The coast to Olympos
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East of Finike, which is noteworthy only for its yacht marina, Highway 400 runs dead straight before turning ninety degrees to enter the high-rise market town of Kumluca. Beyond that, it curls up through the Beydağları National Park, a spectacular sequence of densely pine-forested ridges and precipitous bare cliffs. Two relatively unspoiled beach resorts, Adrasan and Olympos/Çıralı, lie hidden at the mouths of canyons that plunge to the sea. If you’re heading towards either by your own transport, leave the main highway for the narrow but paved side road that veers off east of Kumluca, signposted “Beykonak, Mavikent”. This short cut rollercoasters through forested valleys and along dramatic coastline to Gelidonya Burnu, with its lighthouse and scenic sections of the Lycian Way, before emerging at Çavuş, the nearest proper village to Adrasan and Olympos. The only trick en route involves turning left (north) at a signposted junction near the outskirts of Karaöz, the last bay and village before Gelidonya Burnu.
Nestling in the shadow of pointy Musa Dağı (Mt Moses), ADRASAN is an attractive beach resort with a pretty curving beach bookended by pine-forested limestone spurs. It’s more mainstream and less hip than nearby Çıralı and there’s none of the backpacker scene so prevalent at Olympos, a day’s walk north along the Lycian Way. The resort is very popular with Turks, especially in July and August, while in spring and autumn it’s an overnighting spot for trekkers following the Lycian Way. Though falling within national park boundaries, development (including second-home building) is proceeding slowly.
The laidback resort of ÇIRALI, shrouded in citrus groves, is situated on a narrow plain between the mountains and a long, curving, 3km-long shingle beach. Less oriented towards backpackers than neighbouring Olympos, and more family-friendly, it’s located in a valley that runs parallel to Olympos on the south side of a mountain spur. Its major attraction is the natural phenomenon known as the Chimaera, an area of flames erupting from the ground on a pine-forested hillside. It’s also possible to walk along the beach for around half an hour to the ruins of ancient Olympos, and there are longer hikes on the Lycian Way, which blazes its way through the settlement. Apart from a surprising amount of accommodation tucked beneath the trees – six hotels and around a hundred pansiyons – there’s little here bar a beachfront strip of restaurants and, just over the river-bridge as you enter the settlement, a short parade of basic shops and cafés.
The fact that Çıralı is safeguarded by various Turkish bodies for its unique ecology, along with its designation as a protected area by the WWF, has enabled threatened loggerhead and green sea turtles to continue laying their eggs here. Don’t dig up, litter or nocturnally illuminate the beach during the summer nesting season.
Locals and the government are currently in dispute over the future of Çıralı, as many of its pensions and other buildings have been built on what’s either wholly or partly state forestry land. Some people claim that only ten to fifteen percent of its buildings are legal, and a few have been demolished as a result.
In legend, Bellerophon was ordered by Iobates, king of Xanthos, to kill the Chimaera in atonement for the supposed rape of his daughter Stheneboea. Astride the winged horse Pegasus, Bellerophon succeeded, dispatching the beast from the air by dropping lead into its mouth. Later, Bellerophon was found to have been falsely accused, and avenged himself on Stheneboea by persuading her to fly away with him on Pegasus and flinging her into the sea. Retribution came when he attempted to ascend to heaven on Pegasus, and was flung from the back of the magical horse. Lamed and blinded, Bellerophon wandered the earth as a beggar until his death.
From the small pebbly beach at Karaöz, an obvious dirt road heads south along the coast towards the cape. Roughly 6.5km along, leave the track in favour of the marked Lycian Way, now a steadily rising path through oaks and pines. From the trailhead, a round-trip of just under an hour (with a daypack) will take you to the photogenic lighthouse just above Taşlık Burnu (as Gelidonya Burnu, “Swallow Cape”, has been officially renamed). Built by the French in 1936, the lighthouse is not currently inhabited, but a keeper cycles out from Karaöz at dusk to light the lamp. The treacherous Beş Adalar (Five Islands) that straggle beyond the cape are shipping hazards that have caused many a wreck, including an ancient one that yielded a huge amount of treasure to archeological divers during the 1960s.
North of the lighthouse, the Lycian Way threads deserted hillside between the sea and a high ridge on its 6hr course to Adrasan (path or cross-country except for the final hour). This dramatic stretch has become a popular organized group target, so you’ll probably have company.
Around 60km northeast of Demre, a spectacular wooded cleft, the Olympos valley, runs down to a shingle beach and the sea. This valley is home to the atmospheric ruins of the ancient Lycian city of Olympos, virtually lost in thick scrub by a reed-fringed river, along with a veritable “village” of wooden huts and treehouses that has become a staple on Turkey’s backpacking circuit. As well as backpackers, summer weekends see the place busy with young folk from Antalya escaping the heat; major holidays with groups of university students from elsewhere in the country; and the period around ANZAC day is often bristling with Australians and New Zealanders. Throw in an increasing number of Russian tourists seeking a break from the all-inclusive hotels down the coast, and it’s easy to see why Olympos enjoys a reputation as the liveliest “alternative” resort on the Turkish coast.
Although nothing is known about the origins of Olympos, the city presumably took its name from Mount Olympos, present-day Tahtalı Dağ, 16km north – one of over twenty mountains in the ancient world that bore the name Olympos. The city made its historical debut during the second century BC, minting its own coins; within a few decades Olympos was one of six cities in the Lycian Federation to possess three votes, confirming its importance.
The principal deity of Olympos – Hephaestos (the Roman Vulcan), god of fire and of blacksmiths – was considered native to this region, and traces of a temple dedicated to him exist near the Chimaera. During the first century BC, the importance of his cult diminished when pirates led by Zeniketes overran both Olympos and nearby Phaselis, and introduced the worship of the Indo-European god Mithras. Zeniketes made Olympos his headquarters, but in 78 BC he was defeated by the local Roman governor, and again in 67 BC by Pompey, after which Olympos became public property. The city’s fortunes revived after it was absorbed into the Roman Empire in 43 AD, and Christianity became prominent. Olympos was later used as a trading base by the Venetians and Genoese – hence Ceneviz Limanı (Genoese Harbour) just south – but was abandoned after the Ottomans dominated the Mediterranean.