Bathed in turquoise

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Destination Afloat - MARY BAR­BER

LEG­END has it that Mark Antony con­sid­ered Turkey’s Turquoise Coast so beau­ti­ful that, in about 32BC, he gave it to Cleopa­tra as a wed­ding present.

The coun­try’s south­ern­most shore stretches for nearly 1600km and com­bines in­cred­i­ble scenery, clear azure wa­ters and a warm Mediter­ranean cli­mate. Its strate­gic lo­ca­tion means it has been oc­cu­pied by var­i­ous em­pires over the course of its his­tory, in­clud­ing the Ly­cians and Ot­tomans.

Two thou­sand years on, it is still breath­tak­ing. The Taurus moun­tains pro­vide a dra­matic back­drop to the an­cient ru­ins and beau­ti­ful beaches.

With no road ac­cess to many of th­ese hid­den gems, the best way to ex­plore them is by boat, prefer­ably a wooden gulet. Many of th­ese tra­di­tional fish­ing boats have in re­cent years been turned into char­tered hol­i­day cruise ves­sels.

We sailed across the Aegean Sea on the ap­pro­pri­ately named Carpe Diem I. The cap­tain al­tered his itin­er­ary depend­ing on what we wanted to see, which gave us the free­dom to ex­plore in our own time an area that has re­mained largely un­touched by mass tourism.

We boarded the gulet in Sarsala Bay, a short drive from Dala­man air­port. Among the places where we dropped an­chor was Hamam Bay, where we looked around the re­mains of a Ro­man baths built for Cleopa­tra. To get to the site — much of which is sub­merged be­neath the sea — we walked along a foot­path along­side pine forests, and then snorkelled to see the un­der­wa­ter ru­ins. The area is won­der­ful for div­ing and swim­ming.

Our boat’s 550sq m sails were un­furled for our trip across to Ek­in­cik Bay, near Mar­maris, to visit the se­cluded beach and caves. With the en­gines switched off, and a gen­tle warm breeze blow­ing, it was quiet and peace­ful. We had a sim­i­lar ex­pe­ri­ence stand­ing on the deck one day at dawn to watch the sun rise over the moun­tains. The gulet was the only ves­sel around.

The reed-lined Dalyan River was too nar­row for our boat, so we boarded a smaller one for a trip to the an­cient ru­ins of Kaunos, a for­mer sea port dat­ing from the 9th cen­tury BC. Among the re­mains was a 5000-seater Ro­man am­phithe­atre and baths. Thou­sands of peo­ple once lived there, but the town was aban­doned in the Mid­dle Ages due to malaria, and the city’s no­bil­ity were buried in im­pres­sive Hel­lenis­tic-style tombs cut into the side of a nearby cliff. The re­gion is fer­tile, with trees laden with lemons, pomegranates and apri­cots, while the river teems with fish as well as sea tur­tles, which breed on the nearby Isuzu Beach.

On an­other trip, to the small town of Dalyan, we slathered our­selves in mud at the baths. Ru­mour has it that the clay can cure all man­ner of ail­ments. Af­ter a shower to wash it off, we re­turned to our gulet and moored in a tiny cove, where we spent the evening gaz­ing at the beau­ti­ful land­scape as it slowly faded into the sky.

THE SPEC­TA­TOR

Rock tombs above the Dalyan River, left; and Ro­man baths built for Cleopa­tra, above

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