Ask an expat the same question and most will chorus Kaş, which is interesting given that while Bodrum is readily accessible by air, getting to Kaş involves flying to Antalya or Dalaman and then enduring a fairly grueling onward journey. But perhaps that’s exactly why it remains top of the holiday hot list. It would be lying to claim that Kaş hasn’t grown over the last decade or to suggest that it’s still filled with lovely old houses, but the fact remains that its mountainous backdrop has prevented too much sprawl, while the distance from the airports has worked to keep rapacious tour companies at bay.
You won’t need to be in Kaş for long to fall for its charms. There may be no real beach to speak of but there is the lovely harbor with a line-up of picturesque boats, and there’s postcard-pretty Uzun Çarşı (Long Market) with its appealing, upscale boutiques, a scatter of Lycian remains, a neat little Hellenistic theater, and a string of inviting cafés and restaurants, some with gardens. Just as importantly, Kaş makes a perfect base for exploring the surrounding area.
Kaleköy (Simena): Not far offshore, the small village of Kaleköy (Simena) is so lovely that it might have been designed to order to attract visitors. Straggling up and down the slopes of a hill dotted with pretty houses half-hidden amid foliage and topped with the remains of a castle, it sits at the far end of a peninsula tenuously linked to the mainland. To top things off, the lapis lazuli waters of the Mediterranean lap at the shoreline which is lined with ramshackle fish restaurants.
You could get to Kaleköy by road, but that would be a serious error since the boat ride over from Kaş and back must rank as Turkey’s single most delightful day trip. No sooner has the boat set sail than you will be lost amid rocky outcrops that jut dramatically from the sea. Of course this is true of most of the Mediterranean coastline, but what makes this particular trip so special is that you will also pass over the submerged remains of an ancient Lycian settlement simply called Batık Şehri (Sunken City) off the shores of lovely Kekova Island. Once upon a time it was possible to swim over these ruins, but nowadays rules are stricter and sometimes even the boats steer clear -- in which case the answer is to come back later in a kayak.
The castle on the summit of Kaleköy (Castle Village) was built by the Knights of St. John on the site of earlier fortifications and boasts its own dinky little theater. Beside it you’ll find the remains of the graveyard of Lycian Simena, huge stone sarcophagi littering the hillside like so many casually abandoned water bottles. It’s all quite wonderfully picturesque and you won’t be surprised to learn that Rahmi Koç, one of Turkey’s richest men, has a holiday home here complete with helipad.
If there’s one snag with the boat trip to Kaleköy it is that it guarantees you arrive with hordes of other people. Although many of them will head straight for the restaurants, this still means that you’ll be jostling amateur photographers all the way up the path to the castle even as you do your best to dodge the attention of local women who are themselves doing their best to interest you in headscarves trimmed with tiny seashells and tiny packets of oregano. There are two ways to handle this. The first is to get together with friends and pay for a private boat trip at a time to suit yourselves. The second is to put up at one of the simple if somewhat pricy small pensions -- Kale, Mehtap and Ankh -- scattered around the village. Do this and you’ll enjoy the rare privilege of getting to see what makes the place tick after the visitors have gone.
Kastellorizo: Since Kaş makes the best base for getting to Kaleköy, it seems almost greedy that it’s also the base for a second almost equally delightful excursion to the Dodecanese island of Kastellorizo. In one of those curiously perverse twists of political geography, this island is within sight of Turkey (where it’s called Meis) yet belongs to Greece, which means that EU citizens can visit without a visa. Kastellorizo is quite large and mountainous but most boat trips leave barely time to take a turn along the delightful sea-facing promenade, visit the museum, shop for a few souvenirs, contrast the way in which the old stone buildings have been preserved here with the way in which they’ve been jettisoned in Turkey, and lunch at one of the restaurants to see what twists a Greek fish restaurant adds to the menu on offer in a Turkish one.
Because Kastellerizo is in Greece, this trip involves a few extra formalities, although these days you only usually need to give your passport to the travel agent on the morning of the day you plan to sail rather than the night before, as used to be the case.
Gömbe and around: If you’re staying in Kaş for a week or so, you may also want to try one of the inland excursions which head for Gömbe, the kicking-off point for exploring the Yeşil Gölü (Green Lake), a lovely stretch of water nestling on the flanks of Akdağ (White Mountain, 3,024 meters). These trips continue up to Elmalı, a small town that takes its name from the apple (elma) orchards that surround it and which is graced by the 17th-century Ömerpaşa Cami around which a lively market takes place every Monday. Elmalı is also known for ice creams confected from actual ice, although to taste them you’ll need to come back in winter.
Kalkan: Kaş also makes a good base for DIY visits to other nearby sites. You can, for example, pop across to neighboring Kalkan, a once tiny settlement that turned into a ghost town in winter but which has now mushroomed enormously and acquired a large expat community, much of it British. Here some of the original white-washed houses draped with bougainvillea still managing to cling to life in the streets backing the harbor but there are no historic buildings, so it won’t take you long to look round and be on your way again.
Patara: Beach bunnies will want to bypass Kalkan and head straight for the 20-kilometer-long swathe of sand at Patara, 42 kilometers to the west. Like Kaş, Patara is one of those places which seem to have it all, with extensive remains of the old Lycian settlement nestling in the sand dunes immediately behind the beach and trailing all the way back to Gelemiş, the small village where those who prefer to stay here can find a bed for the night.
Kale (Demre): Finally, it’s a similar distance east along the highway to Kale (Demre) where you can visit the remains of the early Byzantine church in which St. Nicholas (aka Santa Claus) was buried, and then explore the huge theater and picturesque rock tombs of ancient Myra a short walk inland.
WHERE TO STAY
Hideaway Hotel, Kaş. Tel.: 0 (242) 836 18 87
Kale Hotel, Kaş. Tel.: 0 (242) 836 40 74
Otel Sardunya, Kaş. Tel.: 0 (242) 836 30 80
Ankh Pansiyon, Kaleköy. Tel.: 0 (242) 874 21 71
Kale Pansiyon, Kaleköy. Tel.: 0 (242) 874 21 11
Mehtap Pansiyon, Kaleköy. Tel.: 0 (242) 874 21 46
HOW TO GET THERE
Domestic and international flights service Antalya airport, which is connected to the bus station by Havaş buses. From there hourly midibuses take the inland road to Kaş. Frequent buses connect Kaş with Kalkan, Patara and Demre.