Turkey’s Lycian Way: An Epic Hike With Beautiful Beaches Around Every Turn

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(CNN) — The Turkish Lycian Way crosses steep mountains covered with pine, carob and strawberry trees.

It passes through 25 historical sites, including the ancient cities of Xanthos and Letoon, listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And the complete route takes 29 days.

Sounds exhausting, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of easy access to sun, sea and sand. Whether you’re a beachgoer laying in the sun all day or a happy back-to-nature camper, there’s something for everyone.

All come with a backdrop of stunning towering mountains, the rustling of the wind through the trees and the allure of an endless expanse of clear blue water merging with the sky.

The Lycian Way is 540 kilometers of marked hiking trails on the Tekke Peninsula, which stretch between Fethiye and Antalya on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast.

It covers an area once belonging to the Lycians, a democratic, highly cultured and independent people who inhabited the region from the Late Bronze Age until the end of the Roman Empire.

They were ruled by the Persians, hosted Alexander the Great, learned from Greek culture, and were once a Roman province. By the time the Byzantine Christians came to settle there, the Lycians had well and truly made their mark.

Here are some of the highlights of the route.

Oludeniz

Ölüdeniz: Turquoise permanently.

Tarik GOK/Adobe Stock

At the western end of the trail is Ölüdeniz, a name literally meaning the Dead Sea, except it is anything but.

This crystalline sheet of blue lagoon flows into the Mediterranean and, even in bad weather, retains its turquoise and aquamarine hues.

In Lycian times, Ölüdeniz was known as the “land of light and sun” and on a hot summer day, the light reflecting off the spit of sand forming Kumburnu at the mouth of the bay, it is easy to understand why.

The lagoon is part of a national park, so there is a small entrance fee to access the beach.

Once there, do as the name suggests – absolutely nothing with occasional dips in the water to cool off.

Alternatively, the more adventurous can take in the scenery as you descend from Babadağ – Father Mountain – with a tandem paragliding jump. At a height of just over 6,233 feet (1,900 meters), it’s not for the faint-hearted.

butterfly valley

Butterfly Valley Beach is best accessed by water.

Butterfly Valley Beach is best accessed by water.

Proslgn/Adobe Stock

Less than five kilometers from Ölüdeniz is Kelebekler Vadisi, known as Butterfly Valley in English.

Near-vertical rock walls plummet 1,148 feet to the bottom of a verdant valley densely populated with olive, fruit, nut, and other trees.

A powerful waterfall, originating in the cliff-top village of Faralya, cascades down the back of the canyon. This water forms a stream running through the middle of the valley, flowing into the sea in a spectacular play of teal and azure.

Home to 105 butterfly species, compared to most other beaches on the coast, Butterfly Valley has few facilities, and that’s intentional.

In 1981, a cooperative bought the valley from the villagers of Faralya. Their goal was to retain its natural beauty, avoiding commercial development. Six years later, the government declared it a national reserve.

Access is easier by water. Tour boats anchor offshore for a few hours each day, and those wishing to stay overnight can use Ölü Deniz’s shared water taxi service.

No permanent buildings are allowed, so accommodation consists of tents, basic huts and bungalows.

Laptops, tablets and cell phones are kept stored with the electricity on for a few hours at most. The focus is on nature. By day, the silence is broken only by the lapping of the waves on the shore and by night by the crackling of flames and the peals of laughter at barbecues and gatherings on the beach.

Patara

Patara Beach: 20 km of soft sand and soft dunes.

Patara Beach: 20 km of soft sand and soft dunes.

Delbars/Adobe Stock

Then along the trail comes the ancient city of Patara. Patara dates back to the 13th century BC and became the principal city of Lycia in the 3rd century during the reign of Ptolemy, due to its access to the sea.

Famous names abound in its history. This is the birthplace of St Nicholas (aka Santa), a prophet of Apollo is said to have lived here and is where St Paul boarded the ship which took him to Rome.

Today, the remains of this once prosperous seafaring city and important center of Christianity play second fiddle to Patara Beach, known for its 12 miles of soft sand and gentle dunes.

Locals and tourists alike marvel at the tiny, delicate white grains of crushed quartz spread across the beach, falling into the sea where they are easily visible through the crystal clear waters.

A very special category of foreign visitors are the endangered Loggerhead Sea Turtles. Patara is one of their few remaining breeding grounds in the Mediterranean.

The turtles come every year between May and October and lay up to 100 eggs each. After covering them with sand, they return to the water, leaving the next generation to their fate.

Once hatched, the tiny turtles must run a gauntlet of crabs, dogs, foxes and birds so few make it to adulthood.

Patara was designated a Special Protection Area in 1990. There is now an abundance of birds, plants, small wetlands and of course, that magical beach.

Kaputas

Kaputaş Beach: As if someone had cut a triangle out of the cliffs.

Kaputaş Beach: As if someone had cut a triangle out of the cliffs.

Kartheas/Adobe Stock

Seen from the sky, Kaputaş Beach looks like someone cut a triangle out of the cliffs, like a big piece of cake.

A narrow ribbon of asphalt curves sharply around the rock wall and access to the beach seems impossible. It is only by standing on the road and looking over the side that a staircase of 187 steps becomes visible.

Making the descent may seem like hard work in the scorching heat, but the effort to reach the bottom is worth it. A dip in the sea, where an underground stream of cold mountain water flows into the gentle Mediterranean, awaits you. Just the tonic on a hot summer day.

Büyukcakil

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

Wireframe/Adobe Stock

At Büyükcakıl (Big Pebble Beach), the sometimes short and steep waves are perfect for those who like a more active beach experience.

Salt water mixed with fresh water from an underground spring pours over the round stones forming the shore that gives the beach its name.

Bathing shoes are essential and those with children take note, the stones under the feet suddenly give way to the sea.

In high season, the beach is adorned with colorful umbrellas and lounging sun-seekers. After a hard day of swimming (if you must), this is the perfect spot to watch the sun go down before heading to Kaş, just over a kilometer west.

It’s a quintessential Turkish beach town with a twist. Lycian tombs act as street markers, while the entrance to an underground water cistern with seven rock-cut columns – one of only two remaining from the Hellenistic and Roman periods – is through a bar.

Olimpos and Cıralı

Çıralı Beach is shrouded in history.

Çıralı Beach is shrouded in history.

Whitworth Images/Moment RF/Getty Images

A long stretch of sand towards the eastern end of the Lycian Way is in an area marked by history.

Mount Olimpos lies to the north, the ancient city of Olimpos to the south, and Mount Chimaera in between. Mount Olimpos, or Tahtalı Dağı as it is called in Turkish, was once considered the abode of the gods.

According to Homer, it was here that the angry sea god Poseidon called down the storm that wrecked Odysseus’ ship as he returned home from the Trojan War.

Now a tourist site, the ancient city of Olimpos was once a major center of the Lycian federation, founded in Hellenistic times.

Wall inscriptions and a sarcophagus date back to the 4th century BC, coins were minted here in the 2nd century and Cicero described it as a city richly adorned with art and culture.

Mount Chimaera, Burning Rock or Yanartaş in Turkish, owes its name to the small natural flames springing from the crevices of the rocks.

They’re most visible at night, but with the tallest of the flames reaching around two feet high, don’t expect a massive pyrotechnic display.

Instead, marvel at the fact that they’re believed to have been burning continuously for 2,500 years. Sailors used the glow of these flammable gases to navigate their ships and some say they inspired the fire-breathing Chimera in Homer’s Iliad.

This part of the coast is divided into two beaches, Olimpos and Çıralı, each with its own characteristics.

The northern end of Çıralı Beach is backed by a lush fertile plain of palm and olive trees and has a laid-back vibe while the southern end, called Olimpos Beach, is known for its treehouses and evenings at the Corner of the fire.

Stick to just one of the beaches or try each one in turn. Both share the same glorious expanse of water with its shimmering palette of extraordinary shades of blue.

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