Where to go in Turkey for a truly Turkish holiday
Is it still possible to find unspoilt authentic places to stay that are not a million miles from civilization? "Absolutely", says our Turkey specialist Vicki Dipdag, "come with me and I’ll show you...
"Just outside the Turkish fishing town of Akyaka is a row of waterfront restaurants. Sheltered by a natural green canopy and lit by dappled sunlight, the only sound here is the gentle hum of Turkish chatter, muted ever so slightly by the water flowing past. The restaurants are seafood lokantas, foodie hot-spots renowned for their fresh catch and tasty regional specialities. This focus on simple, authentic quality is something of a metaphor for the whole town, which retains a timeless, low-key charm in contrast to its bigger, noisier neighbours.
"So what makes Akyaka, located at the heart of the Gökova Bay, so different? One of the first things you’ll notice is the unusual Ula-Muğla architecture. The style is a blend of Ottoman, Turkish and Aegean influences, developed by local architect Nail Çakırhan in the 1970s as part of a project to restore some of the town’s old houses. Ula-Muğla architecture, with its carved wooden eaves, whitewashed walls and terracotta roofs, is unique to Akyaka, and today all new buildings must follow the style. Even our villas, tucked away on the hillside along the coast from Akyaka, pay a respectful nod to Çakırhan’s award-winning vision.
Low impact, high rewards
"The next natural question is why, in an area so culturally rich and naturally beautiful, has tourism remained so low impact? Firstly, visitors here are almost exclusively Turkish, lured by the unspoilt surroundings, the up-and-coming gastronomic scene and the proximity of stunning Çinar beach. Another significant factor is the foresight of Akyaka’s mayor, who realised that he could encourage the vital tourist economy without destroying the very qualities that made his town so attractive. In 2010, Akyaka joined ‘Cittaslow’, an initiative launched in Italy in 1999 and inspired by the Slow Food movement. It aims to improve the quality of life in towns for both visitors and residents by slowing the overall pace, respecting nature and promoting authenticity. Consequently, whilst Akyaka does have a lively tourist trade, the character and atmosphere of the town are relaxed and recognisably Turkish."
Where to stay
The Shepherd's House, a rural retreat with magnificent views.
"Bozburun is a small seaside town with a population of around 2,000, situated on the peninsula of the same name in the south west of Turkey. The entire peninsula is a protected area of outstanding natural beauty, characterized by small villages, hidden coves and beautiful sandy beaches.
Turkey like it used to be
"Mountainous and comparatively remote, Bozburun is idyllically peaceful, far removed from the livelier buzz of established resorts such as Marmaris. Traditional industries such as fishing, boat building and honey production continue in harmony with the trickle of overseas visitors that come in search of a more authentic holiday experience.
A nautical theme
"Lying at the confluence of the Aegean and the Southern Mediterranean, the calm waters and deep inlets around the peninsula make for excellent local sailing conditions, drawing the yachting fraternity from far and wide. Bozburun village has responded with several excellent little restaurants along the waterfront and a handful of small, characterful hotels. The town has a strong nautical heritage, and is one of the few remaining places where traditional Turkish gülets are still made. If you are not lucky enough to see one under construction, you will still be able to enjoy a cruise around the bay aboard one of these beautiful wooden craft."
Where to stay
Waterfront Cottage, a romantic little house for two, just metres from the sea.
"If you want to find the best places to see and stay, take your cue from the locals. The village of Islamlar lies 450m above sea level; not exactly alpine, but high enough to make it around 5° cooler than the coast at Kalkan in the height of summer, which is why the Turks choose it over the busier seaside resorts for their summer escape.
The power of nature
"Considering the proximity of cosmopolitan Kalkan, 6.5km to the south, Islamlar is surprisingly untouched by development. Yes, there are some beautiful holiday homes, most built in traditional style with just a bright flash of blue pool to give them away, but the atmosphere is low-key and local. Islamlar is in the foothills of the Taurus mountains, and the freshwater streams that run down from these peaks still dominate village life. The two working flour mills in the main square are water powered, and the streams also feed the vast fish tanks attached to several restaurants in the area. If you like your fish fresh, this is the place to come, with freshwater trout making the journey from tank to table in a matter of minutes. It’s also a place to mingle with the locals at the old village tea house or the traditional bakery that uses flour ground at the mills in the square.
A short hop from mountains to sea
"Islamlar is just a 15-minute drive through farmland and pretty countryside to Kalkan, where you’ll find all the shops, restaurants and holiday facilities you could wish for, but if you prefer a slower, dramatically less commercial environment, Islamlar is highly recommended."
Where to stay
Sakli Ev, a stylish villa with stunning sea views.