Say what you will about the value of guidebooks, but I’d never have found Köycegiz if I’d had one with me in Turkey. To be fair, this small Aegean town peppered against a large, warm, freshwater lake does get a mention in most Turkish guides – usually a throwaway paragraph with words like “sleepy” and “quiet” and “nice for lunch”. It’s just one of several signposts you’ll pass en-route from the infamous ruins at Ephesus to the Mediterranean beach resorts around Fethiye. But stop inside, look around, and you’ll find it as sweet as the sugar in Turkish tea.
I got the hot tip about Köycegiz from a New Zealander named Alison who ran a guesthouse in Selcuk. She had married herself a Turk, settled in for a life of olives and fruit orchids, and was only too happy to share the secret of the lake with me. Since I had no real urgency to be anywhere else, I asked the Selcuk-Fethiye bus driver to let me out on the highway outside the town. A couple of other travellers looked on with mild curiosity, and who could blame them? After walking through the quiet, sleepy, nice-for-lunch town, I was pleased to find one of the best backpackers I’ve seen anywhere, called the Tango Inn. Large mattresses were covered in rugs and pillows, interspersed with hammocks, a bar and a DJ booth. There were just a straggling of people, but the owner Sahin assured me things would pick up when the Fez Bus pulled in. The Fez is a hop-on hop-off tour bus that travels throughout western Turkey. In anticipation, Sahin had organized a cruise on the lake for that evening. Enjoying the calm before the storm, I walked down the lakefront and was blasted by a fresh breeze, the gentle lapping of water, and the view of towering mountains in the distance. The lake, also called Köycegiz, connects with the Mediterranean through a channel called the Dalyan Delta, and cruising through large bulrushes to the sea is a popular activity for Turkish tourists. I see a couple guys playing tavla, which I know as backgammon, and gradually readjusted to the pace of a fishing village where not much happens and people prefer it that way. Here is the real Turkey, and with it of course, real Turkish hospitality. People smile, invite you for tea, quiz your origins, all with a genuine sincerity and warmth.
The Fez Bus pulls in, and it doesn’t take long for some Australians to rally the troops and get everyone along to the boat for sunset. We board a traditional wooden boat that heads out into the dusk. Music is playing, inflatable pool toys emerge out of nowhere. Mix a party boat with a warm lake and a full moon and before long people are guaranteed to be swimming amongst the catfish.
The following morning, I awake to find the Tango Inn empty, the Fez Bus gone, and another delightful Turkish sunny day. Hopping aboard a wooden boat crammed with local tourists on their way to the beach, I am the only foreigner and relish the enthusiastic hospitality. I am attacked with homemade food and polite questions by my new found friends. Along the canals, we pass spectacular 2000-year-old Lyceum rock tombs carved into the cliffs above us. History is never far away in Turkey. After stopping off for a refreshing dip in the lake, we arrive at a long sandy beach, and the crystal blue Mediterranean. I end up playing Frisbee with some brothers from the boat, eating local homemade delicacies, enjoying my spontaneous off the beaten path adventure. The boat slowly makes its way back to Köycegiz at sunset, humid wind in my fingertips, the notes of a tanbur floating out the speakers up front. These are the moments in life when you stop, look around, and believe that somehow, everything, for everybody, is going to work out just fine. Losing the guidebook and listening to locals, it’s towns like Köycegiz that prove how off the beaten track is sometimes right on the money.
More Bucket List Destinations in Turkey
The bridge between Europe and Asia. Stand between the 6th century Hagia Sofia and the 16th Century Blue Mosque and let your goosebumps riot.
Strange rock formations and striking landscapes, where else can you stay you stay in your very own cave while exploring fairy chimneys?
- Olu Deniz
There’s no doubting the beauty of the Mediterranean beaches, but the real reason to visit this overcrowded resort town is for the once-in-a-lifetime paragliding.
History buffs will flip out at the ruins of this ancient Greek city, mentioned in the Bible, with the coliseum and library allowing you to walk in the steps of the ancients.
- Mount Nemrut
Fly east for the surreal landscape of this World Heritage Site, where giant 2000-year old giant statues watch spectacular sunrises.