Sublime beach backed by verdant gardens and timber cabins
Sandy beaches in Turkey are either out of bounds to developers (Iztuzu, Patara) or lined by ugly villa and apartment complexes (Calış, Gümbet). The exception, with its low-key backing of timbered chalets set in sub-tropical gardens and citrus groves, is the lovely beach at Çıralı. In recent years developers have been looking to change all that. It says a lot for the locals, owners of simple seaside pansiyons and garden restaurants, that they are having none of it. Çıralı made the news in 2010 when the locals blockaded the one access road with their cars to prevent the imminent arrival of the bulldozers; as the police removed the offending cars to the back of a low-loader, more heroically cussed villagers piled in to plug the gaps. To the relief of Çıralı’s Turkish and European devotees, who have always adored the place precisely for its low-built and wonderfully verdant character, the bulldozers did not get through.
The timbered chalets and cabins either front the sand beach or are set back across a broad coastal plain mostly devoted to orange groves. The beach runs west into the distance until the debouching river beyond the headland marks the harbour of ancient Olympos. This overgrown Lycian city is threaded with streams, thickly forested, and abundant in kingfishers, turtles and even snakes; the historic stones, apart from some enormous sarcophagae, are unexceptional but Olympos’ location and atmosphere make it among the most distinctive of Turkey’s countless ruin sites. Further up the same valley are treehouse encampments where international kids pass collegiate down time in all-inclusive compounds beyond the sight of the locals. Better to return to Çıralı for a far more satisfying Turkish experience among the restaurants and tea houses behind the beach, or to a spectacular dinner in the Fellini-esque setting of the Olympos Lodge, a recommended stay along with Arcadia Hotel. Make for the beach before dawn to catch loggerhead turtles laying their eggs (May and June) or hatching (July and August) though take great care and heed the instructions of the patrolling local environmentalists.
Çıralı is also a good base for walkers; the Lykia Yolu (Lycian Way), a waymarked long-distance footpath, passes through here. It leads through pine forests past the Chimaera (Yanartaş), a hillside aflame with vents of natural gas which was the legendary home of a fire-breathing monster, to the trout restaurants at Ulupınar and thence to the lower slopes of the local Mt Olympos, Tahtalı to the Turks.