Turkey’s Lycian Way

Written by  Cindy Ross

EUROPE Turkey LargeTo someone who loves to walk, it doesn’t get much better than Turkey’s Lycian Way. It has everything a hiker would want; breathtaking views, secluded beaches, exciting cliffside trails, deep cool forests, ancient history, picturesque villages, and lovely pensions to overnight in. Turkey’s first long distance walking route in the southwest, hugging the entire Teke Peninsula, is truly a bucket-list dream destination. It travels for 540 kilometers (335 miles) between the cities of Fethiye and Antalya, and much of the life along the Lycian Way has not changed for centuries.

Farmers live here, as well as goat herders, who still move their herds up and down the mountainsides following the seasons--the coast in the winter and the cool high mountain slopes in the summer. These nomadic people are called Yörüks, and they are very friendly. Besides glorious walking, your experience will be deep in culture. You will follow cobbled mule paths and goat trails, past ancient olive trees and stone built cottages, while shepherds tend their flocks. And, it is safe. This trail is a wonderful way to connect to the small villages and get to know the locals who want to provide you with warm, unforgettable hospitality.
The route is blazed with short horizontal red and white paint marks that can be found on trees, rocks, signposts and buildings in villages. It is signposted in yellow and green. There are choices and many alternative branches; to stay high for views, to drop down for a swim, to detour into a village for a night’s respite. The trail tops out at 1,800m above the cedar forest on Tahtali Dagi mountain. The coastline is jagged and undulates around the knolls, throwing exquisite views of the turquoise sea at your feet.

The “Mother” of the Lycian Way is Kate Clow, a British amateur historian who explored the ancient roads which link the centers of ancient civilizations of Turkey.
In order to protect and preserve these old roads, she connected a series of them, wrote a guidebook and had a great set of maps printed so travelers and hikers can follow this fabulous trail which officially opened in 1999.
Past civilizations left their marks everywhere--fortifications on mountain tops, castles, ruined villages, (one drowned under the sea which you can access via kayak), graves, etc. The trail is like an open air museum. Sometimes the trail follows along old aqueducts that once channeled water to the ancient cities.
The Lycians were a democratic, independent people with a developed art style and a high standard of living. Their peninsula location provided them with a strategic position for sea trade. They were first ruled by the Persians, then the Greeks under Alexander the Great’s rule, then Lycia became a province of the Roman Empire. The Romans were great road builders, linking cities and ports and increasing the standard of life with theaters, baths, forums, temples and ceremonial gates. As you walk the Lycian Way, some twenty-five historical sites are passed, further enriching your hiking experience.

I “tasted” the Lycian Way on an introductory trip to this little known gem of Turkey. After flying into the Dalaman airport, our group traveled to the town of Fethiye, where we indulged at an open air restaurant by the colorful and lively fish market. We immediately fell in love with the food, the music, and the warmth of the people.
Come morning, we first explored the “ghost town” of Kayaköy. Twenty-five thousand Greek inhabitants were moved to Greece in 1923 and relocated. Turks took over the houses but for economic reasons, they left too. We wandered near some of the 3,000 empty houses on a hillside, including a ruined Greek Orthodox Church.
Our afternoon walk was from Alinca, a village perched on the steep cliffs above the sea, down to seaside village of Faralya. The village and the trail was carved out of the cliffs high above Butterfly Valley. On our three hour hike, we paused to take in the gorgeous view down the coast towards the deep inlets of the
Seven Highlands.
Faralya is a farming and bee-farming village where we got to sample an amazing rare honey, called pine honey. Instead of sap, bees collect honeydew (sugary secretions) from an insect which lives on the sap of certain pine trees. The honey smells and tastes like very mild pine sap and is very nutritious.
We sampled a few of the most exquisite walks--Yedi Burun to Bel, Bel down to Gavuragili, and then switched it up and hopped into sea kayaks in the beautiful town of Ücagiz. We explored Batik Sehir, a 2,000 year old submerged city whose ruins are clearly visible through the blue waters of the Mediterranean. During
the 5th century, an earthquake caused the coastline to flood and buried the harbor walls, stone buildings, churches etc.  
We spent a lovely afternoon exploring the ruins of a historical site called Patara, which was the major naval and trading port of Lycia. An amphitheater, a harbor bath, a massive parliament building, the remains of a lighthouse, (perhaps the oldest in the world) were scattered across the widespread site, making our visit a wonderful opportunity for a long walk.
Patara was also the birthplace of St. Nicholas, (born c. 260-280 AD), Bishop of Myra and the future Santa Claus. His stone church is amazingly old and mysterious with its high ceiling and painted frescos, as well as a floor of colored marble mosaic. Our storytelling guide told us another  reason that St. Nicholas became a patron saint for children, in addition to being famous for his legendary habit of secret gift-giving. The story says that during a terrible famine, a malicious butcher lured three little children into his house where he killed them, placing their remains in a barrel to cure, planning to sell them off as ham. Nicholas, visiting the region to care for the hungry, resurrected the three boys from the barrel by his prayers and saved them.
After our church visit, we went to the nearby rock cut tombs of the ancient Myra carved into the vertical face of the hillside. They are an unforgettable sight, along with a massive Roman amphitheater you can stroll through and sit in.
My favorite side “attraction” apart from the actual Lycian Way trail was a tour to the 4th century ancient city of Olympos and a climb up to Chimaera, the eternal burning flames at the base of Mount Olympus. These natural gas flames come out of hole in the bare rock and have been burning for tens of thousands of years. Some believe it to be the source of the fire for the torch of Olympus, which starts the Olympic games. The 5 kilometer trek up the mountain needs to be done at dusk to fully appreciate the light and the magic of the place. Bring along a flashlight for the climb down--the stone steps could be treacherous without sufficient light.

You can trek the Lycian Way independently as per the guidebook, map and i-phone app which has up to date service information and uses GPS without the need of phone service; with a transport company who books your accommodations and shuttles your baggage, or on a group trek which does everything, including providing a Turkish guide well versed in the history and culture of the region. The peninsula enjoys sunny weather 300 days out of the year. Although summers are uncomfortably hot to trek, spring and fall are delightful. All along the Lycian Way, danger and fear is nowhere to be found. Just new friends, huge beauty and a land that calls to your heart the longer you walk its tracks.

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