Quintessentially Mediterranean with its coves, ancient settlements and natural beauty, Kapıdağ Peninsula forms the right bank of Fethiye Bay.
Yachts setting out from Marmaris pass the long Dalaman shore and sail past the lighthouse at Kurtoğlu Point into the Bay of Fethiye. The route of these boats that cleave the turquoise waters lies now through the coves large and small that punctuate the land mass at the bay’s western tip. These ‘blue havens’ line up one after the other, vying with each other in natural beauty. The coves of Ağalimanı, Göben, Çamlık, Hamam, and Sarsala seem to have descended straight from heaven. With the coves nestled in its bosom, its ancient settlements, enigmatic history and unique natural beauty, Kapıdağ Peninsula (not to be confused with its namesake at Bandırma) is quintessentially Mediterranean.
MEDITERRANEAN WHEREVER YOU LOOK
Cleared by the French in the 1800s, the dirt road that begins at the village of Kapıkargın near Dalaman winds around several lakes. The largest of the four lakes that are joined by canals, and indisputably the most beautiful, is Kocagöl. The tiny island in the middle of it sways coyly in the placid water like a giant water lily. Sarsala Cove and the Bay of Fethiye suddenly loom into view through the trees at the point where the forest ends. Savoring the solitude, I make my way down to Sarsala. The hum of a motor disturbs the silence, otherwise broken only by the sound of the waves. Uncle Recep, who is going to take me shortly to Hamam (Manastır) Cove, arrives as the evening twilight spreads out across the water.
In the morning I wake up to the sea’s iodine scent and the crowing of roosters. Semi-submerged in the water, the ancient monastery softly whispers its memories. In one go I climb to the top of a hill with a view of the bay. The narrow isthmus separating Kapıdağ Peninsula from the mainland is suddenly spread beneath my feet. On one side, Gökgemile Cove, overlooking the Mediterranean’s vast blue; on the other, Hamam Cove, which is part of the Bay of Fethiye. Erasing the shadows, the sun slowly reveals nature’s matchless colors. The waves play with the silhouette of the hill opposite falling across the water. The sea here is so crystal clear that I can discern everything below its surface in great detail from where I stand—seaweed, ancient stones, the hues of the sea morphing from green to blue. Before long there is movement afoot. The white yachts are weighing anchor, preparing to set sail for the open sea. Meanwhile, on the far side of the isthmus, a fishing boat returning from the waters off Nar island is gathering the nets it cast at Gökgemile to the accompaniment of Turkish folk songs.
AN ANCIENT CITY ALONG THE WAY
I am now on the ancient way that starts from Hamam Cove and penetrates deep into Kapıdağ Peninsula. A path through the sandalwood trees follows a stream bed to arrive suddenly at Kapıarası. This first piece of level ground on the peninsula is at the same time the home of the ancient settlement. The magnificent ruins of Lidai, one of the westernmost cities of the land of Lycia, is inextricably intertwined with life today. Herds of goats and sheep drink from the cisterns and rest in the shade of the ruins during the heat of the day. I turn in the direction of the hill in front of me, which boasts two ancient tombs. The landscape is unbelievably beautiful: below, Çamlı Cove; and Fethiye Bay, dotted with islands large and small, suddenly appears before me in all its detail. Here are the Coves of Çamlı and Göben. And opposite, first Domuz Island, then, in turn, the islands of Tersane, Yassıca, Kızıl and Şövalye. So near one feels one could leap from one to another in a game of hopscotch.
The second level patch on the peninsula is Gölcük, which takes its name from a small lake that is formed by the rains in winter but largely dries up in summer.
I am surrounded by lush, verdant grass and yellow and white daisies. The tiny lake is also a stopping place for migratory birds. And just ahead two storks with their backs turned to each other stand like estranged lovers at the edge of the water. An overturned sarcophagus with a carved lid catches my eye on the lake shore, as if to confirm the truth of the saying that “Every mountain and stone in Anatolia is history”. And when I reach the end of the level area, this time I encounter the vast and limitless Mediterranean. Another detail of the picture is Peksimet Island, friend to navigators for the lighthouse at wave-washed Kurtoğlu Point.
A MINIATURE VALLEY OF THE BUTTERFLIES
Today it’s the turn of the paradisal coves that adorn the perimeter of the peninsula. Most of them lie on the bay side of Kızılkuyruk Point, which resembles the thumb of an open hand. After Hamam the first cove is Çamlı. This cove, where the sea pokes inland like a horn, is an especially good haven for boats. And the shore opposite Çamlı is known to the villagers as Yavansu. Caressed by a warm breeze, I walk here, where the tree branches reach out over the water. The undulating path winds around the entire bay. This time both Fethiye Bay and the open sea emerge before me from the ridge behind Yavansu Cove where the boats anchor. In contrast with the unruffled calm on the bay side, further out the Mediterranean with its wild waves rears up like a rebellious stallion. The hills behind Çamlı Cove harbor in their bosom Merdivenli Iskele, like a miniature ‘Valley of the Butterflies’. With its fifty-meter-long beach wedged between two small hills, this tiny cove is a unique natural formation.
As I walk I try to keep pace with the sailboats gliding among the waves along Kapıdağ’s sea-kissed slopes. Suddenly Göben (Kapı) Cove looms into view like a tiny lake hidden in the forest. Behind the slopes where the cove nestles, the Mediterranean again grins like a mischievous child, playing hide-and-seek with us behind every tree. I make my way down to the shore where the weary yachts are resting. Below the surface of the limpid waters ancient structures are clearly visible in the depths of the sea. Having wound the plant cover tightly round itself, history here has made friends with nature.
THE BORDER OF CARIA AND LYCIA
Kapıdağ Peninsula is located at the boundary between the ancient lands of Caria and Lycia. And wandering across its green hills covered with pine, oriental sweetgum, sandalwood, carob and olive trees, which stretch from the peninsula all the way to Sarsala, and meeting the Mediterranean at every turn is an indescribable pleasure. And the hospitable mud-roofed homes in the flats are always open to travelers. To go to Kapıdağ Peninsula you can engage a boat from either Göcek or Fethiye. Day tours in summer stop at Hamam, Sarsala, and Göben Coves. Another alternative is to take the road that runs to Sarsala Cove via Dalaman, and arrive at Kapıdağ either by fishing boat from Sarsala, or following a pleasant hour-long walk. But go there by all means, to be renewed by the hope of setting out once again, and to watch the dance of the blue waters in the sunlight. Make a sojourn here on the coast of paradise to envision another, better life.