The southwest Turkish Mediterranean Coast is known as the Turkish Riviera, or Turquoise Coast, home to beautiful beaches, ancient ruins and waterfalls. It is so beautiful Mark Antony picked it as his wedding present for his beloved Cleopatra.
From Cappadocia I rode south, up and down mountains and in and out of the rain, but it was nice and refreshing at least. The road, as usual for Turkey, was incredibly awesome in terms of lack of traffic, quality and scenic beauty. Good old Turkey, my friend!
Then I hit the coast at a large city called Mersin.
Up until Mersin I’d been impressed how well the traffic flowed in Turkey, but soon that myth was cruelly dispelled! Here, traffic was a nightmare, and in the middle of a traffic jam in the middle of town the Tiger decided to stall. Then, of course, it wouldn’t start, so I had to push it to the curb and leave it for 30 minutes to cool down. “No matter”, I thought, and took the opportunity to grab a drink.
Soon I was back on my way and escaped the worst of the traffic by taking the coastal route through town. I’d noticed my oil level was low, and so on my way out I made a quick stop at a garage and topped it up (with the engine running, as I didn’t feel like waiting another 30 minutes).
It was a relief to find myself out of the busy city and back on the empty, rocky Mediterranean coastal road. I followed it west through Erdemli and towards a small tourist enclave called Kizkalesi.
By now it was late afternoon, so when I spotted a campsite advertising by the side of the road just before Kizkalesi, I pulled off to take a gander. When I saw a lovely little clearing surrounded in flowers next to the sea, I decided to pitch for the night. In fact, I had decided to stay before I’d even seen the nice clearing due to the friendliness and openness of the lady owner who met me at the gate.
After a quick pitch (which I have discovered means 20 minutes without really rushing too much), I changed into my boardies and took a dive off the camp’s home-made wooden pier. The coastline was rocky, which meant the water clarity was exceptional. It was also nice and warm, which is always good.
There weren’t many people around (I think I was their only guest), but they made me feel welcome and cooked me a delicious fresh fish for dinner on a huge pile of greens, which were the first I’d had in a while, and something I had been craving.
Next morning I rose earlier than usual, left the luggage in the tent and set off to explore the area; it’s always much nicer to cruise around without the weight of the luggage.
There are so many ancient ruins along the Turkish Mediterranean coast that most are not even regularly visited, or indeed sign posted. Just down the road I found an old 2nd century Roman settlement and amphitheatre with great views over the coast.
It was great being the only visitor at this incredible ancient site, and I took my time wondering around, looking at the 1,800 year old Roman mosaics and climbing up and down the amphitheatre.
Heaven and Hell
Further down the coast there was a place called ‘Cennet and Cehennem’ which means ‘Heaven and Hell’, so I expected a mix of free beer and trance music. What I actually found were two huge sink holes (collapsed caves).
‘Heaven’ was the biggest, and there were 400 steps leading all the way down into a huge, dark, dripping cave. It was really slippery on the wet rocks leading into the cave, particularly in my flip flops, but it was worth the climb.
Next was the smaller ‘Hell’ sink hole, where Greek legend says Typhon, a fire-breathing 100-headed dragon, defeated Zeus, King of the Gods, and imprisoned him in the hole. Two other Greek Gods, Hermes and Pan, rescued Zeus (thank goodness), who then went on to defeat Typhon and imprison him inside Mt Etna, the active volcano in Italy. Poor old Typhon!
On the way back to the tent I had a huge, delicious local (late) breakfast called Kahvaltı, consisting of many small dishes, feta cheese, salad and bread. I do love Turkish food!
Onwards to Kizkalesi, I had a peek at the beach which was too touristy for my liking, but there was a nice castle on the peninsula called Korikos castle, and another out on a rock out at sea called Maiden castle.
The Master Plan
My Master Plan was simple: ride along the Turkish coast to Izmir and catch a ferry to Greece. It was only around 1,500km, so I aimed to take my time, camping at the best beaches I found along the way. Good plan, eh?
Back on the coastal road I took my time riding up, down and around the mountains, enjoying the frequent stunning vistas that unfolded all around me.
The traffic again remained light, and the police remained suspiciously absent. The one policeman I did see was driving whilst chatting away on his mobile phone. I wondered what on earth I would have to do to get pulled over in such a country!
Historically a stronghold for many Mediterranean-based empires, including the Ptolemaic, Seleucid, Roman, Byzantine, and Ottoman Empires, Alanya is now a busy holiday resort enjoying the beautiful sandy beaches. I found a relatively quiet spot to camp at Perle Camping, just before the main resort started at the end of the lovely Kleopatra Beach.
The campsite had a great bar and restaurant, but wasn’t much of a campsite. With little space to choose from, they squeezed me into a corner amongst their stores, but I didn’t mind.
The long, wide Kleopatra beach was wonderful – one of the best I’d seen for quite some time – and I decided to take a jog along it to explore a bit. Not long into the jog I discovered it was a mistake not to wear trainers, as the sand was so course it acted like sandpaper on my feet. It was also soft and deep, which made it extremely hard going. However, not wanting to give up, I ploughed on and eventually managed 30 minutes without collapsing into a heap and crying, which was lucky as there was quite a crowd. The swim afterwards was worth it!
Odd Eyed Cat
The camp had a resident white cat with one green eye and one blue eye. Having never seen such a thing before, I was fascinated, but having looked into it I discovered these ‘odd-eyed’ Angora cats are quite a common sight in Turkey, and they are considered a national treasure. The Turkish Government (with the Ankara Zoo) even started their own breeding program to preserve and protect them in 1817, and the program continues today. Turkish folklore suggests that “the eyes must be as green as the lake and as blue as the sky”.
Turks like to stay up late drinking tea, which is fine, but that means they don’t get going until late morning. This, of course, is not a problem unless you wake up early and want to have breakfast, as I did one morning thanks to the combined efforts of the local mosque and a cockerel.
At least the wifi was working, so I caught up a bit on this blog.
The restaurant eventually got going at 10am, by which time I was starving. Again I had the huge Turkish breakfast, Kahvaltı, which is really good, but not quite as good as an English one!
I decided to stay another day, considering it was extra cheap and the beach was nice, and after a quick discussion, I agreed with myself.
Next stop along the coast was Cirali, and on the way a nice lunchtime stop was the wonderful Manavgat Waterfall – just one of many hidden Turkish treasures.
Next was the large coastal resort of Antalya. Interestingly, Antalya became the third most visited city in the world last year (2013) by number of international arrivals, ranking behind Paris and London. And no wonder, judging by the number of huge holiday resorts that lined the coast almost continuously. Not liking the touristy masses, I rode on through, but having researched it later I wished I had stopped to see the Düden Waterfalls which fall directly into the Mediterranean Sea – oh well, you can’t win them all, and they’ll still be there for my next visit!
Cirali turned out to be a bohemian hippy camp along a secluded beach. Now this was the kind of beach I did like.
I found another empty campsite at the quieter end of the quiet beach (Cirali Camping) and set up amongst free range hens and cockerels; I suspected it would be another noisy early morning awakening.
At the other end of the beach were the 2,000 year old ruins of Olympos, a former city in the ancient region of Lycia (before it was assumed into various other empires). Here the beach was busier and there was a line of bars and restaurants serving great food & cocktails.
I was learning a lot about Turkey; I hadn’t realised how many beautiful and interesting places there were to visit, and I was only just scratching the surface. I thought I’d better get a beer and lay on the beach for a bit to contemplate its majesty.