I believe there are a handful of places we go in our lives that will truly change us. These are the places we remember when we close our eyes at night, when we need a moment of peace during times of stress, and they are most certainly the places we fantasize about uprooting our lives to move to. They are places that speak to us on a subconscious level, that make us feel like we’ve been there before, or that we were meant to experience. I don’t know, and I can’t explain it, so I won’t try, but the Kaya Valley in Turkey was one of these places for me.
All the guide books you’ll read when planning a trip to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast will tell you to stay in Fethiye. It’s a lovely town, with a cute harbour, lots of fun tourist activities, and day trips within easy reach. It’s also the starting point for many multi-day gulet sailing trips. But it’s overrun with, well tourists, and expensive hotels, package holiday resorts, and not so great restaurants. What the guide books don’t tell you, is that just up the hill, a short 8 km drive, is the Kaya Valley, a beautiful little garden of eden that most people probably will never know is there.
Kaya is the kind of place you can completely lose yourself in. It feels like you’re stepping back, to a simpler time, where people were self sufficient and didn’t need massive grocery stores. They still use donkeys to plough their fields and carry heavy loads around, and an actual shepherd is responsible for grazing the flock up the mountainside and back each day. What drew me to Kaya initially, besides Liz and Tim’s awesome B&B, was its relative proximity to touristy things down in Fethiye or Oludeniz, but your ability to escape it all at the end of the day. We wanted to experience real Turkey and this was pretty close I think.
The only real tourist attraction in the Kaya Valley is Kayaköy, a Greek village that was abandoned overnight in 1923 when the Greeks were pushed out of Turkey. It’s neat and totally worth a visit because it’s quiet and not a ton of people go there. The valley itself is difficult to reach without a car, but not impossible (the dolmus runs often). There are two ways to get into the valley, the most spectacular being the winding mountain road that leads up from the harbour in Fethiye. The other is through the packaged resort village of Hisarönü. Find the mountain road if you can, in Fethiye just beyond the ruined castle and watch out for stray goats scampering across the road.
Once you descend into the valley, if you’re like me, you will fall head over heals in love. It’s like a little micro climate tucked away that time forgot. We stayed in Keciler, which is the first settlement in Kaya once you come down the mountain road. The directions we got from our hosts were to turn left at the mosque and we easily found the house from there. It’s not the kind of place with street names or road signs. Keciler means goat in Turkish, so again, if you’re like me (obsessed with goats) this is the place for you!
The first night our hosts recommended dinner at Cin Bal, an open air kebab restaurant. We had been driving all day so decided to walk across the valley to the restaurant. We wandered down a little dirt path, through a very old cemetery and along a small river bed at dusk. The Cin Bal doesn’t really have menus (you pick your meze and your type of protein), so we said we wanted lamb and veggies and left the rest up to them. What arrived at our table was some of the best meze of our trip, followed by a charcoal grill that was placed next to our table. Next came a huge plate of local vegetables, and then a platter of raw lamb (5 different cuts). For people who are pretty much vegetarian we were a little scared, but managed to consume everything. The food and experience as a whole was outstanding.
Since we had walked over at dusk, and it was now dark we needed to figure out how to get home because street lights are pretty much non existent in Kaya. Our host had told us to just ask the manager for a ride back and that he would know where their house was. Skeptical, we asked and sure enough, 5 minutes later, we were getting into the back of some young guys pick up truck. Of course, no seat belts, music was blasting, and he was driving really fast on little country roads. But we arrived home safe and sound, and he didn’t even give us an opportunity to tip him.
The next morning we enjoyed a leisurely breakfast on our sunny patio with a view of the Baba Dag (Father Mountain) off in the distance. We watched the herds of sheep and goats wander up right next to the house and then carry on up the hillside to their grazing pasture for the day, bells jingling and meandering about in the brambles. We had mulberries for the first time, and local cheese, and homemade apricot jam.
It was a hot day (30+), but we decided to take our hosts up on their offer to let us use their bicycles. So we set out on our journey to explore Kaya by daylight. First we detoured and passed some sarcophaguses and ancient Lycian tombs that were guarded by a herd of goats, and then continued on down to Gemelier beach. Half way down the steep hill I was ready to turn back when I saw how far down we still had to go. I anticipated having problems making it back up, especially after a hot afternoon and a few beers at the beach. But I was essentially told to suck it up and we peddled onward.
When we arrived at Gemelier it was pretty much empty. There was a kid offering to take people out on speedboat rides, and a couple of older ladies selling gözleme, which is a kind of Turkish pancake/crepe, and cold drinks. Of course, the beach chairs and umbrellas are free to use, but it’s highly suggested that you buy a drink. But don’t worry, these ladies aren’t here to gouge you, large Efes were 10 TL which is marginally more than they are at the corner store, and they’re ice cold. If you aren’t hardcore like me and prefer to drive down to Gemelier, there’s free parking.
We sat for a few hours, watching the gulets cruise by, swimming in the salty water of the Aegean, and sunning ourselves. In the end we were very happy with our choice to stay in Kaya, and then 2 nights further south in Kas, instead of joining a 4 or 5 night gulet tour. We had debated it after friends recommended the gulet experience, but it’s a total crapshoot in terms of who ends up on your boat, the quality of the food and accommodation and where your captain actually ends up taking you. And what we did was cheaper in the end than 5 nights on a gulet would have been.
The return back up the hill was a struggle. I was dehydrated, on the verge of becoming very hangry, and sweating like I never thought possible. I’m totally down with up hill cycling, but not in 35 degree heat! But in the end, after my husband thought I was about to have a stroke, I made it!!! Achievement unlocked! We cruised back into Kaya’s village and picked up more beers at a little store where I don’t think they had seen a tourist in years, which was cool, and headed back to our patio for some heat relief.
We agreed that Kaya was the kind of place where you could live, and really enjoy life. It would be a simple existence, but a happy one. We spent our evenings in Kaya sitting on our terrace, watching the sunset and the light changing in the valley, and listening to the sound of the animals all around us. There were cows, sheep, ostrich, goats, cats, doves, bulls, donkeys, and dogs. Every so often you hear the call to prayer form the mosque down the road, and in this setting, not only does it remind you that you are far away from home, but it adds to the beauty and comfort of Kaya. The second night we lost power, which apparently is a regular occurrence in the valley, and it was nice to not be able to get on the wifi and be forced to just sit, relax and enjoy the view.
If you like to get away from the crowds and experience a place like a local, then consider staying in Kaya instead of Fethiye. We had three nights, and I wish we could have stayed longer. Four nights would have been perfect to really enjoy the valley to its fullest, and experience Fethiye. We did the 12 Islands by boat one day which was nice, but I kind of wish we’d just stayed in Kaya and hiked/had another beach day instead. But c’est la vie, it’s a place I’m sure I will return to. And if you need a great place to stay, for 50 EUR a night Liz and Tim’s B&B is perfect. You get a private terrace, a fridge in your room, and a large luxurious ensuite. It was also the most comfortable bed we had during our two weeks in Turkey. Their hospitality and friendliness really made us enjoy our stay.