Bucolic hideaway amidst remarkable ruins
Kaya – or Kayaköy (Kaya Village) – is less a valley than a bowl-shaped plain of ruin-strewn olive groves, orchards and stands of wheat threaded by quiet lanes and restored stone cottages. The sleepy hamlets of this Anatolian Umbria are surrounded by a hem of pine forest that protects against the encroachment of Ovacık and Hisarönü, concrete sprawls built to serve the famed lagoon beach of nearby Ölüdeniz.
The thing is you’d never guess at the proximity – perhaps two miles – of these resorts. The wonder is the extent to which bucolic Kaya keeps its distance from the modern world, even if its distinctive ruins do draw in a modest flow of tour buses; across the plain’s southern slopes there rise the grey remains of a settlement featuring not classical columns and capitols, the stock-in-trade of ruins in these parts, but the mortared walls and chimney stacks of the modern age.
Levissi, as Kaya was once known, flourished as an Ottoman Greek town until its wholly Christian population was expelled in the tragic exchanges brokered between Greece and Turkey in 1923; these atmospheric ruins, which have stood largely empty ever since, inspired Louis de Bernieres’ Birds Without Wings (2005), his magnificent epic set against the social upheavals which attended the final decades of the Ottoman Empire.
The ruins are mostly of private homes; from their roofless shells rise wild figs and tottering chimney stacks while the tops of the underground cisterns are lovingly patterned with mosaics in a black and white herring-bone pattern that the Greeks know as hokhlaki. There are two substantial basilicas, the interiors nested by house martins, several white-washed chapels and fountains.
These ruins, moving evidence of modern history’s forgotten mass eviction, provide a stirring focus to a stay in Kaya. Guests, who lodge beyond the ruins in scattered self-catering cottages and villas like Gunay’s Garden, and guesthouses like Mısafır Evi, also come for the walking trails which lead to such remote beaches as Cold Water Bay; to Gemiler, where the tumbled Byzantine ruins of St Nicholas Island lie beyond a narrow strait; and to the frescoed monastery ruins of Afkule, perched on a series of dizzying cliff ledges above the sea. They eat savoury gözleme (thin dough crepes) on cushion-strewn rickety platforms beneath the mulberry trees at the modest outdoor restaurants by the ruins, order meat cuts to barbecue beside their table at Cin Bal, or dine in elegance at Izela. Within its hem of pines Kaya is a self-contained place, though there’s nothing to stop guests from venturing further afield; perhaps to the town of Fethiye, a 15-minute drive to the north, or to the crowded but photogenic lagoon beach at Ölüdeniz the same distance in the other direction where there is a world-class paragliding scene. There are also plenty of walks, one connecting Kaya with Ölüdeniz.