There is a moment, somewhere between scrambling through the laurel bushes which sparsely cover the ancient ruins of Olympos before leaping into the still, clean, turquoise waters of Cirali Beach that I realise I am in a very special place.
I’m finding Cirali hard to fault as an October half-term holiday destination. The weather on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast is a very balmy 25 degrees, warm enough for a sea dip and a brief sunbathe, but not too hot for a trek into the hills on the Lycian Way. Just right for children in fact.
We are staying in Myland Nature, which I am also feeling pretty good about. One of the original and best of Cirali’s pensions, Myland is situated in a lovely garden replete with citrus, avocado and pomegranate trees. Jasmine curls over the entrance and banana trees rest their heavy fruit on the roofs of the thirty wooden cabins. Breakfast fruits and jams come from the garden and the resident chickens supply the eggs. After an hour’s yoga session, which is offered free for residents, I am very ready to eat and we sit as a group to enjoy the morning sunshine.
My son and I fall very quickly into a routine – we are obviously staying in the hiking season, all the other hotel occupants don impressive looking boots and rucksacks after breakfast and disappear into the hills to reemerge at dinner with stories of stunning, empty bays and ruins in the forest. My son’s tolerance for walking is limited, but I do manage to entice him along an easy section of the Lycian Way, which runs through Cirali on part of its 500 km route. The views on our short section, are lovely – pale green conifers decorating the slopes of the Taurus Mountains that run in craggy waves down to the clear, pale green sea.
Mostly though we cross the small road in front of the hotel laden down with towels and books, walk past the straggling, illegal settlements that have crept on to the edge of the beach and emerge on to the enormous curve of the bay. Cirali is a mix of stone and sand and in the October shoulder season remarkably empty. I love beaches with big stones, you can spend a lazy time looking for lucky ones with rings and these ones came in all shapes, sizes and colours. I lie down on them, my body absorbing their heat and watch my son don snorkel gear to chase the little fishes at the edge of the water. (There are comfortable hotel sun loungers for those not quite so happy to lie on stones!)
Once we have both swum and slept, we march up the beach admiring the endless ingenuity of the many visitors who have balanced stones on top of each other or made tiny, stone villages and circles. Out in the bay a couple of boats bob gently, a mixt of gulets and fishing boats which supply the sea bass I enjoy for lunch. After lunch we keep going up the beach until we reach the ancient Lykian site of Olympos. Entering beach-side means that you avoid all the tourist paraphernalia at the main entrance and very quickly we find ourselves alone, scrambling over an ancient Roman theatre, peering up at Ottoman fortifications, built deep into the rocks above.
Another quick dip at sunset, the water silvery and gentle, phosphorescence beginning to fizz and crackle under the surface and then we are back for dinner; listening to the exhausted, happy walkers, while we stare into the huge, open air fire and enjoy some delicious, grilled food.
We spend one evening climbing a hillside in the dark to visit the extraordinary Chimera flames. These flames, famed since ancient times have been steadily burning for thousands of years, burning off methane gas that oozes out of cracks in the hillside. It is pitch black the evening we visit and the stars are magnificent, but its the flames that really pull the attention. They don’t make any sense to me – burning since ancient times? They were once used as guides for shipping, early lighthouse warnings. The first flames we encounter are surrounded by a friendly German family who are cooking sausages over them. They gave my son a skewer-full and I leave him there to explore the others, a strange sense of mystery stirring. The flames smell slightly of gas and the flames burn blue – there is no security, no fussy fence and I can’t help but feel that I am standing on a gas bomb. The Russian teenagers at the top, toasting each other with vodka, splashing some on the flames are making me nervous too.
Cirali Beach is part of a national park and building is supposedly strictly controlled to protect the Green Turtles who crawl over the shingle during the spring and summer months to lay their eggs. The authorities place metal cages over the eggs to protect them from sand-castle building children.
It’s an idyllic spot – my son seems very happy with the swimming and ruin exploring, but for those with more lively kids, there are kayaks to rent, boats to hire, mountains to explore and teenagers (and me) would love the eccentric tree-house hotels and bars that group together at Olympos Village the other end of the beach.
There are direct flights to Antalya from the UK and Cirali Beach and Myland Nature are only an hour away.