Sone morning in the quiet lakeside town of Koycegiz, and the only sounds drifting beneath the towering eucalyptus trees in its small main square are those of backgammon counters slapped against the boards and the faint murmur of conversation on simit, the Turkish equivalent of a bagel, and small cups of sweet coffee. At restaurants lining the waterfront, families eat breakfast and couples snap photos of the shimmering teal expanse, separated from the sky by a jagged line of low, purple-hued mountains that soar like alligators sleeping giants.
Despite its location, there are no lounge chairs or beach clubs in Koycegiz; is part of the European Cittaslow network – a community of towns and cities working to create a more sustainable and slower quality of life (cittaslow.org) – it’s more of a place people come to stroll, stroll the lake or dive into the town’s famous organic bazaar for pomegranates, citrus fruits, plump scarlet tomatoes and bushels of fresh herbs . There are few hotels here other than simple guesthouses and British visitors rarely come at all except on day trips from Dalyan, a small resort town along the river which flows directly into the lake.
A boat trip on Lake Koycegiz
Came here on a day trip from Gocek, about a 30 minute drive southeast. The pretty port city, where the Aegean Sea and the Mediterranean meet, is one of Turkey’s best-known shipping centers and has grown into a sophisticated little seaside resort. Most visitors come for its beaches or to venture into the glistening Gulf of Fethiye and sail between the islands and coves that shape this extraordinary coastline. But the town also makes an ideal base for experiencing the rural side of Turkey, at its most beautiful during the autumn months, when the temperature drops enough to make walking a pleasure and the beech trees and eucalyptus trees provide of auburn and yellow between evergreen leaves. forests.
For keen mountain bikers and walkers, the area is home to a network of hiking and biking trails that wind through the mountains and up the coast around Gocek, Dalaman and Koycegiz, marked with bright yellow signage (theecotrails. com.tr ). I opt for the 8 km route from Gocek to Inlice beach, starting from the resort town of Rixos and walking along the city’s palm-lined promenade, with dozens of sparkling yachts and wooden schooners floating gently in the sea. As the houses melt, the path leads to a shady strip of sweet-gum forest – also known as liquidambar, sweet-gum sap was once used in medicinal and beauty products (Cleopatra was a devotee), but the trees are now so under threat that a replanting program is underway in southwestern Turkey to ensure the species does not turn off not here.
I can’t make it all the way to Inlice; the gradient and the hot sun beat me down, but not before standing on a hill and slowly turning 360 degrees to admire the vast cerulean sea and the towering mountains behind – the beauty of Gocek is that it’s just as easy to explore like the other.
The next day, in the late afternoon, I drive to the nearby mountain village of Gokceovacik, known for its few yoga retreats and some of the most spectacular views in the region. When I pull up to the outskirts of the village, I open the car door to a silence so thick it seems almost tangible. It’s quickly broken, however, with the sounds of chickens screeching and children chattering, their voices probably carrying a mile or two away.
I can’t find a marked walking trail, so hike for about a mile along a track that takes me up the side of the mountain, where the view stops me in my tracks. The few signs of human settlement blend into a vast landscape of rolling mountains, olive groves and forests, each peak interlocking with the next – a jagged zig-zag of sunlit khaki greens and faded yellows sleeping slowly.
Back in Gocek, where the bustling main street is dotted with organic shops and cafes and the air laden with English-speaking voices, it’s hard to believe such unspoilt beauty is only minutes away. As night falls, restaurants fill with families, couples settle down for cocktails at tables set in the shallows of the sea, and tenders spin between yachts that have settled for the night in the protected bay of Gocek. After the wild and silent emptiness of the mountains, it is quite nice to be surrounded by life and real excitement. I find a table at Mezegi, just off the waterfront, and treat myself to a succulent aubergine salad and a crispy, roasted sea bass, and promise myself not to end up with a baklava (dish from £15; facebook.com/mezegi).
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My base in Gocek is Rixos – a stylish all-inclusive with a private beach accessible by river shuttle and an extensive excursion program including guided and cycle tours. Not sure if I’m ready to hit the slopes on a mountain bike, I pick up a road bike from the fitness center and wobble along the cobblestone boardwalk in Gocek, following the path I rode the day before. in the evening. It’s about 2.5 km from one end of town to the other, past several marinas and luxury villas; an easy and pleasant walk with a gentle autumn breeze blowing off the water. On the way back I stop at Baba Dondurma and treat myself to a scoop of salted caramel ice cream, tossing in a scoop of lavender in a second for good measure (£2 a scoop, instagram.com/babadondurma) .
A beachside bar in Gocek
On my last day, I return to Koycegiz and branch off to Toparlar, a village high up in the mountain forest, known for its waterfall and natural pools. It’s a 15-minute walk through the trees along a relatively well-made track, and I’m rewarded for my efforts with crystal-clear, albeit icy, water and the pleasant roar of the waterfall cascading over the rocks. It’s hardly peaceful — Turkish families have had picnics and kids are jumping in the water — but it’s quite untouched; no cafes or stalls, just towering pines, leafy eucalypts and jagged rocky outcrops.
I am struck, as I drive to Koycegiz for a final lakeside lunch, how much we miss thinking that all holidays should be spent by the sea. The Turkish coastline is extraordinarily beautiful, but it is in the mountains behind that the real country is to be discovered – a place for sweet adventures among landscapes that have remained unchanged for centuries.
Annabelle Thorpe was a guest of British Airways Holidays, which offers seven nights all-inclusive at Rixos Premium from £1,049 pp including flights and transfers (ba.com)