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Quiet seaside village retreat in Turkey

Sogut is a little village just an hour from bustling Marmaris, on the edge of the Aegean, just before it merges into the Med around the next headland. The abundant debris of pre-Hellenic Greece - drifts of shattered amphorae, ancient wine jars, that have lain undisturbed since before Christ - are all around. Welcome to uncrowded holiday Turkey. (Photo - Gareth Huw Davies, August 2009.)

We picnicked under a fig tree, out of the fierce sun. Half of it jutted over a sea so flat it could have been this very spot that inspired the enchanting Halcyon myth, of the kingfisher emerging from the sea on certain days of exceptional calm.

We ate skin-bursting tomatoes, spring-loaded with juice. Crumbly sheep''s cheese. Olives to grace a sultan''s hors d''oeuvre. And what bread! The mistress of ceremonies rationed out the perfect hunks. She had bought it, piping hot, on our doorstep an hour ago from the baker who tours the village in his van. Its freshness clock was ticking - in another hour it would start to go stale, like fairy tale provender that has to be eaten straight away.

But just now it was exquisite. Such is the miracle of the Turkish loaf.

There were groans when the mistress announced she had forgotten the baklava. Then all eyes swivelled questioningly upwards. Ought we? After all, who would know? Necessity conquered morality. We sent the smallest up, and soon he was bombarding us with oozily succulent figs the size of lemons. We ate the lot, skins and all.

Technically this is somebody''s tree. But nobody goes short of fruit on the Loryma Peninsula. By the time the pillage was over we had still scarcely dented the local fig mountain.

We were on the edge of the Aegean, just before it merges into the Med around the next headland. Greece starts about ten miles offshore, on the island of Simi. But Ancient Greece begins only 10 metres away, where a brief rocky shelf slumps away into an inky blue void. With our masks on we could pick out the abundant and spooky debris of pre-Hellenic Greece - drifts of shattered amphorae, ancient wine jars, that have lain undisturbed since before Christ.

There was no need to rush down to Fig Tree Bay first thing and spread out our towels to be sure of bagging a place. It''s considered a busy morning if three people stroll past on the two mile coast path from the tiny fishing village of Sogut, our base, to the even tinier one of Seranda. (That, incidentally, was an alternative venue for our sweet course. At the first tavern our host would reach up to the vine that serves for a ceiling and carve off a great bunch of grapes to serve with our drink.)

The crowd, as a concept, doesn''t exist here, although there are isolated outbreaks of congestion. The rocky, meandering path back to our house is the villagers'' trade route. We became stuck behind a slow moving donkey, scarcely visible under a mass of greenery destined for the cow''s supper. Then it slewed unbudgingly sideways. Nobody expected to move for a while.

Spotting some underprovisioned foreigners, a lady in an adjoining field dressed in traditional headscarf and all-enveloping silk sent her even more brightly-clad daughter over with a pewter tray loaded with what resembled sun-dried banana skins.

Giving gifts to perfect strangers is routine here, and this one came out of the purest generosity. But it is one of the most deceptively treacherous sweets known to the dentist. Carob pods. Inside the delicious sugar-free flesh are seeds as hard as steel.

From a distance, the best recommendation for Sogut is that the all-knowing taxi drivers at Dalaman airport, the main entry point to touristic SW Turkey, have never heard of it. So the village must be carefully pointed out on a map - on past the thronging resort of Marmaris, up a twisty, mountain road, over a high pine-scented plain full of beehives, down an even twistier road, then up and down some more, past a donkey with a hirsute old man in grey jacket bouncing jauntily along, and eventually into a small village square piled high with sacks bursting with carobs.

There is a mosque, quiet, and a cafe, crowded. If the backgammon is slow, the men - they are only ever men - may raise an eyebrow to see what''s passing.

We stayed at Yesil Ev, a group of three stone cottages, rebuilt by the English
owner, with furniture and fittings made by local craftsmen. If you set aside the obvious truth that we needed a plane and taxi to get there, then this is as sustainable, low-impact a holiday as you can find - the future, surely, for Mediterranean tourism.

We were simply absorbed into ongoing rural life. Every day Mrs Fezi from down the hill brought milk still warm from the cow and yoghurt which, when mixed with almonds from the garden and pine honey from the hills behind, ran the food of the gods pretty close. Others supplied fruit and vegetables.

Sogut''s small harbour-front restaurants show no menu; they offer whatever''s in glut, and take your orders the night before. There is boat hire from ''resting'' fishermen, who took us to the bays of our choice around the coast. Forget car hire. We saw the villages around by taxi - negotiating our own fare - or took the bus that ran past our door.

This is village life, but not as we know it. First the 5.15 am alarm - the meuzzin''s call to the faithful. On Friday, prayer day, he came with the luxury of amplification. His stern commands echoed down the valley in the still, warm air, reaching all bedrooms. This usually set off the donkeys, which passed their bray along like an aural Mexican wave.

Next the 6.15 call. This was Erduan''s bus to Marmaris, an essential service in this virtually car-free village. He bounced over the dusty unmade road, spattering the slumbering neighbourhood with a rapid burst of klaxon. By the time he reached us the bus was bulging with bleary villagers. What a racket? Heavens, no. We relied on it. Coffee on the veranda as dawn crept creamily down the valley, and Fezi''s cows lolloped up the hill to graze, was the very finest thing.


2009 postscript.

I wrote this piece in the 1990s, and have been back to Sogut many times. In fact, I am writing this there now, bobbing on a boat in the harbour looking inland at Eray’s restaurant and the sun-baked hills behind.

Things have changed, but not too many. This is still a real, traditional Turkish village, with the many details that discerning travellers seek in a holiday. Some of the people named here are no longer with us, but the donkeys, the early morning bus and the figs are.

www.yesilev.com

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