Encircled by a turquoise sea ringed with pearly white sands, Fethiye, where paragliders dance in the sky, is the most famous city of ancient Lycia.

Paragliders float slowly in the lavender-blue sky. Their white, orange and yellow wings dance in the wind, which embraces them with passion. The wind struts its stuff again, upping the ante this time. Wings and canopy are fully inflated. Lines taut. The pilot fidgets excitedly in his ‘harness’. Realizing simultaneously that the magic moment has come, man and wind hurtle forward. The pilot rushes at the slope ahead, finally vanishing from view amidst myriad species of pine, sweet-scented flowering bushes and silver-needled cypresses. As the paraglider slowly disappears from view, a very ancient Lycian sun sinks to sleep in the Mediterranean. Before retiring, the day too puts on one last show for man, painting all the lavender-blue sky, the pearly white sand, the night-blue sea and the iridescent green trees on the slopes fire red. Directly opposite us, the tall slender Doric columns and marble pediments of the rock-cut tombs that line the slope metamorphose into glowing embers. The waters of the Ölüdeniz (Turkey’s own Dead Sea) ripple gently in the night air. In the Valley of Butterflies, to whose depths darkness comes a little earlier, flashy red admiral (Vanessa atalanta), Apollo, chrome yellow (Colias) and cabbage (Pieris rapae) butterflies fly helter-skelter back to their colonies, turning and turning amidst the valley’s pink Chaste trees (Vitex agnus-castus).  When they have drunk the last water of the day and drifted into slumber, the nocturnal species will emerge. The most famous of them are the Sphingidae and tiger butterflies (Euplagia quadripunctaria) that dart crazily over the rocks, making their evening meal from the moss and lichens that grow there. We can’t see them from where we are but, ensconced on a Bodrum-built goulet anchored in the sheltered waters of Gemile Cove, we know that the rush to find a tasty evening repast has begun. We know too that the tortoises and Mediterranean seals that have made the remote recesses in the sand their home are preparing to sleep under a shower of falling stars. As the tranquil waters of Kabak Cove   begin to ripple slightly, the leaves of the oaks that surround this inlet, one of the most beautiful spots in the whole world, begin to whisper too. In the moon’s glow, Kayaköy, the ancient city of Tlos and Saklıkent Canyon prepare to spend another sage-scented night. Likewise Fethiye, lovely host to all this beauty.

We are in Fethiye. Fethiye, where chalk white sands encircle a turquoise blue sea, where paragliders dance in a cloudless sky, where hundreds of ancient monuments are easily visible on the seabed. Fethiye, the most famous city of the Lycian League, with its Valley of Butterflies where close to eighty species make their home, its magnificent rock-cut tombs that line the slopes, and a deep,   well-concealed valley known as Saklıkent Canyon. Paragliding is the top priority for most of those who come to Fethiye. Indeed Fethiye can be regarded as the ‘capital’ of this sport. The dance, which commences in the wind from the summit of Babadağ, ends at Ölüdeniz. An abundance of thermals that give rise to air currents, the fact that after takeoff one can rise even higher and glide over the sea, and the glorious Ölüdeniz landscape combine to make Fethiye one of the world’s leading paragliding centers.

Fethiye is a very ancient settlement and therefore nothing certain is known about how it was originally founded. Believed to have been colonized by the Lycians in the 5th century B.C., it was known at the time as Telmessos, which means ‘Sacred Maiden of the Land of Light’.
The city of Tlos, one of the largest of the Lycian League, is located here   as well. If you happen to be in its streets on a night when the mysterious fragrances wafting up from hundreds of flowers will make your head spin, look up at the starry sky and you will see the famed hero Bellaforonte, mounted on wingéd Pegasus, streak through the sky like a flash of lightning. Don’t be surprised, for Tlos was the home of both hero and horse.

Kayaköy and its rock-cut tombs are a must-see at Fethiye. Kayaköy is an Anatolian Greek settlement that grew up over the Karmillassos of antiquity. Integrated with the five Turkish villages in the environs for centuries in an exemplary humanitarian display of friendship, brotherhood and peace, it was a source of pride for Fethiye. Subjected later to forced migrations in the political developments of the time, Kayaköy stands empty now, gazing vacantly on the Mediterranean as if pondering its former days of glory. As Kayaköy looks back at its past, the kings of the rock tombs cut into the slopes in the distance gaze back at it. They are called Royal Tombs, but in fact it was not kings but wealthy people who were interred here. The largest and most ostentatious of the tombs, built in the 4th century B.C., is named Amintas.

When you’re tired of looking at all this, it’s time for a dip in the sea. And ‘sea’ here means the Ölüdeniz, Turkey’s ‘dead’ sea, where every shade of blue intermingles with every shade of green. And when the dazzling white of the sands on its shore and bottom is added in, swimmers don’t know if they’re swimming in the water or in the sky. The Ölüdeniz is actually a natural lagoon whose waters are therefore always placid, hence the name ‘dead’ sea. Saklıkent Canyon on the banks of the Karaçay some fifty kilometers from Fethiye is another of   the area’s best known spots. A natural wonder lies concealed here in a magnificent, 13 kilometer-long valley.

Apart from these, there are not only ten paragliding centers here but also several rapidly growing underwater sports facilities, as well as a diving center serving enthusiasts from around the world. It’s possible to observe the remains of the Roman, Greek, Byzantine and Ottoman civilizations in the waters of Fethiye, which are so crystal clear you can see to a depth of hundreds of meters.
On our return from Fethiye, we wave to Pegasus, winging through the air to Saklıkent, and to the kings waving back from the tombs on the slope.