Talking Turkey – A blue cruise with a difference
You’ve sailed Croatia. You’ve cruised the Greek Islands. You’ve punted London’s canals and standup paddle boarded the Thames. So, where to next? ALEX IVETT finds out that Turkey is the new European hot-spot to get excited about.
“I’M ON A BOAT! I’m on a boat! Everybody look at me, ‘cause I’m sailing on a boat!”
Say the words ‘cruising the Mediterranean’ to me and I’m immediately picturing myself up the front of a yacht, Rhianna style, in a gold lamé bikini with a bottle of Bollinger in hand, krumping along to Lonely Island’s “I’m on a Boat”. The camera pans around to reveal brilliant blue azure seas bathed in speckled sunshine and an endless coastline, while Andy Samberg rides a dolphin past the bow.
A difficult image to live up to, right? Luckily, when escaping a London “summer” that has felt remarkably similar to a Sydney winter for my four day, three night “blue cruise” down Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast with Alaturka Tours, the reality did not disappoint. Ok, there was no dolphin riding. Or Rhianna. Or for that matter, Bollinger. There was however, unrelenting sunshine and acres of stunning coastline, ancient ruins and hidden coves of transparent waters. And importantly, there were sunset mojitos. Close enough!
The term “blue cruise” is a clumsy attempt to capture in just two words the magic of a voyage on a traditional wooden two mast sailing ship (a ‘Gulet’) as it hugs Turkey’s southwestern coastline. The trips usually head south from Fethiye, a relatively quiet harbourside town when compared to the foam parties and bacon butties of nearby Oludinez, with the end destination of Olympos. Fethiye, with an excellent fish market where fresh fish is cooked to order, is a good place to stop for the night and prepare for the next four days of …… doing nothing. Sign me up!
Sail away the blues
I’m reliably informed at the comfortable and clean Fethiye Guesthouse that I’m going to hate this cruise. That is, of course, unless I like swimming, and relaxing. And relaxing and swimming. And eating. And then swimming again. Hey, if it’s good enough for Ri Ri, it’s good enough for me.
Collected at the dock the next morning, our group of 16 are led onto the Alaturka 81 before being shown to our en-suited cabins. The ship is 28 meters of polished wood, canvas awnings, white finishings and multiple areas of sunbaking lounges and seating. Even at night, when escaping the heat of your cabin to sleep under the stars, there is still enough room to feel like you have the boat to yourself. The group is the usual assortment of young Australians, Canadians and English, with a Turkish couple and a few mother-daughter pairings to even the balance. Most are recovering from various European odysseys and the first half-hour is the inevitable comparison of capital cities visited. I’m unusual in having come straight from London, but with Dalaman airport only a four hour plane ride, it was easier for me to transfer the grey gloom for cloudless sky than to get a Murrays coach from Canberra to Sydney.
Total Turkish delights
Introductions done, the trip gets underway, and we’re soon cutting quickly through the biro blue water. Rows of mountains layer up along the coastline and the distant heat haze blurs their edges. It is scrubby, and constant, but beautiful in its monotony. Butterfly Valley is the first up, a hidden cleft in the rock accessible only by boat or scaling a sheer cliff wall. The beach is covered with more tents than Reading Festival, and after you’ve picked your way past these you have the option of hiking up through the valley to the ‘waterfall’. With a water trickle sadder than a European showerhead, I would recommend this sojourn through the humid heat only if you, like this Australian, miss the incessant sound of cicadas on a hot summers day. Or if you particularly enjoy that unparalled feeling of diving into clear cool water after being turned into a human sweatball.
Another cove, another swim, another few hours spent lazing in the sun, and now it’s sunset. The beauty of Turkey, well, besides its actual physical beauty, is that even without trying, you find yourself surrounded by history. The kind of history foreign to Australians – of ancient civilizations whose ruins lie scattered over the island next to where you’ve parallel parked your boat for the night. Walking up through the crumbling archways of long forgotten amphitheaters and stone tombs, the reward is a perfect viewing spot from the top of the hill as the sun dips behind the mountains in the distance.
The next day, another cloudless sky. It quickly falls into an easy routine, where concepts of time and distance lose relevance. An early morning swim before breakfast, another swim after. Endless stretches of scrub covered mountains. Hours spent in the beanbag on the boats tip watching the horizon and soaking up the sun. A book finished. Another swim. A game of cards.
‘Where are we?’ someone asks.
In a cove.
A fishing village.
By an island.
Somewhere on the Mediterranean.
The day is broken up only by the ring of the big brass bell for meal times. Breakfast. Lunch. Dinner. Afternoon Tea. Like schoolkids at the end of recess we gather from the lilos in the water, from lying prone on the deck, from reading in the shade, to rush at the communal table that sits in the middle of the boat for hours of eating and talking and comparing stories.
The food is multitudinous platters of fresh everything. A traditional Turkish breakfast of boiled eggs, sliced tomatoes, cucumber bread and olives followed before you’re even hungry again by a lunch of salads, rice or pasta and plates of delicious sautéed vegetables. Dinner the same, but more. More vegetable dishes. More salad. More mains – including one night of 16 separate BBQ’d fish expertly done on the BBQ that hangs off the bow, followed by another of chicken sautéed in tomato and the unusual but surprisingly refreshing combination of yogurt and carrot.
If that’s not enough to keep you going, there’s also the entrepreneurial Turkish women who trawl the moored boats with their floating Gozleme stalls – Turkish handmade pancakes with lemon or nutella, or feta and spinach, eaten hot off the grill with your legs swinging idly off the deck. At one swimming stop someone lazily wishes for an ice-cream. A man appears in a boat beside us bearing Magnums.
For those wishing to exercise those sea legs, or even just use your legs at all at some point, the boat does dock on dry land. Kas is a busy town of narrow streets, shops full of Turkish delight and magic eye trinkets, and some ancient tombs for good measure. Kekova is a bougainvillea covered fishing village visited after a lumbering journey over the “sunken city”, a historic city tumbled into the water by a past earthquake. Without the cooling sea breeze the thick heat immediately wraps you in a hot sweaty hug. Most wander the tiny alleys in a heat-induced stupor before taking refuge in the waterfront cafes. I fight the urge to lie under a flower-covered trestle and take a long nap, to climb to the top of the ruins of a medieval castle. I’m rewarded with a 360° view out over the bay and a homemade ice-cream from “Momas kitchen” on the way back down.
And suddenly it is the third night. The trip is coming to an end, and we’re moored in the secluded and undeveloped Gokkaya Bay. That is, except for the one place that the other 20 boats moored alongside us are there for too – the Smugglers Inn. Tucked amongst the hills, it is a loose open-aired wooden structure packed with alcohol, a dance floor, and something we haven’t seen for a few days – other people. It is accessible only by dingy that collects patrons from the nearby boats and deposits them in this mirage of a bar under the stars.
But first – the goodbye dinner. While most boat companies running blue cruises follow a similar four day itinerary of swimming stops at secret beaches and ruined covered islands, for me the devil is in the detail. With nine years experience running cruises in this area, Alaturka Tours appear to have perfected the subtleties that make a trip great. Following a Turkish feast – a hollowed out watermelon turned jack-a-lantern is presented by the friendly crew and the sparklers that accompany it help turn the deck into an impromptu dance party. Following one last swim the next day, everyone says their farewells to the crew and to each other. The lucky ones continue their journey with another Alaturka Tour, on to the moonscapes of Cappadocia or the rich culture of Istanbul, and I trundle reluctantly back to the grey city I left only five days earlier, albeit now with a better tan.
Alaturka Tours run everything from four day Turkish ‘blue cruises’ to Istanbul, Cappadocia and Gallipoli trips. For more information, head to AlaturkaTurkey.com