Turkey’s Lycian Way: An epic hike with beautiful beaches at every turn

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(CNN) – Turkey’s Lyceum Way crosses sloping mountains covered with pines, cherubs and strawberry trees.

It passes through 25 historic sites, including the ancient cities of Xanthos and Letoon, which are listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. And the whole route takes 29 days to complete.

Sounds boring, doesn’t it?

Don’t worry, there’s plenty of easy access to the sun, sea and sand. Whether you’re living in a sun-in-the-sun-lounge for a day out on the beach, or a back-to-nature happy camper, there’s something to suit everyone.

All come with a backdrop of stunning high mountains, with the noise of the wind from the trees and the allure of the endless expanse of clear blue water mingling with the sky.

The Lisian Way is a 335 mile (540 km) hiking trail marked on the Tekke Peninsula, stretching between Fathiye and Antalya off the southern Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

It covers an area once associated with the Lisians, a democratic, highly cultured and independent people who inhabited the region from the end of the Bronze Age to the end of the Roman Empire.

They were ruled by Persians, welcomed Alexander the Great, learned from Greek culture and were at one time Roman provinces. By the time Byzantine Christians came to settle here, the Lycians had made their mark well and indeed.

Here are some highlights of the route.

Oludeniz

Lüdeniz: Permanently turquoise.

Lüdeniz: Permanently turquoise.

Date GOK / Adobe stock

At the west end of the trail is Ölüdeniz, a name literally meaning Dead Sea, except for nothing else.

This crystal sheet of blue lagoon feeds into the Mediterranean Sea, and retains the color of turquoise and aquamarine even in the harshest of climates.

In Lucian times Oludenis was known as the “land of light and sun” and on a hot summer day, light was reflected from the sand spit that formed the cumbur at the mouth of the bay, making it easy to see why.

The lagoon forms part of the national park so there is a small entrance fee to access the beach.

Once there, do as the name suggests – nothing at all with occasional diving into the water to cool down.

Alternatively, more adventurous people can see the view from Babadag – Father Mountain – down the road with a tandem paraglide jump. At just 6,233 feet (1,900 m), it’s not for the faint of heart.

Butterfly Valley

Butterfly Valley Beach is best accessed by water.

Butterfly Valley Beach is best accessed by water.

proslgn / Adobe Stock

Less than three miles from Ölüdeniz is Calebakler Wadisi, known in English as Butterfly Valley.

The almost vertical cliff walls are 1,148 feet high up to the floor of the lush green valley filled with olive, fruit, walnut and other trees.

A powerful waterfall, which has its source in the village of Faralya, located at the top of the cliffs, cascades down from the back of the valley. This water forms a stream passing through the middle of the valley, which empties into the sea in a wonderful game of teal and sapphire.

Home to 105 butterfly species, the Butterfly Valley is much less in the way of amenities than most other beaches along the coast, and is purposeful.

In 1981, a co-worker bought the valley from Faralya villagers. Their purpose was to preserve its natural beauty, to avoid commercial development. Six years later the government declared it a national reserve.

Access by water is the easiest. Tour boats anchor offshore for only a few hours each day and those wishing to spend the night can take advantage of Olu Deniz’s shared taxi boat service.

No permanent housing is allowed so accommodation includes tents, basic huts and bungalows.

Laptops, tablets and mobile phones are full of electricity for a few hours. The focus is on nature. Silence during the day is only wrapped in waves on the shore and at night it is broken by flames and laughter at the BBQ and the gathering at the beach.

Patara

Patara Beach: 12 miles of soft sand and light hills.

Patara Beach: 12 miles of soft sand and light hills.

Delbars / Adobe stock

Next to the footpath comes the ancient city of Patara. Patara dates back to the 13th century BC and, due to its access to the sea, became the leading city of Lycia in the 3rd century under the rule of Ptolemy.

Its history is full of famous names. It is the birthplace of St. Nicholas (aka Santa), a prophet of Apollo is rumored to be living here, and it is here that St. Paul boarded the ship that took him to Rome.

Today, the remnants of this once prosperous seaside city and important center of Christianity play another flute on Patara Beach, known for its 12 miles of soft sand and mild hills.

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Locals and tourists alike are amazed to see the small, delicate white grains of crushed quartz scattered on the beach, sinking into the ocean where they can be easily seen from the crystal-clear waters.

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A very special category of foreign visitors are the terrifying loggerhead sea turtles. Patara is one of the few breeding sites left in the Mediterranean.

The turtles arrive between May and October each year and lay about 100 eggs each. After covering them with sand they return to the water, leaving the next generation to their fate.

Once raised small turtles have to run a herd of crabs, dogs, foxes and birds, so few people carry them to adulthood.

Patara was designated as a special security area in 1990. Now there’s bird life, plants, small wetlands and of course, it’s a magical beach.

Kaputas

Kaputaş Beach: As if someone had cut a triangle out of the rocks.

Kaputaş Beach: As if someone had cut a triangle out of the rocks.

kartheas / adobe stock

Seen from the air, Kaputaş beach looks as if someone has cut a triangle out of the rocks like a big wedge of cake.

A narrow ribbon of asphalt curves around the face of the rock seems sharp and impossible to reach the beach. It is only when you see the 187-step staircase standing on the road and looking at the shore.

Descending may seem like hard work in the scorching heat but the effort to reach the bottom is worth it. A dip in the ocean, where an underground stream of cold mountain water feeds ointment into the Mediterranean Sea, awaits. Just a tonic on a hot summer day.

Byükcakıl

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

Büyükcakıl offers a more active beach experience.

Wirestock / Adobe stock

At Büyükcakıl (Big Pebble Beach), sometimes short, sharp rolling waves are perfect for those who like a more active beach experience.

The brackish water mixed with the freshness of the underground springs breaks up on the boulders to form the shore which gives the beach its name.

Swimming shoes are indispensable and those who are with children take note, the stones under the feet suddenly go to sea.

In high season the beaches are adorned with colorful umbrellas and sun lovers alike. After a hard day’s swimming (if you need to), just a mile to the west, it’s the perfect place to watch the sun go down before heading to Kas.

It is an excellent town on the Turkish coast with a twist. The Lisian tombs serve as street markers, while the entrance to the underground cistern with seven pillars carved from the bedrock – one of only two from the Hellenistic and Roman periods – is through a bar.

Olympus and Kerala

Kerala Beach is steeped in history.

Kerala Beach is steeped in history.

Wheatworth Images / Moment RF / Getty Images

A long stretch of sand at the eastern end of the Lycian Way sits in an area surrounded by history.

Mount Olympos is to the north, Olympus the Antique City to the south, and Mount Chimera in between. Mount Olympus, or Tahtali Dagi, as it is called in Turkey, was once considered the home of the gods.

According to Homer, here Poseidon, the evil god of the sea, called out a storm that wrecked Odysseus’ ship while he was on his way home from the Trojan War.

Now a tourist destination, the former city of Olympus was once the main center of the Lysian Federation, established during the Hellenistic period.

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

In Turkey, Mount Chimera, Burning Rock, or Yanartas is named after the small natural flames that erupt from the cracks in the rocks.

They are most visible at night, but most flares reach a height of about two feet, do not expect large pyrotechnic performances.

Instead, be amazed at the fact that they are believed to have been burning continuously for 2,500 years. Sailors used the glow of these flammable 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 coastline is divided into two beaches, Olympus and Kerala, each with its own distinctive characters.

The northern end of Çıralı Beach is supported by fertile plains full of palm and olive trees and has a tranquil atmosphere while the southern end, called Olympus Beach, is known for its treehouse accommodation and evening fireside parties.

Just stay on one beach or try each of them in return. Both share an equally gorgeous expanse of water with a glowing palette of extraordinary shades of blue.

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