Turkey is a wonderful and surprising country. Istanbul is well-known – the East meets West big city filled with markets and mosques. But, dig deeper. The small towns and villages are where you really see this amazing country. It’s where you get to know its people, its culture. It’s where you’ll see the incredible natural beauty of this diverse country and where you’ll find yourself practically tripping over ancient ruins.
There were a few little towns that truly captured my attention. Çirali (pronounced cha-ra-la) is one town that I actually visited twice. It’s really more of a village and it takes a bit of time to get to. While only about 45 minutes southwest of the big city of Antalya (on the southern coast of Turkey), it sits down a twisting road from the main coastal road. Once there, you’ll find yourself looking out at the blue-green waters of the Mediterranean Sea. While this town doesn’t have any high-end resorts or hotels, it does have a laid back, hippy vibe. Accommodations are plentiful and consist of simple, clean, family-run pensions. The food is fresh, with just-caught fish being on every menu. Protected by both the Turkish Forestry and Culture and Tourism ministries, Çirali has escaped development that has plagued other seaside cities and towns. In fact, the beaches are home to the endangered loggerhead turtles that come to make their nests between May and August.
So, what is there to do in this little dot of a village? Three musts are on your list.
The first are the ruins of Olympos. Olympos is actually the next town to the south. You could stay here, but I think Çirali is the better option (for the second must on your list). This collection of ruins is one of the coolest sites I saw while in Turkey. Overgrown with plant life, you’ll feel like Indiana Jones as you wander around this ancient Lycian city that was founded in the Hellenistic period between about 323BC and 31BC. Olympos has a bit of a mystical, eerie quality to it, probably due to the fact that it is in such a natural state. From Çirali you can either drive over (with your rented vehicle), walk down the beach (what I did), have your pension owner arrange for a taxi or use the public transportation (your pension owner can assist you with this as can I). Hiring a private guide is also a great option to really bring the ruins of this important city alive.
Chimaera is the second must on your list. Special to the ancient Lycians who lived in Olympos and the present day Turkish provinces of Antalya and Mugla, this mountain is always on fire. Yes, you read that correctly, there are flames that exude from certain openings on the mountain due to gas vents in the rock. It’s really an incredible site to behold. Freaky. Strange. Awing. The entrance to the 1.5km path to the flames is about 3.5km from Çirali. Some of the pensions will offer a taxi ride for a small fee, but it is walkable, along a dirt road that is well marked. I recommend going close to sunset. The view from the flaming mountain is spectacular. And, once the sun is down, the feeling is even more mystical. Just bring a headlamp or flashlight to light the path on the way back down.
The third must on the list is the beach. After you have experienced the ancient ruins of Olympos and the mystical site of Chimaera, you’ll want to spend some time on this 2 mile stretch of pebbles and sand. Relax. Swim in the Med. Absorb some vitamin D. This is Çirali after all.
Myland Nature Hotel – this is where I stayed (twice) and would highly recommend it. Pinar and Engin run this quiet retreat with 13 cabins/rooms. Hammocks abound among the trees. A free yoga class with Pinar at 8am is a great way to start your day. Then you can dive into the hearty breakfast of local fruits, fresh bread, cheeses and the Turkish çay (tea). Dinners at the Myland are equally scrumptious with fresh grilled fish at the top of the menu. Their Turkish meze (think appetizers, both hot and cold) are amazing!
Many of the hotels and pensions will have restaurants. There are a few places to eat closer to the center of town and most are casual which is the general feel of Cirali. Look for fresh fish and freshly made meze on the menu as well as a sort of pizza-like Turkish specialty called gözleme. It’s tasty!