghost town, known as Kayaköy in Turkish and Levissi in Greek, roughly 500 houses once inhabited by Greeks, who left, or were driven out, by the end of WWI. Beyond Kayaköy lies one of the major attractions of the area: the turquoise and aquamarine waters (and lagoon) of Ölüdeniz. The spectacular pebbly beach is best taken in from the air, and luckily enough, the nearby slopes of the Babadağ offer a splendid opportunity for paragliding, so the normal landscape of Ölüdeniz, besides the fabulous blues of daytime and similarly fabulous crimsons of the sunset also includes dozens of colourful paragliders circling like birds of prey above the lagoon. The great thing about Ölüdeniz is that, while wildly popular, it is also very much inclusive, offering both cheap and expensive options for food and drinks, and special attention is paid to preserving the unique natural environment of the site. As any respectable Turkish town, Fethiye relies heavily on small buses, dolmuşes, for public transportation, but we found that taxi rides are extremely convenient and save you the hassle of identifying bus stops, having the right change and riding on packed vehicles- a taxi ride from Çalış, at the northern end of town to Ölüdeniz, at the southern end, was no more than 15 euros for four people, tip included. Generally speaking, the weak lira has made Turkey a great value for money destination, the bazars being an absolute goldmine for the discerning- and not so discerning buyer. The demand for fake fashion items, from clothes and bags to watches and sunglasses is so high that some stores in the centre have special notices informing costumers that they, shockingly, only sell genuine items. For those interested in more intellectual pursuits, the city centre has a solid number of bookstores, but most of them have only a few books in English, and occasionally French or German, mostly crime and romance novels traditionally designated as ‘beach reads’. The best selection is available at the Fethiye Sahaf Kitabevi, conveniently located in a lush green area right by the port. Cats are also known to provide instafriendly poses lounging on the shelves, but they were mysteriously elusive during our visit.

While, theoretically, you can’t go very wrong with food in Turkey, some of the more ‘English focused’ restaurants can come up with very average, Westernised dishes. Of the ones we tried, Boğaziçi and Hilmi offered the best authentic meals, with really excellent fish patties to be found in the latter. They are both about halfway between Çalış and the port, in the area known as Sahil, and have terraces with great views of the bay. Back in Çalış, Zoi is also strong on the fresh fish front and has a selection of tasty meze as well.  I would often say that the only downside to being in Turkey or Greece is the local coffee- not that there is anything wrong with it, it’s simply that no amount of it will ever give me the proper wake up kick I need in the morning. Fortuitously, in Fethiye I found not one, but three excellent specialty coffee shops: Keçi Coffee Roastery and Sirius Coffee in the city centre, and Cervos Coffee Roasters, a bit off the usual touristy route, but very much worth the small detour. Right around the corner from Keçi and Sirius, we also bumped into an unexpected gem: Anadolu Gazozucu, a small store selling a wide variety of gazoz, the Turkish take on the soda. They try to eschew the mainstream brands (such as the Uludağ you will find on most supermarket shelves) and go for lesser known ones, some of which have developed a cult following during a recent gazoz renaissance. Since I am a sucker for ginger, I warmly recommend the Beyoğlu Zencefil gazoz, which comes served in a bespoke bottle modelled on the Galata Tower.

Since a common denominator of our stay in Fethiye and later, in Rhodes, was that both sides (as in, Turkish and Greek) would happily and defiantly play each other’s music in bars and restaurants, here’s a mix of local finds and some other tunes that served as a sonic backgrop to our holiday.

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