There is something extremely liberating about long drives along a beautiful coast. You roll the windows down, the ocean breeze hits your face, with the sea open and wide that it makes you envision a freedom. It gets even better if there are small coastal towns and villages for you to stop along the way to sample their slow-paced lifestyles, taste their local delights and watch sunsets in the quiet of the waves lapping onto the shores.
If you like all these things, then a drive along the coasts of South Turkey, otherwise known as the Turkish riviera, is definitely something you should do.
In general, the Turkish coast drive spans as long as Izmir to Antalya, but if you have limited time and would like to not rush through it, you can always compress it down to a drive from Fethiye to Antalya instead. In fact, you’ll find that most people would agree that this part of the coast is more beautiful. I took a flight from Istanbul to Dalaman airport, which is the closest available airport to Fethiye. It’s called a ‘coastal drive’ after all, so you’ll do well to rent yourself a car and pick it up at the airport which will buy you more freedom.
1. Take A Long Walk By The Pier
My first stop, Fethiye, is a large port town with a relaxed atmosphere. I'd say that staying here for at least 2 days would give you ample time to see its main sights, although of course you can stay even longer if you wish to relax even more. The first order of business is to take a nice long walk around the neighbourhood, and so I recommend finding places to stay by the water because that’s where the livelihood of the town is. Even in winter, which was the season I was visiting in, you’ll see people hanging out by the pier, youths cycling down the blue-paved roads and children gleefully enjoying themselves at the playground. The air is crisp, and the sea water is a calm dark blue, with beautiful snow-capped mountains in the background. Yachts bob by the shore, and if you walk along the pier, it will naturally lead you towards the Old Town.
2. Visit The Old Town
In the Old Town, you’ll find a fish market, a popular place to go and sample Fethiye’s fresh seafood. If you’re a foreigner, expect the price to be marked up a little. Outside the fish market, you’ll find lots of small cafes dotted along the small streets – why not try out a bowl of lentil soup, or eat a spread of home-style dishes in a mom-and-pop lokanta? Tea shops are also available, which are small shops serving hot tea with some bread. I have recommendations on what you should definitely eat here.
In these coastal towns, Fethiye included, you’ll see a seamless blend of the ancient and new. Right smack in the middle of the modern town with modern architecture, you’ll find a sacorphagi. A sarcophagi, simply put, is an ancient tomb, and you’ll see plenty of these as you drive along. The ancient Lycians (who inhabited these coastlines centuries ago) believed that the living and dead should co-exist together, and so you’ll find these sarcophagis in the middle of a bustling town or village. Take a good half day to just walk around and explore the area, while sampling some local cafes.
3. See the Amintas Rock Tombs
Another great exhibition of Lycians are the Amintas Rock Tombs. These are virtually impressive, located in the cliffs of the hills in the back of the town. At a first glance, they actually resemble Petra in Jordan, although at a much smaller scale. It’s awe-inspiring to think about the amount of work it takes to carve monuments straight out of the face of a granitic hill. The tombs require a small entrance fee, although I must say it is definitely worth it, because not only do you get to admire some ancient history, but you’ll also get a sprawling view of Fethiye from a lookout point. It’s located at the edge of the city, and a few hours is more than enough for this.
4. Oludeniz Beach
You’ll be spoilt with beaches everywhere you drive along the Turkish coast, but around Fethiye, one of the most beautiful would be the Oludeniz beach. It’s a long stretch of sand capped at the edge by a range of mountains, and in the summer this place would be crowded. In winter, it’s best if viewed from its lookout point – you’ll get to enjoy the dark and mysterious Aegean sea as it splashes against the pale-coloured rugged coasts of the region.
To get the most out of Fethiye, I’d recommend staying there for at least 2-3 days, although I opted for a much shorter duration and it still was quite adequate to see key things in surrounding the town. My next stop driving out of Fethiye was Kas, a small charming village town a couple of hours from Fethiye, and you can read about that in the next article, which you can read here!
Where To Eat: Go here for recommendations for what I think you should eat in Turkey, in general.
If you ask me, I’d tell you that my personal highlight of the entire coastal drive was Kas. I suppose I’ve always enjoyed small villages more than bustling towns, so if you’re like me, I think you’ll find Kas a complete gem. Located at the corner of an extended peninsula of the Turkish coast, it’s a small hilly village with small streets lined with tiny cafes, charming shops and so, so, so many lemon trees. Kas is also a great center point to other places worth seeing around the area – I’ll tell you more about this.
1. Marvel The Old Quarter
In almost every town in the coast, you’ll find that each of them has an Old Town, or Old Quarter. After all, Turkey has had a long history of civilization over centuries, so it’s only natural to find these old remnants in every new population, embedded as part of the modern-day habitat. Kas is no exception, and walking around the Old Quarter, you’ll find yourself going through narrow cobbled streets with old houses now turned into cafes, pubs, shops and bakery. Take your time exploring the corners of this area, and if you fancy, drop by a café or two to sample local coffee and baked goods.I’d recommend Gado café, and although the cakes weren’t that amazing to me, its high point is a guy who sits and play the piano for hours, and it’s lovely to sit with a hot cup and listen to. There are also seriously adorable cats roaming roaming around.
2. See The Most Beautiful Beach In Turkey (Allegedly)
Beauty is subjective, I know, but there’s something to be said if almost everyone is consistently saying it. Such is the reputation of Kaputas beach, a narrow little beach between two high coastal cliffs. It’s a pebbly beach, and I think what makes it beautiful is the aqua green waters of the Aegean Sea against the pale beige outcrops that makes for a very mesmerizing view. In the summer this beach would be crowded, but in the winter it is almost empty, so you’d do well to make your way down the cliffs and sit for a while on the pebbles watching the sun go by. You can also see Greece from the beach, which is always a treat.
3. Explore The Kayakoy Ghost Town
There’s a long list of things you can do in and around Kars, but if you’re stripped down for time and can only choose very few, then please, let this be one of those things.
The Kayakoy Ghost Town is a basically and abandoned town that dates back to the 14th century. In the beginning, it was a harmonious town consisting of Anatolian Muslims and Greek Orthodox Christians. However, during the Greco-Turkish war, a population exchange occurred, and people were forced to gradually abandoned this town that had been home to them for centuries.
Today, walking around this abandoned town really does have an eerie feeling to it. The stone walls and homes are empty, the large churches echo with voids and you can see the old schools and chapels, eaten by time. I took almost half a day walking around the area as it is very large, but you could easily spend longer here if you’d like.
4. Bask In The Sunset At Hallenistic Theatre
A walking distance from Kas center, this amphitheatre won’t be the best you had ever seen, but it does boast a beautiful sunset facing the sea. Back in its days of glory, it could house 4000 spectators, but now it’s a beautifully aged monument. People come to hang out with friends and dates, and it’s generally quiet as the sun begin to set and you can watch it all while sitting on the ancient seats, with Meis Island (Greece) in view.
5. Enjoy A day trip to the village of Kalkan
Kalkan is a small village a short drive away from Kas, and I love the chill of it. Fishermen’s boats are anchored by the jetty, and you see locals hanging out by the water, smoking and fishing the day away. Walking down the quiet lanes, you’ll see almost a glimpse of Greek-influenced structures – mosques that look like they were inspired by Santorini, their domes and walls whitewashed against the clear blue sky. The restaurants are beautiful and honours the local specialty of the place.
6. Visit Demre to See The Ancient Town of Myra, But Also To Eat A Lot Of Oranges
What?? Another ancient town?? I know, I know, but seriously, they’re beautiful to explore and there are plenty of them along your coastal drive, it’s almost a crime if you don’t keep visiting them until you’re head starts spinning.
Myra is an ancient Lycian town located in Demre, and you can spend a few hours roaming around this large space admiring its rock tombs and large ampitheatre. I love how the ruins are well maintained, and if you come during the winter it’s almost empty, so you’ll feel like Indiana Jones sans the villains chasing after you.
But wait. I haven’t even told you the best part yet. Myra is located in the current-day orange agricultural area. What this means is when the season is right, you’ll drive through miles and miles of orange trees, their ripened fruits a beautiful color against the dark green leaves. The locals don’t mind if you pluck a few, and there are orange juice stalls here and there where you can enjoy a fresh glass of orange juice for as low as 10 liras.
7. Try Local Produce
This should actually be in the to-do list of any place you ever visit! Trying local produce straight from the fresh food market is great way to get acquainted with the local way of life. You’ll learn about what they grow locally, what’s in season and when, how they eat and if you’re lucky, you’ll get to chat with everyday people doing their everyday chores.
In Kars, I had the pleasure of enjoying strawberries, oranges and lemon which were in season in winter. I bought some to eat at home with local yoghurt, and even cooked a proper breakfast using all the produce from the market. It’s quite fun trying out produce, but preparing them in my own personal way.
Where To Eat: You can find all my recommendations on what to eat here, but specifically in Kas, Zula Meyhane for a wonderful dinner with a view, Smiley’s for delicious fresh seafood, the small fruit juice stall in front of Myra ruins, Good cafe for some coffee and music.
Before I ever visited Turkey, I have always had an impression that Turkish food is mainly just kebabs. I blame this on the stigma that was set on me by Turkish restaurants in the city I live in, Kuala Lumpur. Often, Turkish food is bundled up as middle eastern, when of course this is far from true. For starters, Turkey is located in Europe and Asia, different continents altogether. This broad area means that there are amalgamations of all sorts when it comes to their cuisine – some influences from Greece, some from Middle East, and some from Eastern Europe. So when you dine in Turkey, expect a variation of things that would tantalize your tastebuds (and yes, not limited to kebabs!). Here are some delicacies that I think you should at least try when visiting.
1. A proper Turkish breakfast
A Turkish breakfast is a feast. They come in a set platter, with small servings of a little bit of everything – think different kinds of cheeses, local honey, fresh selection of salads, breads, fruit preserves, and eggs prepared in your choice. The classic Turkish breakfast allows you to start the day by sampling local produce, and different regions often have different highlights, like a specialty cheese or a specific way of making eggs. Warm cups of Turkish tea will be accompanying your breakfast feast.
2. Lentil Soup
It doesn’t sound very exciting, but truly, if there are only a few things you get to try and eat in Turkey, one has to be their lentil soups. The two generally popular types of lentil soup are the mild yellow and mercimek corbasi, the former a mild warming soup and the latter its slightly spicier sibling (my favourite!). Lentil soup is a popular choice for breakfast, as an entre before a meal and as a warming bowl during the cold winter months. The best part is that they are cheap and accessible pretty much anywhere around the country, especially in a local lokanta.
Kunefe is a popular dessert found in Turkey, Egypt, Iran, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Oman, Palestine, Qatar. Saudi Arabia, Syria, UAE and Bahrain (did I leave anyone out??). In general it is mainly made by from shredded phyllo, cheese, nuts and syrup, although there are actually variations of this anatomy, using different kinds of cheese, nuts, layering and ratio. Kunefe is very decadent, and the best way to enjoy it is at the café or restaurant itself, where they are prepared fresh and served piping hot for you.
In Turkey, you’ll find that kunefe is a beloved delicacy. Every town, every village will have a kunefe place, and you’ll often see these places with crowds of locals taking their time to share this dessert with their loved ones. A larger kunefe place will even have a kunefe menu, where you can choose your own variation you’d like to try, or even the house special. I succumbed to having one (or two!) almost every night, and let me tell you, they were worth all the calories.
With long coast lines, a metropolitan revolving around the Bosphorus river and beautiful lakes, it’s no surprise that the Turks know their seafood. Sandwiched between the Black Sea and the Aegean Sea, the variations of fish and shellfish are a sight to behold, and an influence from the Mediterranean means that these are often prepared simply, relying on the freshness of the produce.
If you’re wanting to give them a try, a good way is to always ask the restaurant what their specialties are – sometimes it’s their seafood mezes, sometimes it’s their trout, sometimes there are specific kinds of crabs available in the season. Honestly, I’ve never had a bad seafood dish in all my days in Turkey.
5. Local fruits
Turkey is blessed with so many agricultural produce throughout its seasons. It is abundant with fruits and vegetables, thanks to the weather and fertile volcanic soils. You get to sample these of course when you eat at restaurants, but others, such as fruits, deserve no other special treatment other than you buying them fresh off the market to enjoy.
If you can, pop into a local market and see what’s fresh and in season. Enjoy oranges straight off the trees. Buy a pack of strawberries and dip them in some local yoghurt. In a way, you are also supporting local farmers and small businesses too.
6. Lahmacun and Pide
Lahmacun and pide are two siblings of the pizza family. The base is bread, where lahmacun is a thin crust and pide is a thicker choice made with a moat-shaped dough, and the toppings are meat, a mix of meat and vegetables, or cheese. Both can be easily found in their joints almost everywhere, kind of like how you would find pizza joints. The best kinds are always prepared in a woodfire oven, and although I have love for both of them, lahmacun is easily my favourite.
Lahamacun and pide are what you would call street food – cheap, easily accessible and generally pleasing. In fact, it is a rite of passage for anyone visiting Turkey.
7. Jacket potato
I mean, a baked jacket potato is good anywhere, right? Turkey is no exception! Locally known as ‘kumpir’, jacket potatoes are beloved within the culture, and you’ll find jacket potato stalls especially in Istanbul with an array of toppings, from pickled vegetables, chili-style gravy, meat, cheese and others. Relatively cheap, they are amazing for quick meals or even a snack. Be sure to try a kumpir at least once when you’re in Turkey.
Now we’re in the realm of something that is considered an ‘acquired taste’ (which translates to: some people like it, others absolutely can’t brain it). Kokorec is basically grilled chopped innards – this includes hearts, lungs, kidneys of cows or goats – cooked over an open fire with spices, chopped and mixed with some vegetables and stuffed into a toasted baguette. This sandwich is enjoyed by locals, and I find it quite nice albeit a little strong sometimes.
It’s one of those traditional delicacies that I feel worth trying if you’re in the Turkey, especially f you’re a fan of innards/tripes.
Mezes are basically tapas. They’re small platters of appetizers commonly offered by restaurants, and you enjoy them with some bread before your main plates arrive. There are literally so many mezes to choose from all over the country, some seafood-based, some vegetarian-based and some showcasing local delights of the area. Ask the restaurants for their specials and give them a try!
Whichever you choose, be sure to sample a little of each for the experience. My favourites are often the vegetarian ones, like a freshly made eggplant dip, hummus, and artichokes. However, the seafood ones are also often a delight, like a cured mackerel or anchovies in olive oil. Honestly, I don’t think you can ever go wrong with mezes.
It’s Europe after all, so expect a lot of cheese. And a lot of good cheese. As mentioned previously, a good way to sample local cheese would be through ordering a Turkish breakfast which would include some samples of cheese, but otherwise, all your dairy needs can be easily met in the widely available cheese chops, supermarkets and morning markets. Moreover, each region has their own specialty cheese for you to try.
If I have to recommend, I’d say go for the goat cheese, which are white as snow, melts like butter and is not too salty. Kars cheese from the region of Kars is also beautifully made. For snacks, try the string cheese, as they are easy to pack, tasty on their own with simple flavours.
11. Kofte & Kebabs
Of course it has to be in the list, it’s too obvious! Turkey has had a long history over centuries, and some parts of it involved ‘acquaintances’ with Arabia, through the spread of Islam and culture. As such, you could only expect the food would be involved in this evolution too, and the love of grilled meats in the form of wrapped goodness is no exception. In your life you’ve probably had many koftes and kebabs in various places, and Turkey should be added in that list. Another street food staple, the appeal of koftes and kebabs lie in its simplicity, accessibility and comfort. You can’t go wrong with a meat and bread combo, usually.
12. Sample Dishes at a Lokanta
A Lokanta is basically a mixed rice place. There are dishes on display, sometimes as little as five and as much as thirty different ones, and you can order a portion of whatever you’d like and eat them together. Lokantas are great for the low prices, but it’s also an amazing opportunity to try out different local dishes in one place. In the more outer skirts of the city or small villages, lokantas are usually family run places, and food are cooked home-style, and you know how good mom and pop places usually are….
Dishes usually vary from vegetable-based, meat-based and warming stews, with simple staples like bean soups, delicious rice and local desserts. Most of my adventures in a lokanta involves just randomly pointing at dishes and trying things out. Which is, in my opinion, the best way to eat at a lokanta.