The Lycian Way, winds for 509kms along Turkey's coast betweenFethiye and Antalya, a coastline littered with ancient ruins, lapped at by bright turquoise seas, dotted with traditional communities, home to stray goats and warmed by a hot Mediterranean sun.
The trail is marked with red and white painted markers, but that doesn't mean you don't need a map, and rises up and down on hard and stony mule tracks, and around about on ancient sandy roads, the kind that linked this region long before cars were invented. But what's really exciting about this route is that it's long and quiet, and along it walkers find they're not accompanied by the crowds of some of Europe's other famous long distance walking trails, but the ghosts of historic figures who used to live here and the colourful characters who live here now. Allow time to be welcomed into farmhouses and for hospitality to be thrust upon you, and to wait out a sunset over some old ruins for the perfect photograph.
The ancient Greek, Roman, Arab and Crusader ruins along the route haven't been fenced off with ticket booths, so walkers come upon them in the same way the early Victorian explorers did: warm stones lying in sunny scrub, occasionally pawed over by goats, and many beaches will be empty, blank sandy canvases.
The Way begins just out of Fethiye near Ölü Deniz, one of Turkey's most famous beaches, but many people choose to stay their first evening in the remains of Kayakoy, a Greek village abandoned in the 20s and now a museum. From there hike up and around the headland for an amazing view down onto the beach – seen the way the paragliders do.
Before reaching Faralya, you'll pass along a ridge providing a view into fjord-like Butterfly Valley, the breeding ground of the Leopard Butterfly. Kaback beach is an optional detour... then it's on along the steep coast through the villages of Alinca and Gey to the remote fortress Pydnai, whose ancient walls overlook the lovely golden dunes of Patara Beach. The ruins of Xanthos, the ancient Lycian capital is reached via Kınık and from Akbel there's a detour for Gelemiş village and the ruins of Patara. From these ruins the Way follows a Roman aqueduct to Delikkemer.
Kalkan is the next main centre, then it's on to the modern town of Dodurga, which stands amongst the ruins of ancient Sidyma. Pillars centuries old have been used in the new buildings, liberated from the mule-tilled fields, now supporting the porch of the mosque. Old tombs have become potting sheds and great Roman public buildings are used as chicken coops.
Kaş, further along the coast, has a Roman theatre, a Greek Church now converted into a mosque, and behind it, cut into the cliffs are Lycian tombs, with their huge pillars and sarcophagi carved into the limestone rock face. You'll need to go by boat to the next highlight along the Way: Kekova Island, famous for its sunken city, to get there you can hike to the ancient port town of Aperlae or the more modern town of Üçağız. At Üçağız the path meanders between great grey stone coffins and sarcophagi – some raided by grave robbers, some with the lids still in place - so if you don't leave from there, catch the boat back for a good view of them as you sail into the harbour.
Kale, on some maps also called Demre, is close to the ruins of Myra. Walking towards them the Way passes the church of the Angel Gabriel in the hills above Myra, but as you get closer the huge Roman theatre is revealed behind the red cliffs riddled with carved out Lycian tombs. Demre/ Kale is also the town where Santa was born.
Pass Kutluca, Zeytin and Alakilise hugging mostly to the coastline, which is a mix of cliffs and sandy bays here, to reach the high point of the trail – the literal one:1811 meters at İncegeriş T. Leaving Belos, is one the most scenic stretches of Way, along a ridge top to Finike, then it's on to Kumluca and Mavikenic, before the view is swamped with pines restricting your sight of Cape Gelidonia and the famous lighthouse there until you're almost upon it and it's dramatically revealed.
After the lighthouse the trail hugs the coast again, so precarious in some places that you can peer into the hidden coves below, as it leads you towards Adrasan and the Bay of Adrasan which has a 2km long sandy beach backed by pine trees. After the beach break the trail gets steeper, heading up the flanks of Musa Dag (Moses Mountain), but the views of Mount Olympos, make the effort worthwhile.
To conquer the 2,366m mountain of the gods start early and follow a stream off Olimpos beach and up a steep gorge to the ruins of the settlement.
The perennial fires of Yanartaş, what the ancients used to call the Chimera, are these days primarily used by Way walkers to heat their tea as they pass by on their way to Çıralı. The beautiful beach and azure waters invites the Loggerhead Turtles, who choose this spot to nest. From Çıralı the trail heads inland, passing some abandoned mine buildings, before reaching Tekirova, the town closest to the ancient city of Phaselis. From there Kemer is only 15kms away and you're on the home stretch to central Antalya.
Along some parts of the way, and in the towns of Patara, Kalkan, Kas, Myra, Finike, Adrasan, Olimpos, Çıralı and Tekirova, you can stay in B&Bs or hotels. In some of the smaller towns you might be able to lodge with a local family, but if you have your camping gear there are plenty of good camping spots and you don't have to ask for permission before you set up. You can't live off the land either, along some more remote sections of Way it can be a few days walk between towns with shops and you have to carry your own supplies.
The best time to walk the Lycian Way is in Spring: February-May or Autumn: September-November. People do walk it in Summer, but it's pretty hot, and you're going to want to plan your route so that you're holed up somewhere nice and cool, and maybe even moist, in the middle of the day.
There are many walking and trekking travel specialists offering trips along part of the trail, if you'd prefer not to travel on your own, but for the real deal, go with Kate Clow, a Brit who's been living in Antalya and planned and marked out the route herself, pushing the government for permission for it. For the real deal, and the feeling on being an explorer, go it alone but pack Kate's book 'The Lycian Way', which not only points out the route, gives a commentary and recommends camping spots by water, but also advises on friendly local homes and how to look after your feet on the path.
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