Sail in peace on the Turkish high season coast

Just 40 km from the bustling holiday resort of Marmaris is a stretch of unspoilt coastline which has hardly changed since the Greeks and Persians routed the Spartans off present day Knidos in 394 BC. The writer takes a boat trip in August and discovers the essence of authentic, original and, above all, empty coastal Turkey. Photo - the author, Aug, 2009

There was no one to take our money at Bozekalle, a mighty promontory fortress on the very tip of the Loryma peninsula on the SW corner of Turkey, where the Aegean folds imperceptibly into the Mediterranean. We leapt ashore from the Schwann. Boat is the only way in, if you discount the desiccating hike over the stark, heat-blasted hills behind, where there is no road.

We picked a precarious course up over massive, dressed stones wrenched loose by earthquakes from the Hellenistic fortifications above. Up on the quarter mile circuit of rampart there was not a single contemporary detail visible to jam the resonances of a potent event associated with this place.

Out of the numberless sparkles on the bay below we conjured up phantom boats of the Greek and Persian fleet standing in battle order in August 394 BC, before they routed the Spartans off Cnidus (present day Knidos) just around the headland. We walked around the great defensive stones, wondering at the unsullied enormity of this place, then gingerly retraced our steps down to the water’s edge.

By now the little half-gulet Schwann was moored in deeper water. The children were diving off its roof and climbing back on in a continuous loop of hilarity and splashing. Nothing for it. We stripped to our swimwear and struck out across the diamond-blue sea, holding our dry shirts above our heads.

Back aboard the vessel, we found the table laid with the celebrated Turkish picnic, composed of just about every vegetable and fruit that was fresh that morning in the little fishing village of Sogut where we stay. Then we set off on our lazy, coast-hugging potter back around the peninsula.

Skipper Saami sat before his wheel in a pair of shorts, a dapper, genial man, the colour of antique mahogany. He had no schedule. Half way home he pulled into a little bay, where we swam around the remains of a Grecian temple, its few surviving pillars reduced to knee height by two millenia of weathering and earthquake. Behind us the raw, bleached hills piled up, with their thin green overlay of intermittent scrub and the odd carob and fig tree.

In its essentials this landscape has not changed in 2500 years since these waters teemed with the vessels of commerce and war, and later with passing Apostles. We know places where we can swim over amphorae in the same shattered heap into which they tumbled from, maybe, some wrecked pre-Christian trader.

In the hills above there are ancient wells and roads for the inquisitive to find. Once we came across some ancient script on a ceremonial stone. No signs; no custodians; no people. These mysterious, crumbling antiquities in this insignificant postscript to Turkey do not feature in any guide book I know.

On this late August day the only other humans we saw were a goatherd and a few fishermen. And yet we were just 40 kilometres away from the vortex of southwest Turkey’s mass tourism, the boom town of Marmaris. Dalaman airport is just an hour further on. There, the high season night has become indistinguishable from day, if you measure it by the frequency of flights in and out. But there are gaps. Just as Bozekalle is beyond the formal day to day supervision of the ministry of historic buildings, so this entire stretch of coast is just outside the reach of that intrusive unit of package holiday discovery, the day trip.

Every year we return to Sogut, whose entire summer’s total of tourists would scarcely fill a Marmaris hotel for a week, hoping that not too much has changed. The bread car still pulls up on the dusty road just outside our stone-built house with a basket of piping hot loves on the seat next to the driver. The vegetable lorry still calls every few days. We point and ask for bir kilo of this, iki kilo of that. Sometimes there is a bright schoolboy aboard who translates. We work hard to spend more than £3 for half a week’s provisions.

The teenage boys who used to clatter past, three to a rickety push bike, are graduating to mopeds. Only the stone deaf can escape the imam’s immaculately intonated summons, now recorded and amplified. Almost every roof sports a satellite dish. There is a new well, a big village statement, we suspect, to compete with the handsome effort at Bayir just over the mountain. Every year there are a few more cars in the village, yet the route to the sea is still a dusty, twisting path where donkeys have right of way. And the 6.30 am bus for Marmaris still blasts us awake with a fusillade of klaxon. It is still the lifeline to the outside world, over the mountain road.

Marmaris is now a round hour away. We have seen it bubble over like some giant unattended cauldron of concrete, almost before our very eyes. Its hotels have marched along the coast and met up with the accommodation counter-offensive out of neighbouring Icmeler. In just three years the main supermarket has been superseded by a second, and now a third. The old market, where the traders have recently adopted East Enders patter, has nowhere to grow. The fine line between fake and authentic designer-labelled clothing becomes ever more blurred.

We find Marmaris a huge, hectic entertainment - Karen’s pastry parlour; the cornucopia of the vegetable market; the blue the promenade, with its big excursion boats lined up; the endearingly persistent, platinum-tongued waiters touting for trade at the waterside restaurants; sundowners below the international marina below the castle - but in small doses. Then it is home on the bus to Sogut.

Any sensitive souls who realise they made a bad choice by booking two weeks in Marmaris are free to do the trip in reverse. For just £1.50 they can escape by the half corkscrew route over the mountains, past the ranks of blue wooden beehives, to the tranquillity of Sogut, and perhaps book into Eray’s pansyon down on the water front for a few nights. In truth package holiday visitors hardly ever do such a thing: I simply offer this option to show that Sogut is not an exclusive, private place.

You could never describe this as a gold-dusted coast. The international glitterati do not hole up here. The only big spender hereabouts is the European Union, a club Turkey so yearns to join, pressing within a few miles of the Loryma peninsular; the lights of the Greek island of Simi can be clearly seen twinkling at night. It is 20 years since I first visited Turkey, in a party of journalists inspecting examples of eco-friendly tourism and ways of protecting and promoting the internationally-important turtle beach at Dalyan. On subsequent visits I have seen mass tourism develop mightily, but in the appropriate places. Quite large sections of coast, such as this, are zoned as conservation areas, where development is restricted. And out at Bozekalle, you can still stay in perfect peace in the company of the phantoms of that long ago battle of Cnidus.

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