Written by Mary L. Peachin
Snow-covered Taurus Mountain peaks divide Turkey’s Mediterranean Turquoise Coast from the central Anatolian Plateau. Rising sharply, the beauty of these rugged peaks rival Japan’s Mt. Fuji’s or the iconic shape of Washington’s Mt. Rainer.
Arriving from Istanbul on Turkish Air, we rented a car to drive Antalya’s two lane highway to Kaş, a distance of 170 miles. Weaving along the Turquoise Coast, departing the highly trafficked city of Antalya was a relief. Sharing the road with fewer vehicles, we could enjoy the Mediterranean’s gorgeous view.
An hour or so later, after passing the village of Kemer, we stopped for lunch at a roadside cafe. A simple place, we sat in the outdoor patio overlooking a stream-side waterfall. Our meatball lunch came with large pide flatbread, tazikiti sauce, fava beans, chili, cucumbers, and bright, juicy tomatoes. It was a tasty introduction to Turkish cuisine.
Continuing along the road, as we neared the village of Fenike, hydroponic hothouses supplying the region’s variety of vegetables, covered the valley. Occasionally, a red tomato peeked through a canvas.
Further south, a wide span of the Mediterranean’s blue water came into view. Following the Turquoise Coast, the green to turquoise to sapphire colors blended like a piece of artwork. On the opposite side of the highway, wild olive and almond trees perched on white and rust colored layers of limestone rock. Herds of goats, always tended by a herder, grazed next to the highway.
Arriving three hours later in Kaş, the southwestern Turkish village covered a hilltop leading down to the edge of the Mediterranean. The Turquoise Coast’s climate of hot, dry summers and warm, wet winters provided an abundance of orange, lemon and banana trees. Lower areas of the village were landscaped with flower and vegetable gardens. Kaş, off the beaten path, benefits from tourism as its primary industry.
We couldn’t have lucked out finding a better place than Gardenia Boutique Hotel facing Cinarlar Kucuk Cakil beach. Our view, five flights up a marble staircase, was picture perfect. Each day, owners Omar and Nevin Caglar exceed hospitality expectations with recommendations for a day’s journey to see Myra’s St. Nicolas Acropolis, an outdoor market, and even a ferry trip to the Greek Island of Meis.
In the evening we would stroll hilly cobblestone streets to one of Omar’s recommended restaurants. At Bi Lokma or “Mama’s Kitchen” we shared mezes (tapas) of sun-dried tomato, onions, lentils, eggplant, zucchini, and beets. Another night we dined in the charming garden at Maya Garden Restaurant. Köşk, another restaurant featuring mezes, was located in a secluded square along one of Kaş’s many interesting shopping streets.
Hunkar restaurant was our favorite and led us to a wonderful new friendship and adventure. Seated behind us was Evy Gazagnaire who was enjoying her lunch with her puppy under her table. One of very few English-speaking people, we struck up a conversation. Evy was a chef who had formerly owned restaurants, Chez Evy, in France as well as in the city of Kaş. She invited us to her villa overlooking the Mediterranean located on the nearby Peninsula.
While chatting on her patio, when we told her that we were taking the ferry to Meis, Greece the next day, she advised us to lunch at Alexandria’s. Having one of her protégées coming to visit, she invited us to join them for dinner the next evening. It might be better described as a feast. Evy served shrimp flamed in cognac followed by an entire leg of lamb with fava beans, and rice. It was a treat to feel so welcomed in a local’s home.
Meis, Greece (Kastellorizo) is the most southerly of the Greek Islands. Located a mile from Kaş, the ferry ride takes about twenty five minutes. The colorful fishing village was bombed by the British and Italians during World War II. Left in ruins, partially destroyed by an earthquake, many of its residents fled to Australia. It currently has a population of around 350 residents.
Most of its visitors come to see its Blue Grotto, purchase duty free raki, a popular Turkish alcohol and cigarettes, or they go to get their visas stamps to meet Turkish residency requirements. After wandering around the waterfront, as Evy recommended, we had a delicious lunch of sea bream and calamari at Alexandria’s.
Another day we visited the city of Myra’s St. Nicolas Acropolis. Myra, located in the heart of Lycia, served as a pilgrimage for Byzantine Christians. The 4th-century bishop of Myra, later canonized as St. Nicholas (commonly referred to as Santa Claus), shaped the development of the Christian city.
Recent archaeological activity has exposed an intact Christian city beneath the nearby city of modern Demre. The church of St. Nicholas, honeycomb tombs and the acropolis have remained iconic Lycian coast symbols while much of the ancient city was buried under 18 feet of sediment deposited by the nearby Myros River.
The original St Nicolas was lauded as a patron of children, sailors, merchants and scientists. Miracles like protecting children and the poor, saving sailors, finding lost belongings, and foreseeing the future made him famous. Prior to the Dutch Protestants developing St. Nicholas mythology, stories about St Nicolas were embellished of his secretly granting aid to those in need.
In Myra, it is thought that St. Nicolas developed his doctrine and spread his beliefs. In AD 342, around the age of 70, he died and was buried in Myra. The area has since been considered a holy attraction for pilgrims
Another dining highlight was a roadside grill, Yϋzer Kӧsk Mavi Yengec, which barbecued sea bass or Levrek in the city of Beymelek located north of Demre. We were the only customers and overwhelmed by the freshness and quality of their fish.
After five days in Kaş it was time to make the return drive to Antalya before continuing for a week of adventure in Istanbul. You can be sure that we timed our departure so that we could once again enjoyed a roadside lunch repeat of those meatballs, pide flatbread, tazikiti sauce, fava beans, chili, cucumbers, and bright, juicy tomatoes.