Slow City: Akyaka

Designated a slow city (cittaslow), Akyaka is the bay of Gökova’s best-kept secret with its green mountains, crystalline sea water and elegant houses that preserve old Muğla architecture.

Newest member of the Slow Cities League, which aspires to a way of life respectful of the environment and local values, Akyaka more than fits the bill. For this is a truly peaceful spot with an unspoiled urban texture and streets free of exhaust fumes. Nestled against Mt. Sakartepe on the east of the Bay of Gökova, Akyaka overlooks the Mediterranean.

A quiet fishing village until the 1970’s, it was then discovered by artists and free spirits from the big cities. One of those who came to the region in those years with his wife on doctor’s orders is Nail Çakırhan, poet, journalist and architect. Çakırhan bought half an acre of land and immediately set about building his dream house. Combining traditional Muğla architecture with modern detail, the Çakırhan House was highly acclaimed for its extraordinary aesthetics and was awarded one of the period’s most respected architecture prizes, the Agha Khan International Architecture Award, in 1983. Providing a role model for newcomers, it rapidly spawned similar houses in the region and has emerged today as authentic Akyaka architecture. Declared an Environmental Protection Zone in 1988, Akyaka is one of Muğla’s most popular touristic spots today. After a pleasant breakfast on the exotic palm-lined coast, we begin our tour of the environs.

Oppposite the island of Rhodes
A Carian city by the name of Idima was founded in antiquity in this region which was known as “opposite Rhodes”, and the rock tombs at the entrance to Akyaka date to that period. Flowing gently nearby, the Azmak River is astonishingly clear and as cold as ice. The mineral-laden waters of this river, fed by springs in the Taurus Mountains, are said to be good for a variety of dermatological conditions. Its banks lined with rustic coffee houses, the river’s shallow waters are also ideal for boating and canoeing.

What’s more, you can tour the lovely shores of Gökova Bay on boats departing from the harbor. We jump on one of them and head into the vast blue waters. One interesting stop on these boat tours is Mağara, a crystal clear cove with deep hollows like caves in the sea. Next door neighbor İncekum meanwhile is a small beach popular for a midday meal. A little further on, Sedir Island is one of the region’s treasures. A favorite blue cruise stop, the island, which was a settlement continuously from antiquity through the Byzantine period, boasts an ancient theater, agora, temple, city walls and harbor ruins, all well worth seeing. After touring the ancient theater set among the olive trees, we head for Cleopatra Beach on the northwest of the island. According to legend, the famous Egyptian queen owed her beauty to these sands. The sun sinks slowly as we pass Okluk Cove, the English Harbor, Çınar Cove and Soğuksu, staining Gökova Bay a magnificent crimson. As for us, we can’t help but remember those blue cruise pioneers Azra Erhat and Cevat Şakir, the Fisherman of Halicarnassus: “They say don’t die before seeing Italy. Never mind that; see Gökova and live on.”

Founded in Italy in 1999, the Slow Cities League has a snail as its symbol. To be a Slow City, a town must meet more than 50 criteria such as eliminating noise pollution and fast-moving traffic, increasing the number of green areas and pedestrian zones, supporting farmers engaged in local production and sellers of their produce, and protecting local aesthetic elements.

Turkey’s Slow Cities include Akyaka, Gökçeada, Seferihisar, Taraklı and Yenipazar.