We are a bit slap dash when it comes to research. As I mentioned in the balloon flight post a couple of photographs is more than enough to set us on a lengthy journey. But when it comes to beaches we learnt in early 2011 that more extensive investigations are needed. Some supposedly great beaches are in fact complete rubbish. In 2011 it took two failed attempts, 1 overnight train, 1 huge storm, 1 harrowing boat trip, 2 not so harrowing boat trips, a moped, 4 minibus journeys and two ferry trips to eventually find a great beach. We were also set on an island in Thailand for part of our honeymoon in 2012 and then at the last minute found out that the island that we had in mind was surrounded by swarms of stinging jellyfish!
So whilst the rest of this trip was “cobbled together” so to speak, I spent a lot of time reading about the beaches of Turkey. We nearly chose a beach at Olympus (which sounded great) but then I stumbled upon a blog which talked about the beach at Patara, in south east Turkey on the Turquoise Coast. This blog described a clean sandy beach, so it ticked one of our boxes. It waxed lyrical about the 18 kilometres of pristine sand in fact. Oh, and this beach had no buildings anywhere near it, as it is protected by the government. Aside from the one wooden building which sells food and cold drinks and provides sun loungers and umbrellas. It also described ancient ruins close by and turtles too. Olympus didn’t stand a chance. Patara sounded too good to be true. Patara it would be.
Getting to Patara was a challenge, though in hindsight it was actually pretty easy. I will now describe the journey should you be sold on the idea of Patara and need to know how to get there. Our journey started at 3.30am. This was our second “stupid o’clock” start in three days.
Once back in Istanbul we caught a plane to the airport at Dalaman – a short one hour flight. Outside the airport there are buses provided by Havas. You can’t miss them and these will take you to Fethiye. At Fethiye bus station you can buy another bus ticket to Kalkan from one of the many offices. Kalkan is the town closest to Patara (which is also known as Gelemis by the way, but everybody calls it Patara). The bus journey takes a couple of hours and, in fact, you could ask the driver to drop you at the road which leads to Patara, which we did not know to do.
Instead we continued to Kalkan, and foolishly got in a cab. Do not use cabs in this area. They are extortionately expensive. What we would have done at this stage, had we read a blog like this, was to catch the Dolmus, which is a local minibus service. It leaves from the back (eastern) side of the Kalkan bus station and the minibuses are white and have signs with red writing hung in the windscreen which state their destinations. They leave every hour or so and the last leaves at 10:30pm roughly. The timings are a bit relaxed so arrive early and expect a small wait. And note that you seem to pay the driver as you get off having completed your journey. Just in case you are not convinced, the Dolmus costs about £2 and the Taxi cost us over £20.
The Dolmus will either take you all the way to the centre of Patara or drop you at the junction you passed earlier in the bus from Fethiye. Here other Dolmuses ply the route into Patara town and on to the beach, 2km further past the town. It’s really easy if you know how, which you do now. That’s the helpful bit done with, provided as a service to fellow travellers.
We spent four nights in Patara at the Akay Pension. This is quite simply a great place to stay. The rooms are small, but pleasant and very clean with a built in mosquito net. The pool out back is superb. Next to the pool is a wonderfully relaxing Ottoman style lounge with huge pillows and plenty of shade, from where I started to write this very blog entry. The real stars of the show though are Kazim the owner, a more helpful and enthusiastic man you will struggle to find, and his wife Aysha, who cooks incredible food. We had fish one night and I think it may well have been the tastiest and most satisfying fish we have ever eaten.
Akay pension is not a hotel per se. It feels more like a guest house really, and a very homely one at that.
The pool at Akay is such a wonderful escape from the heat – the temperature hit 40c on the day we arrived.
The town of Patara is delightfully small. A handful of pensions are complimented by a few eateries and a couple of bars. There are some small shops, 2 massage places (one of which is more of a hamam), a mosque and not a lot else.
On our first and third day at Patara we visited the beach. We walked there, which is a gentle stroll of about 2km from the town. The distance was not an issue but the heat was. The daytime heat (in late July) was above 35c at times. That said, walking to the beach was a good idea because we got to visit the ruins on the way. From my research I knew the ruins would be impressive, but I was not prepared for what we found. The ruins are what remains of the original city of Patara, which was founded over 2,500 years ago. At that time the location was superb, as Patara had a natural harbour. The city was powerful and throughout its life belonged to the Greeks, the Rhodians, the Egyptians and the Romans. It was mentioned in the bible a number of times. But best of all it was the birthplace of Saint Nicholas. We know him best as Father Christmas. Sadly the entrance to the natural harbour become blocked with sand and the city was abandoned. What was once a busy port town is now hidden from the sea by some substantial sand dunes. Until recently in fact most of the ruins were buried under the sand.
The ruins are dominated by the amphitheatre which is set in the side of a hill. It is in remarkably good condition, having been for a long time buried. We climbed to the top of the seating and even exited through a tunnel which leads to the hillside behind the amphitheatre. The building is exceptional. It is worth visiting for this alone. But this was a whole city, and much of it remains.
Right next to the amphitheatre is the theatre or parliment, which was built around 50AD. This has recently been reconstructed and it is great to get some idea as to what it looked like in it’s time. Though I was less than impressed with some of the reconstruction work. But what do I know. It is still an incredible sight to behold.
Beyond the theatre some of the main street has been uncovered and restored. Most of the street then remains buried but it emerges from below the ground 300 metres or so later as it passes through the remarkable city gate. The local goat herders bring their flocks to drink where the road falls below the ground and water collects. In the second photo below you can see the ampitheatre in the hillside beyond the gate, which gives you an idea as to how long the street was.
The ruins are much more extensive than just these wonders though. The area is scattered with ruins, some still complete enough that they can be understood, others strewn across the ground. The extent of the ruins is so vast that it is easy to spot 2,000 year old roof tiles in the dirt. Or chunks of pillar, possibly from the main street. There are even ruins outside of the immediate area of the city. We passed a granary on the way from Patara which is impressive, but aso sadly half buried under the road. And there is even a sizeable and pretty complete tomb on the road close to the Akay Pension.
We paid £2 for a card which allowed 10 visits to the ruins and the beach. We had to show the card each time we passed through the checkpoint on the road. An astonishing bargain I am sure you will agree.
Now to the beach. All things considered, and there are many facets to a good beach, this has to rate as one of the best we have visited. The sand is clean and soft and there is more of it than you could probably imagine. Not only is the beach 18km long, but the dunes stretch way in land, as far as the ruins in fact and they are 1km from the beach. This abundance of sand is what must have drawn the turtles here to lay their eggs. It is the turtles that ensure that this beach remains quiet. The area at the far east is where the road arrives and here we found the hut which serves food and drink. Beyond that there is a defined area containing sun loungers and umbrellas, which was small but barely crowded despite it being peak season. Beyond that there was open space and a headland to the left and then another 17.5km of sand to the right. We didn’t venture in either direction as we had no desire to disturb turtles, and what was on offer in the area is perfectly adequate if you want to relax, swim, drink and eat.
The sea is incredibly safe for swimming. It is shallow and we were at least 50 metres out before the water went above my waist. That said the waves were a little lively, which was great fun.
Whilst having lunch (chicken doner kebab which was delicious, in case you were wondering) we were approached by a slightly bedraggled cat. We tend to shoo animals away when we travel as most countries that we visit have reported cases of rabies. Turkey is considered high risk. However this cat just settled down on the seat behind me and watched us eat. After a while we noticed that it had the most unusual eyes. Then we remembered reading about cats in Turkey with odd eyes. It transpired that the cat that approached us was a Turkish Angora cat, which was once close to extinction. Here is the cat we saw.
Patara as a whole is brilliant. Akay Pension was fantastic and the beach speaks for itself really. The town reminded us of some of the sleepy Thai islands we have been fortunate enough to enjoy. The laid back atmosphere is so pleasant. As a rule we don’t often go back (it is a big world) but Patara is so bloody good we are already plotting our return.