Kas, The Unknown Turkey

Kas, Antalya,

Turkey has become an accessible and popular holiday destination for lots of and everyone shares he same conclusions upon returning home – well-run hotels, delicious and plentiful food, blue sea and fine sandy beaches. This is the view that sells the four and five-star complexes in the big resorts like Antalya and Kushadasi.

And it’s all true: it makes for an adequate holiday – and everyone can find a place that suits them. But there’s also another, more original piece of Turkey, only 180 km (111 miles) from the most popular resort – Antalya. If you want to get closer to the people behind the smiling faces, to touch the mysterious ancient cultures inhabiting the white-hot rocks, and to taste the food that had been prepared especially for you, you have to just exit the territory of unified resort luxury.

The adventure begins; we find the driver of the five-seater van who will drove us the 180 km (111 miles) along the winding road by the shore of the emerald blue Mediterranean Sea. Bit by bit, as we leave the concrete complexes behind, a somehow different landscape emerges. In the distance, the Toros mountains dominate the Antalya skyline. But when you enter their recesses, the steep relief and high peaks attract your attention upwards and among the low vegetation we are surprised to find a sarcophagus, before discovering that there are at least 10 of them. Niches are cut into the rocks and even a small temple is seen nearby. This is the heritage of the Lycian civilisation, developing there more than 4000 years ago.

We are already close, and our attention is fixed on a small terraced town, which sits above a beautiful bay. We turn off at a sign which reads: ‘Kash, 6300 inhabitants’. Our destination. We descend a series of steep curves and see an almost entirely enclosed bay; another island appears in the distance. Later we are told it is a Greek one – the smallest and most easterly of that country’s islands Meis, as they call it in Kash. We sink into its narrow streets and the calm environment engulfs us. The bus drops us in front of our hotel. We leave our luggage and conquer the town centre. The place is full of life but there are not many tourists. We attempt to find a place for dinner, but it’s a difficult task. All the restaurants look cosy and tempting. Finally we choose “Bi Lokma”. We sit on a covered terrace viewing the sea, around a table with a neat check tablecloth.

A mother and a daughter present the menu to us – it consists of fish, salads and a grill. We watch them preparing everything in front of us. We are getting impatient and hungry but a chilled bottle of the local white wine helps us pass the time until the food is served. The day’s drive has been worth every minute – something we realise the moment we taste our dinner.

In the morning the bay is flooded with sunlight, the sea is crystal-blue, the slopes are a greenish colour: every hue we see is bright and vibrant with life. After a light breakfast, we head for the small port where small fishing boats are lined next to yachts loaded with diving gear. Every day dozens of them lead the guests of the town towards secluded coves. The most enthusiastic explore the place underwater. There is a variety of offers – if you are fit enough, you may hire a canoe and set off for the deceptively close islands, or take in the whole area and its numerous merits via paraglider.

Behind us is the V-shaped Kash, nestled in the foot of the soaring peaks. It looks even smaller. Fresh from our day spent in the water, we are ready for a longer promenade. We come across a pedestrian street lined with shops. There’s a generous choice of souvenirs, carpets and jewels. We stop here and there and discover that in contrast with the street-stalls we are well acquainted with, here we can buy crocheted bracelets or glass rings. The streets are buried in flowers and verdure.

The craftsmen display their works without being impertinent as is the Oriental habit. Slowly and easily we grow accustomed to the town’s spirit and we start noticing the details. Everything, even the smallest particularity is synchronised with the environment. The variety of restaurants and public houses is again tempting. That evening we decide to visit “Bahche Balik” – the fish garden. The name speaks for itself – verdure, white tablecloths and understandably attracts a raft of four-legged guests. We have already heard about the fish soup served here so we bravely order it. And were not disappointed – again.

The next morning brings word that another landmark – inherited more than 4000 years ago – is within two hours’ yachting distance. Namely the submerged city of Kekova. Those who are interested may choose how to get there. There are daily excursions by boat, lunch included; or by car – again via the winding road along the coastline, or via a tourist boat or rented yacht.

After two hours’ sailing we reach the place. The captain of the boat slows down and we face what is left of the ancient settlements. Staircases starting from the rocks are hidden below the crystal waters. A door from which the water starts. House foundations are seen in the water, lonely walls are erected. The settlement was obviously large enough to be spread along a mile’s distance round the slopes. Until an earthquake made most of it disappear. The earth, buildings included, was flooded and only the ruins are visible today – but they illustrate past glories.

People did not leave the region altogether though and there is still a town – Kekova – where a different environment welcomes us. Kekova is accessible by water. Whitewashed houses are perched on the steep slope. And fortified walls are seen at its highest spot. Covered with blossoms of geranium, the place offers complete seclusion. There are hostels offering accommodation for those brave-hearts who are not afraid of going without a TV and other standard forms of entertainment. The stars bathe in the water at night and you have only stretch
an arm out to reach them – there are no street lamps to keep them at bay.

We climb the paths that serve as streets here, keen on viewing some fortress ruins in exchange for 15 Turkish lira (which is equal to four dollars). Behind the massive walls a small amphitheatre and a tower are hidden. The rest is indistinguishable. The panoramic view though is breathtaking – island after island, like the necklace of an ever-moving sea body. It is lunchtime. We order fish and chips. All is prepared there and then.

The voyage back is short and before long we are in the centre of the town again. We decide to see the Hellenic amphitheatre before dinner. The surrounding grounds have witnessed more than one human settlement. What is more, civilisations had originated there, developed and declined, leaving their own legacy of questions. The sign says the amphitheatre was built 2000 years BC. It looks imposing with its 4000 seats. The enormous sarcophagus in the very centre of Kas is quite impressive. Its walls are covered with ancient Lycian texts, which alas, have yet to be deciphered by contemporary experts. To the visitors of the town it is a place that provokes interest and is veiled in mystery; for the locals it is a tiny bit of the legacy which they have to preserve with care.

The food we are served surprises us every time with its opulent taste, but it is not heavy with spices, something that we usually equate witt the Orient. This is the taste of real food, grown and prepared with an open heart. The carpets, the bags and the boots that are sold on the streets, are hand-embroidered and represent all the colours that surround us – the blue of the sea, the red of the sunset, the green of the mountain.

In fact, this opulent taste for life is the last thing we appreciate before heading back to home. There’s a saying that towns that attract lots of cats are wealthy. Here we can enjoy the view of sprawling relaxed cats of every size and colour. And hence, the saying seems to be true as Kas is a wealthy place indeed – rich in beautiful sights, ancient history and young people and offering entertainment for different tastes. A town that makes you feel likewise.