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Turkey: the smart way 19 mars 2008

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The Sunday Times (UK), March 16th, 2008

Jeremy Seal

While tourists broil on the coast, residents retreat to the cooler hills inland. Great views, fresh breezes, fine food and non-honeypot prices -how eminently sensible, says Jeremy Seal

Ooh, Kalkan. » Pauline Salvarli, once of Stirling, winces as she serves us dinner beneath the cherry trees of her country garden at Bezirgan, 2,378ft above sea level. « They’re always getting ill down there. » We’ve left that booming resort for the village guesthouse run by Pauline and her husband, Erol, some 11 miles inland. A smart move, we reckon, for we’ve swapped the heat, bugs (both kinds) and half-finished villa sprawls for owls calling across fields of hand-scythed spring wheat and almost no mosquitoes. That, combined with delightful rustic accommodation and a dinner of yoghurt dips, bean salads, stuffed peppers and aubergine moussaka, means it’s really no contest. Come the summer, Turks have traditionally headed for the hills, livestock and all, leaving only the tourists and those doomed to serve them to broil on the coast.

Now, however, imaginative hoteliers and villa and B&B owners are following in their footsteps. They have fled from sunburn and full-English breakfasts in the concrete of Kalkan, Oludeniz and Gocek to offer authenticity, often with a touch of alternative living. And at altitude.

After dinner, Pauline lends us a torch to find our way through Bezirgan’s unlit lanes to our lodgings in her in-laws’ former village home. The house has been beautifully restored, retaining cedar beams, walnut shelves and alcoves, stone and timber floors strewn with kilims and a cushioned kosk, or roofed balcony, for relaxing. Winningly neat and modest, with just three bedrooms and modern bathrooms (with proper showers), it stands in an orchard of fig trees. We return to the main house for breakfast -local cheeses, home-made jams (cherry and plum), menemen (omelette with peppers) -before setting out to explore.

Bezirgan is just minutes from the Lycian Way, Turkey’s first long-distance path, and for some miles we overhaul tortoises along the waymarked old track, which leads past collapsing wooden granaries into the hills. As a base, Bezirgan proves equally well sited for forays into the interior and for days at the beach. An hour’s drive inland brings us to Saklikent. We wade through this steep-sided gorge before feasting on gozleme (savoury pancakes stuffed with crumbly cheese and parsley) at a riverside restaurant where a cushioned platform overhangs the water.

One day, we head for the coast (30 minutes) to explore the stirring ruins at Patara, birthplace of St Nicholas and home to a recently excavated, dune backed Greek theatre. Then it’s down to the nearby shore -with nine miles of pristine white sand, truly one of the world’s great beaches -to cool off in the surf. Predictably, the sandflies are biting, so it’s good to take the road back into the hills, for stirring stories of Erol Salvarli’s bandit forebears over tea and biscuits in a herb-scented hillside garden.

* Owlsland (00 90 242 837 5214) has doubles for Pounds 45, B&B, or Pounds 70, half-board. Fly to Dalaman (see Getting There, below), from where it’s about a two-hour drive

The best of the Turkish hills

* Unless stated, all prices given are per person per week, B&B, including flights from London and transfers, based on two sharing

Yediburunlar

At remote Yediburunlar (Seven Headlands), a two-hour drive from Dalaman, South African Leon and Istanbulite Semra have created their fantasy hideaway. The Lighthouse is a stone-built village home-cum-mountain lodge, precipitously sited on a 1,970ft crag with giddying views over the sea. With its swimming pool seemingly hanging in space, Semra’s delightful (entirely vegetarian) cooking and the occasional visiting goatherd, this six-bedroom boutique hotel verges on the surreal. Leon arranges boat trips, but his main joy is guiding guests on local walks. Typical is a three-hour ramble through pine woods to Sidyma, where 2,500-year-old Lycian tombs double as fodder stores for the local villagers.

Prices start at Pounds 500, half-board, through Exclusive Escapes (020 8605 3500)

Karaagac

It used to take hours to reach the village of Karaagac, on its 3,600ft-high plateau in the Babadag range, but a new road has cut the journey time from Oludeniz to 30 minutes. Even so, there’s no danger of Black Tree Cottages losing its pioneering, high-plains personality. An 18th-century farmhouse lodges walking groups, but most visitors stay in the Alpine-style self catering cabins scattered among the fruit trees. Facilities include a pool and a tennis court, a potter’s wheel and a library. With horses, mountain bikes or donkeys to ride, a children’s video room, rabbits and geese, the place appeals particularly to families. Kitchen gardens supply the bar and restaurant (open all day) with organic vegetables, and the menu is child-friendly. Gurbuz and Anthea, veterans of the Turkish tourism scene, run the place with a distinctive mix of charm, eccentricity and environmental idealism.

00 90 252 617 0045, www.blacktree.net. Packages start at Pounds 488 through Cachet Travel (020 8847 8700). Karaagac is about two hours from Dalaman

Islamlar

A handful of restored houses and newly built villas have brought self-catering holidays to this Shangri-La above Kalkan. The slopes are covered with vines and fruit trees, and the stream that runs down the valley is flanked by trout restaurants such as Yayla Cinar (00 90 242 838 6135), which does not only trout, but local specialities such as fried cheese with chillies, and great views, for Pounds 7 a head. Villas include Narli Ev, a rebuilt Ottoman-style house sleeping four, with an infinity pool and a patio with hammocks.

From Pounds 550, including 4WD hire, through Exclusive Escapes (as above). Islamlar is about two hours from Dalaman

Uzumlu

The little inland town of Uzumlu (With Grapes) has long drawn tour groups from bustling Fethiye in search of old Turkey. With its ancient timber houses and open-fronted loom rooms, where the women turn out a local muslin called dastar, it’s certainly appealing -and it merits a longer stay now that Sakin Bahce, an attractive and substantial Ottoman house in the heart of town, with pool and garden, has been restored and readied for rental (sleeping 12). Uzumlu is a 25-minute drive from Kadyanda, an ancient hilltop city deep in the high pine forests, with stupendous views over the Fethiye coastline. Or head down to family-friendly Calis beach, just 30 minutes’ drive away.

Creative Traveller (020 7385 5200) has Sakin Bahce from Pounds 1,500 a week, villa-only, based on 12 sharing, or from Pounds 995 for five. Uzumlu is about an hour from Dalaman

Yaniklar

A few bumpy miles through orange groves west of Fethiye brings you to Pastoral Vadi (Pastoral Valley). Here, Ahmet Kezin, an architect-environmentalist, is pioneering eco-minded tourism on his organic farm, providing simple but attractive cabins, several made from the local adobe-style mud brick. Riverbank eucalyptus woodlands are home to its traditional restaurant, and paths wind past terrapin ponds. The farm keeps ducks, chickens and sheep. It also offers instruction in organic practice, weaving, yoga and pottery, while Yaniklar beach is just a few miles away.

Prices start at Pounds 30pp per day, half-board; 00 90 252 633 6627, www.pastoralvadi.com . Fethiye is about 50 minutes from Dalaman

Kaya

Barely two miles from the concrete ugliness of Hisaronu, hemmed in by a protective belt of pines, is the Kaya valley, where Kayakoy, a mainly Greek town, has stood abandoned since the 1920s. These evocative ruins inspired Louis de Bernieres’s 2004 novel Birds Without Wings. Scattered among wheat fields and olive groves are self-catering villas such as Tangala Evi (sleeping three), a beautifully renovated village house with a pool. At Gunay’s Garden, five modern, spacious villas and a splendid restaurant are arranged around a pool in walled grounds, with haunting views over Kayakoy.

Exclusive Escapes (as above) has Tangala Evi from Pounds 450, including car hire. A villa sleeping eight at Gunay’s Garden (0207 702 7505) starts at Pounds 499 per week, villa-only. Kaya is about an hour from Dalaman

 * Jeremy Seal travelled as a guest of Exclusive Escapes

Getting there: there are summer services to Dalaman from 22 UK airports, with airlines including XL (0870 320 7777 ), Thomsonfly , Flythomascook, EasyJet  and Onur Air (through Aegean Flights; 0844 870 0033. Prices start at Pounds 150. Or try Charter Flight Centre (0845 045 0153, www.charterflights.co.uk or Travel Republic (020 8974 7200, www.travelrepublic.co.uk.

Getting around: you’ll need a car. The travel search site Kayak has a week’s inclusive hire from Pounds 161. Or try Travelsupermarket .

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