81km (50 miles) southeast of Fethiye; 25km (15 miles) west of Kas; 19km (12 miles) south of Xanthos; 18km (11 miles) east of Patara; 25km (15 miles) southeast of Letoon.
When Erkut Taçkin, the famous Turkish singer from the 1960s, bought a house in Kalkan, the village’s fate was sealed. For the Turkish “smart set,” it had become the place to go. Ever since, Kalkan has undergone a renewal of sorts, and many of this tiny town’s characteristic Ottoman and Greek structures have been brought back to life. The smart set has long moved on, replaced by Europeans (mostly Brits) looking for inexpensive vacation and retirement homes and as a result, building has sprawled almost all the way to Kalamar Bay. But while the ever-increasing influx of foreigners and visitors continues to exert pressure on this seaside village, Kalkan’s terraced position below the main road prevents any palatable departure from the village’s inherent small-town persona.
Contrary to its popular perception as a fishing town, Kalkan was actually settled around 150 to 200 years ago by merchants from the nearby Greek island of Meis (Castellorizo). By the turn of the last century Kalkan thrived on the production of charcoal, silk, cotton, and olive oil — it even had its own customs house. As early as the 1950s and 1960s, the town began to attract rich English yachtspeople, leading to a trend in the 1980s of transforming dilapidated houses into characteristic whitewashed homes with shuttered windows and timber balconies.
The town’s population of around 1,000 swells to 8,000 in summer, meaning that Kalkan may not be putting its best foot forward in July and August. This is when the English presence in Kalkan becomes overwhelming — even disturbing. Meanwhile, two Brit-based tour operators (Tapestry and Simply Turkey) ensure that most of the town’s better hotels exclusively host their clients, thus creating a shortage of rooms for the independent traveler during the main tourist season. Nevertheless, all of this attention keeps Kalkan running at full capacity, creating demand for some of the most consistent and sophisticated menus on the Turquoise Coast.Meanwhile, services cater to a single clientele: Chips (french fries) are the unfortunate side dish to most entrees, and mobile potato kiosks are becoming a fixed part of the landscape. Price levels have been driven up to the highest level on the coast, and it shows no sign of letting up.
Kalkan’s location is convenient to many historical sites — although lazy days on the beach and hours chatting with the quirky town residents are good enough reasons to base yourself here. The summertime bonus is that Kalkan is graced with the lowest level of humidity in Turkey.
The distinctive features of the coastline around Kalkan and the nearby Xanthos River allow for innumerable options for day trips on or near the water. Here the jagged edges of mountains meet the sea, forming a breathtaking network of islands and coves that present endless possibilities for a day of dive bombing off the roof of a boat and swimming into eerie caves. High up on your list should be a boat trip around the island of Kekova and the sunken city, accessible from a number of port towns along the coast.
Exploring Ruins in the Xanthos Valley
Kalkan is a great base for day excursions to the ancient Lycian sites of the Xanthos Valley, which includes the ancient sites of Tlos, Xanthos, Letoon, and Patara. All of the sites are easily accessible by car with a short detour off the main road or by dolmuses that run regularly from the main square. Several travel agencies in town offer excursions to one or more of the sites as part of a day tour; contact Kalamus Travel Agency, Yaliboyu Mahallesi (tel. 0242/844-2456; www.kalkanturkey.com), for the most competitive rates; Armes Travel & Tours, at the harbor (tel. 0242/844-3169); or the Munich-based Dardanos Turizm, Hotel Dardanos Gelemis Koyu (tel. 0242/843-5151).
The oldest and most important antique city of the region is Xanthos, the ancient capital of Lycia. Homer mentions this center in the Iliad: It was from here that Arpedonte led his troops. More tragic is the actual history of the city: On two separate and unrelated occasions, the inhabitants of Xanthos chose collective suicide rather than submission to invading armies.The ancient city was uncovered by Sir Charles Fellows in 1838, who had much of the city dismantled and transported to the British Museum, where ruins still reside. Nevertheless, reproductions successfully evoke the originals. On your travels through Kas/Kalkan, pick up a free map of the site; or, you can buy a book on Lycian sites at the refreshment counter. Two unforgettable monuments are on the road from the village of Kinik — the City Gate, dating to the Hellenistic Era, and Vespasian’s Arch, erected in honor of the Roman emperor. The acropolis is dominated by the remains of the Roman Theatre, flanked by the ancient city’s three most memorable sites: Harpies’ Tomb, named for the Persian General Harpagus through a controversial interpretation by Fellows of the tomb’s reliefs; the Lycian Tomb (one of several); and the Roman Columned Tomb. Farther back into the brush is a pillar tomb called the Obelisk, whose monumental contribution was lengthy inscriptions in both Lycian and Greek, which proved indispensable to deciphering and classifying the Lycian language (another inscription, found at Letoon and written in Aramaic, Greek, and Lycian, was also important).
The New Acropolis is located on the opposite side of the road, and is home to the Byzantine Church, famed for the well-preserved mosaic flooring uncovered beneath layers of sand. Tour groups generally circle these major sites, overlooking entirely the overgrown path that leads along an ancient wall through to the Necropolis, a visit that is well worth your time. Sarcophagi are scattered or overturned; keep an eye out for the Belly Dancer Sarcophagus, named for a relief that more resembles water-bearers; the Lion’s Tomb, a sarcophagus with carvings of lions and a bull in battle; and a 4th-century-B.C. tower tomb rising above a stone-cut Roman acropolis. Admission to the site is 4YTL ($3).
Patara was Lycia’s chief port city until the harbor silted up to form what is today an inland reed-filled marsh. If you climb to the hilltop above the Roman Theatre, the fierce winds and unrelenting lashes of sand will give you a clue as why much of this ancient city still remains buried — a consequence that has kept the city in such an outstanding state of preservation.
Founded according to legend by Patarus, son of Apollo and the nymph Lycia in the 5th century B.C., the site served during the winter months as one of the two most important oracles of the god, his winter months being spent at the temple at Delphi. Today the city gains its fame as the birthplace of the bishop of Myra, better known in northern and western circles as Santa Claus.
Little by little, ongoing excavations are beginning to reveal details above and beyond the monumental arch that rose defiantly above the meters of earth for centuries. At the time of this writing, Patara’s main avenue, paved with marble stone and scattered with the remains of what was probably a columned arcade, is clearly visible (albeit sometimes a bit waterlogged). Fleeting features of the Basilica poke through the ground, but perimeter excavations provide a cross section of the city’s entombment.
The ruins can be easily explored in combination with a trip to Patara Beach; the road from the turnoff passes a saturated level of home-style pensions with varying degrees of charm and leads to the entrance of the archaeological site (admission 10YTL/$7.50). The beach is at the end of the road.
Letoon, located less than 5km (3 miles) south of Xanthos, was the primary religious center of ancient Lycia. And while the buses are circling around Xanthos, you can escape here, smack in the middle of the Turkey you envisioned, along a pastoral village road, admiring the wind in the trees and the goats grazing in the archaeological site.
The ruins of three temples rise above an uneven plateau and were dedicated to the gods Apollo, Artemis, and their mother Lato, the mythical lover of Zeus for which the sanctuary was named. The foundations of the three temples are laid out parallel to each other; the theater is in better shape, and served for meetings of the Lycian Federation, religious ceremonies, and even sports events. Admission to the site is 4YTL ($3).