Once frequented by tomb-raiders, Turkey's Turquoise Coast is treasured for its hidden beaches, writes Terry Richardson.
Visitors explore the ancient sites of the Turquoise Coast in their thousands, but most are drawn for reasons other than the region's fascinating past. The shoreline along the Aegean and Mediterranean waters remains attractive beyond the best-known resorts. A backdrop of peaks rises in places to 3000 metres, the upper slopes studded with cedars, the lower clad with Mediterranean pine.
Cliffs and promontories are interspersed with coves, stretches of sand or shingle, rugged canyons and a peppering of islands. Fishing ports have evolved into low-key resorts, where holidaymakers mix with the locals, who take flocks of sheep and goats to graze the summer away on upland pastures. Here are my favourite beaches.
North-west of the small resort of Kalkan, Patara is one of the longest and best beaches in the Mediterranean. It may not be as wild as in the 19th-century tomb-raiding days of Sir Charles Fellows, who wrote of it: "No signs of life were visible but the footsteps of wolves, jackals and hares", but it is remarkably undeveloped.
Even in high season, it's possible to find deserted stretches of white sand, complete with tide lines of driftwood and shells. Its gentle pitch makes it ideal for children, although winds (refreshing in July or August) can bring in regiments of body-surfing-size waves.
Fellows's crew amazed the locals by playing beach cricket; today's visitors are more likely to swim or sunbathe: sunbeds are for hire near Patara, itself a site worth exploring.
The easily accessible beaches at Oludeniz, near Fethiye, are packed with sun-worshippers, but Kabak, a few kilometres to the south-east, receives just a trickle of visitors. The reason? The 30-minute walk to reach it from the village of the same name, which in turn is reached by minibus from Oludeniz. The setting, a sandy beach fronting a densely wooded valley, makes the effort well worthwhile.
Your fellow swimmers and sunbathers are likely to be Lycian Way walkers, backpackers camping or staying in tree houses, or tourists on boat-trips from Oludeniz.
The £3.60 ($5.50) entry fee to the ruins of Phaselis (open daily 8am-5.30pm), an hour's drive south-west of Antalya, is enough to put off the casual beachgoer, leaving more room for the discerning.
Although the city dates from the 7th century BC, most of the ruins visible today are Roman. Three beaches are reached through dappled pine forest. The western is the sandiest and longest, the eastern one pebbly. The pick of the bunch is in between: a small curved strip of shingle by a delightful bay that was a harbour in ancient times.
Much favoured by visitors staying in the riverside resort of Dalyan, and by endangered loggerhead turtles sculling in from the deep blue depths of the Mediterranean to nest, this sweep of fine, hard-packed sand is one of Turkey's finest beaches. Although there's a road, most visitors wisely opt to take one of the regular boats that putter their way down the pretty, reed-fringed river from Dalyan (a 30-minute drive north of Dalaman airport).
The journey allows time to admire the elaborate ancient tombs carved into the cliffs to the west and the abundant wildlife haunting the marshland to the east.
Sunbeds and umbrellas are available and the gently sloping beach is ideal for families, though there are warnings not to swim near the river mouth because of strong currents. Great news for both turtles and beach-lovers is that conservation measures put in place in 1988 have been successful and loggerhead numbers are up.
It's fortunate that Cirali is not blessed with a classic sand beach like Iztuzu, otherwise, situated an hour's drive south-west of booming Antalya, it would be swamped by visitors. Those in the know, however, are not put off by the pebbles and come back year after year to enjoy one of the most laid-back beaches in the Mediterranean.
Bookended by rugged, pine-encrusted spurs plunging into the turquoise waters from the towering Lycian mountains behind, and backed by a straggling hamlet submerged beneath a canopy of citrus orchards, Cirali's situation is truly dramatic.
Most people stick to the south-central area of the beach, where you can use sunbeds and shades in return for frequenting the simple restaurants behind. The romantic ruins of ancient Olympus are a 15-minute walk south; the remarkable eternal flames of the Chimera flicker in the pine forest to the north-west. The area is also favoured by nesting loggerhead turtles, and sightings by snorkellers are far from unusual.
Antalya has 1 million-plus people, so it's a wonderful surprise to find a pretty beach in its heart. Tucked at the foot of the cliffs just south of the old harbour in the traditional walled quarter of Kaleici, tiny Mermerli beach shelves gently into the bay, making it fine for young children.
It gets very busy in July and August, especially at weekends, so get here early to bag a sunbed and lounger (the £3.60 entry fee includes use of both). There are beach boys on hand to bring cold drinks and snacks from Mermerli restaurant, at the top of the steps, and rocks to swim out to off shore.
The views back to historic Kaleici, with its traditional red-roofed Ottoman houses bedecked with bougainvillea, slender minarets and ancient fortifications, are a delight.
Emirates has a fare to Istanbul from Sydney and Melbourne for about $1850 low-season return, including tax. Fly to Dubai (about 14hr), then to Istanbul (4hr 50min); see emirates.com. This fare allows you to fly back from another European city. Atlasjet flies from Istanbul to Antalya (75min) for about $240 return; see atlasjet.com. Car hire is available at the airport.
- The Telegraph, London