Turkey’s Lycian Way: An Epic Hike with Beautiful Beaches Everywhere

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(CNN) — Turkey’s Lycian road crosses steep mountains covered with pine, carob and strawberry trees.

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

Sounds boring, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, there is plenty of easy access to sun, sea and sand. Whether you enjoy relaxing in the sun all day at the beach or relaxing in nature, there is something for everyone.

It all takes place against a backdrop of stunning towering mountains, the rustling of the wind through the trees, and the charm of an endless expanse of clear blue water merging with the sky.

The Lycian Way is 335 miles (540 kilometers) of marked hiking trails on the Tekke peninsula, stretching between Fethiye and Antalya on Turkey’s southern Mediterranean coast.

It covers territory that once belonged 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 under Persian rule, welcomed Alexander the Great, learned from Greek culture, and were once a Roman province. By the time the Byzantine Christians came here to settle, the Lycians had firmly and truly left their mark.

Here are some of the highlights of the route.

Oludeniz

Oludeniz: forever turquoise.

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At the western end of the trail is Oludeniz, whose name literally means the Dead Sea, but this is not at all the case.

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

In Lycian times, Oludeniz was known as the “land of light and sun,” and on a hot summer day, when light reflects off the sandbar that forms Kumburna at the mouth of the bay, it’s easy to see why.

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

Once there, do what the name suggests – absolutely nothing, take a dip in the water from time to time to cool off.

Alternatively, the more adventurous can take in the scenery on their descent from Babadag – Father’s Mountain – with a tandem paragliding jump. At just over 6,233 feet (1,900 meters), this place is not for the faint of heart.

Butterfly Valley

The beach of the Butterfly Valley is best reached by water.

The beach of the Butterfly Valley is best reached by water.

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Less than three miles from Oludeniz is Celebekler Vadisi, known as the Valley of the Butterflies in English.

Almost vertical rock walls drop 1148 feet to a green valley floor thickly planted with olive, fruit, walnut and other trees.

A powerful waterfall with its source in the cliff-top village of Faralya cascades down the back of the canyon. This water forms a stream that passes through the middle of the valley and flows into the sea in a spectacular play of turquoise and azure colors.

Home to 105 species of butterflies, compared to most other beaches along the coast, Butterfly Valley has few amenities, and this is by design.

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

Access is easiest by water. Tourist boats anchor offshore for just a few hours every day, and those who wish to stay overnight can take a shared taxi service from Olu Deniz.

No permanent buildings are allowed, so housing consists of tents, simple huts, and bungalows.

Laptops, tablets and mobile phones are left packed with electricity turned on for a maximum of a few hours. The emphasis is on nature. During the day, the silence is broken only by the splashing of waves on the shore, and at night, the crackle of fire and explosions of laughter at barbecues and gatherings on the beach.

Patara

Patara Beach: 12 miles of soft sand and gently sloping dunes.

Patara Beach: 12 miles of soft sand and gently sloping dunes.

Delbars/Adobe Stock

Further along the trail is the ancient city of Patara. Patara dates back to the 13th century BC and became the leading city of Lycia in the 3rd century under Ptolemy due to its access to the sea.

Its history is replete with famous names. This is the birthplace of St. Nicholas (also known as Santa), the prophet of Apollo, is rumored to have lived here, and it was here that St. Paul boarded the ship that took him to Rome.

Today, the remnants of this once thriving maritime city and important center of Christianity play a secondary role to Patara Beach, famous for its 12 miles of soft sand and gently sloping dunes.

Locals and tourists alike admire the tiny, delicate white grains of crushed quartz scattered all over the beach and falling into the sea, where they are clearly visible through the crystal clear waters.

A special category of foreign visitors are sea turtles, which are endangered. Patara is one of the few breeding grounds left in the Mediterranean.

Turtles arrive every year from May to October and lay up to 100 eggs each. After filling them with sand, they return to the water, leaving the next generation to their fate.

After hatching, the tiny turtles must face crabs, dogs, foxes, and birds, so few survive to adulthood.

Patara was declared a specially protected area back in 1990. Now there is an abundance of birds, plants, small wetlands and, of course, this magical beach.

Kaputas

Kaputas Beach: As if someone carved a triangle out of the rocks.

Kaputas Beach: As if someone carved a triangle out of the rocks.

Maps/Adobe Stock

Seen from the air, Kaputas Beach looks like someone carved a triangle out of the rocks that looks like a big piece of cake.

A narrow belt of asphalt abruptly curves around the rock, and access to the beach seems impossible. Only standing on the road and looking over the edge, a staircase of 187 steps becomes visible.

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

Buyukchakyl

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

Wire/Adobe Stock

At Büyükçakil (Large Pebble Beach), the sometimes short and sharp waves are perfect for those who enjoy a more active beach experience.

Salt water, mixed with fresh from an underground source, breaks on the round stones that form the shore, which gave the name to the beach.

Swimming shoes are required, and those with children, note that the rocks underfoot give way to the sea.

In the high season, the beach is adorned with colorful parasols and lovers of lounging in the sun. After a hard day of swimming (if needed), this is the perfect place to watch the sunset before heading to Kas, just over a mile to the west.

This is a typical Turkish seaside town with a twist. Lycian tombs serve as street markers, and an underground cistern with seven rock-cut columns, one of only two remaining from the Hellenistic and Roman periods, is entered through a portcullis.

Olympos and Cirali

Cirali Beach is surrounded by history.

Cirali Beach is surrounded by history.

Whitworth Images/Moment RF/Getty Images

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

Mount Olympos is to the north, the ancient city of Olympos to the south, and Mount Chimera in between. Mount Olympos, or Tahtali Dagi as it is called in Turkish, was once considered the home of the gods.

According to Homer, it was here that the evil god of the seas, Poseidon, caused the storm that wrecked Odysseus’ ship as he returned home from the Trojan War.

Now a tourist site, the former city of Olympos was once a major center of the Lycian federation founded in the Hellenistic period.

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

Mount Chimera, Flaming Rock or Yanartas in Turkish, is named after a small natural flame that bursts out of crevices in the rocks.

They are most visible at night, but as the tallest flames reach about two feet in height, don’t expect a massive pyro show.

Instead marvel at the fact that they are believed to have been burning continuously for 2500 years. Sailors used the glow of these combustible gases to navigate their ships, and some say they were the inspiration for the fire-breathing Chimera in Homer’s Iliad.

This part of the coast is divided into two beaches, Olympos and Cirali, each of which has its own characteristics.

The northern end of Cirali Beach is surrounded by a fertile plain with palm and olive trees and has a laid-back vibe, while the southern end, called Olympos Beach, is known for its tree houses and evening campfire parties.

Stop at just one of the beaches, or try each one in turn. Both share the same magnificent expanse of water with its shimmering palette of extraordinary shades of blue.

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