FETHİYE is the fulcrum of the Turquoise Coast, and a hub of its property industry. It remains, however, a lively market town of 80,000-plus souls, sprawling north along the coastal plain, and the transport and marketing of oranges and tomatoes is still important to its economy. Fethiye occupies the site of ancient Telmessos, and some impressive rock tombs are an easy stroll from the centre. It also makes a convenient base for the nearby beaches of Ölüdeniz and Kıdrak, while a short drive or long walk out of Fethiye brings you to the atmospheric ghost village of Kaya Köyü. Much of the nearby coastline is accessible only by sea, and with the Gulf of Fethiye speckled with twelve islands, one- to four-day boat tours from Fethiye harbour are popular, aiming for secluded coves in which to swim, fish and anchor for the night.
Little is known about the early years of ancient Telmessos, except that the city wasn’t originally part of the Lycian Federation, and, in the fourth century BC, actually resisted it. A Lycian ruler later subdued the Telmessans, and during the Roman imperial era it formed part of the Federation, albeit unique in maintaining good relations with Rhodes.
During the eighth century, the city’s name was changed to Anastasiopolis in honour of a Byzantine emperor. This became Makri in the following century (Meğri in Turkish). Finally, a thousand years later, and following the expulsion of the predominantly Greek Orthodox population, it was changed once again during the 1930s to Fethiye, in honour of Fethi Bey, a pioneering pilot who was killed during World War I.
That little now remains of the medieval town is largely due to two immense earthquakes, in 1857 and 1957, which toppled most of its buildings; the rubble lies compacted beneath the present quay and shoreline boulevard. Another, lesser quake in the spring of 2012 did little damage, but nonetheless had a significant impact on domestic tourism to the town and its environs.
Standard-issue, multi-island, one-day boat tours from Fethiye cost about TL30 per person; just turn up at the quayside for daily departures between May and October, usually leaving at around 10am and returning at 6pm. Tours with Kardeşler, a reliable outfit (t0252 612 4241, wkardesler.com), depart daily 10.30am, and return at 6.30pm.
However, these one-day trips take in a set repertoire of relatively spoiled islands, with little time at each; it’s far better to charter your own crewed boat to stop at just one or two selected islands. If you’ve more time, sign on for one of the cabin cruises that depart at least five days per week in season. A typıcal four-day, three-nıght itinerary heads east, overnighting near or at Gemiler Adası, Kalkan and Kekova before a final minibus shuttle from Andriake to the backpacker lodges at Olympos. Shorter cruises take in Aya Nikola, Ölüdeniz and Butterfly Valley. Paying a bit over the cheapest option, and boarding only owner-operated craft, is recommended to ensure quality; also make sure you check the vessel carefully before paying, and talk to returning clients – complaints about everything from blocked toilets to abusive, non-English-speaking crew to hidden extra charges are common.
Before Luncht0535 636 0076, wbeforelunch.com. A well-established, Australian/Turkish-run Fethiye outfitter that generates consistently positive feedback. Noted for good food, they’re at the high end of the price spectrum, and run a new 25m-long boat that has six double cabins, and one family-sized one. A leisurely four-day, three-night Fethiye-to-Fethiye cruise taking in the twelve islands costs €250 per person in low season, €275 in high season.
Big Backpackerst0252 614 1981 or t0532 235 2978, wbigbackpackers.com. This reliable Fethiye outfitter offers a four-day, three-night Blue Cruise, from Fethiye to Olympos, for €165 per person in low season, €195 in high season.