You’re lying on a blanket of soft sand, with an expanse of jade sea in front of you, and lazily undulating green hills behind, backed by the jagged cones of a mountainous interior.
Views don’t get much easier on the eye than this, but there’s more to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast than prime swimming and sunbathing territory. This is a land where ancient remains, aromatic bazaars and world-class cuisine all jostle for your attention.
And, of course, the world has caught on to its many charms: in peak summer months, it can feel like you’re competing with hordes of other tourists for a piece of the Turquoise Coast. Going early or late in season is an ideal way to make the most of the region and see it at its most unspoilt.
Gulf of Fethiye 12-island tour
One of the region’s most eye-catching locations is the Gulf of Fethiye, whose turquoise waters are strewn beautifully with an archipelago of 12 islands.
The finest way to soak up the combination of winning scenery and glorious weather that favours the gulf is a tour on a gület (traditional wooden Turkish yacht). The Günay 1 (turkeygoceksailing.wixsite.com/gunay1) is a great option based in the upscale little resort of Göcek. Early in season, the islands feel genuinely remote, and you might only see a handful of other vessels plying the route. Immersing yourself in the sea – which, if not peak-season warm, is still refreshingly pleasant – it's hard to believe that the mountains that form the ravishing backdrop are still capped by winter snow.
Your tour is likely to include stops at Yassıcalar (Flat Island) for a swim, Tersane Adası (Shipyard Island) with its ruins, Akvaryum Koyu (Aquarium Bay) for snorkelling, and Kızılada (Red Island) with its beach and mud baths.
If you’re not on a set tour and are lucky enough to have hired your own boat, then stop at Zeytin (Akdeniz Mahallesi, tel: 0541 885 5901) on the mainland opposite Tersane Adası, which makes the most of an enviable location in wooded Bedri Rahmi Koyu (Bedri Rahmi Bay). Irresistible meze pave the way for the main event: plates of almost indecently meaty, succulent seabass, garnished with plump lemon wedges.
If the island tour has you in the mood for messing around in boats, then next on your list should be a trip along the Dalyan River. This alluring waterway meanders through the easy-going little town of Dalyan on its course between Köyceğiz Gölü (Lake Köyceğiz) and İztuzu Beach, proudly showing off a landscape of fertile countryside and hazy mountain peaks along the way.
İztuzu (Turtle) Beach, also accessible by road, is a huge golden stretch that is ideal for swimming and sunbathing. But what makes this place really special is its role as a nesting site for loggerhead turtles: in summer measures are in place to protect these enormous and beautiful creatures. You can visit the Sea Turtle Research, Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre, which does important work in bringing injured turtles back to full health.
The river’s knockout spot, though, is the view of the Lycian-style Kings’ Tombs of the ancient city of Kaunos, hewn into golden cliffs. If seeing the tombs from the river whets your appetite, get up close on a private rowing boat moored next to Saki restaurant in Dalyan, then take the short walk. Further along you can explore other Kaunos remains including a theatre and an acropolis.
Caretta Caretta (carettacaretta.net) is an appealing lunch spot, marked out from the pack by a serendipitous location right opposite the Kings’ Tombs. The restaurant makes the most of the spot with a huge garden in which you can gorge on meze and seafood while gazing out over the monuments.
Fethiye and Ölüdeniz
A perfect antidote to all that sun and sea is a visit to the bustling port city of Fethiye. Like the rest of the region, its natural surroundings are a stunner, but the draw here is history: Fethiye was the site of the ancient city of Telmessos, and you can explore evocative remains like the Tomb of Amyntas south of the centre, or visit the fascinating Fethiye Museum. For an attraction firmly in the here-and-now, sample the spectacle of Fethiye market. Psych yourself up to play your best haggling game, whether you’re after a knockoff designer bag, traditional lokum (Turkish delight), or a bag of dates or spices.
Recover from the hurly-burly of the town by continuing on to the Blue Lagoon at Ölüdeniz. It’s a protected national park that you pay to enter, where enticing waters lap languidly against a sandy shore and verdant mountains tower over you. This is also a top paragliding spot, so if you fancy taking a break from sunbathing to get an adrenaline rush amid lush scenery, this is your chance. Gravity Tandem Paragliding is a decent local operator. Also near Ölüdeniz is the starting point of beautiful long-distance hiking trail the Lycian Way.
The lagoon is backed by plenty of inviting options for a meal or drink in gorgeous surroundings. Grab a table at Green Park Beach Restaurant (facebook.com/greenparkbeacholudeniz) to sample tasty barbecued meats and sip a crisp Turkish white wine.
Tom travelled to Turkey with support from the Hilton Dalaman Sarıgerme Resort & Spa (hiltondalaman.com). Lonely Planet contributors do not accept freebies in exchange for positive coverage.