Aegean Coast sets sail
Written by Tristan Rutherford
The Aegean’s thousands of kilometres of seldom-visited coastline is awash with Roman ruins, villages, and Turkish restaurants. Peace and privacy is categorically assured – most of the coast can only be reached by boat
Over the last decade a gradual wave has swept Turkey’s Aegean seaboard. Three thousand kilometres of pristine coastline – once the haunt of the occasional fisherman and sponge diver – now welcomes a sea of sails. Visitors range from solo yachtsmen seeking solitude to the mightiest yachts in the world. Indeed, the growth in the Turkish yachting industry is a success story by which other sailing initiatives in the Mediterranean are measured. Welcome to Turkey’s Turquoise Coast.
What a watery Eden it is. Arcing from Bodrum in the west to Antalya in the south, the Turquoise Coast makes up the Mediterranean’s least-visited shores. Tarmac roads only reached the tip of this vast landmass five years ago. Most beaches remain isolated, untouched – and accessible only by boat. A dozen empires have littered these shores with sunken tombs, lost ruins, and Roman columns by the score. Yet Turkish entrepreneurism means that a shabby-chic beach shack serving fresh squid and sea bass is never far away.
That theme is accentuated by Neil Cheston, Director of Sales & Charter at Y.CO (ycoyacht.com), a luxury yacht company that maintains offices in Monaco, London, and Doha. “One of the most appealing qualities of Turkey’s Aegean Coast is that so many of the highlights are a short sail from each other,” he explains. “This allows guests to take in pristine beaches, archaeological wonders, and top restaurants in a single afternoon.”
Y.CO certainly represents the top tier of luxury yachting. For yacht charter in Turkey this summer Cheston recommends luxury sailing yacht Elena (from US$70,000 per week for 10 guests), a faithful reproduction of the 55-m vintage schooner that smashed the transatlantic speed record in 1928.
Also available for charter is Spirit (from US$270,000 per week for 11 guests), a 54-m superyacht launched in 2011 that features an iPad-controlled sound system.
Cheston sees “more and more superyacht charter clients including Turkey on their summer itineraries.” All industry hands agree that more sophisticated marine developments will bring additional yachts of all shapes and sizes to Turkey’s shores.
Fortunately this sentiment is shared by Turkey’s Ministry of Culture and Tourism. Its UK director Tolga Tüylüoglu tells Oryx that: “Much of Turkey’s coastline is only accessible by boat, making sailing the ideal way to explore its secret beauty.” According to Tüylüoglu, Turkey now boasts 352 Blue Flag beaches and 36 world-class marinas, and opened “three new marinas in 2013 as part of our ongoing investment in yachting tourism”.
Both Tüylüoglu and Cheston agree that the Turquoise Coasts unique selling points are peace, privacy, and a crystal-clear sea. “The Turkish coastline is very different from the French and Italian Rivieras,” asserts Cheston. “While France and Italy are hotspots to see and be seen in, visitors to Turkey enjoy its solitude, tranquillity, and outstanding cuisine.” Indeed, there are countless places in which to retire and contemplate along the coast.
Superyachts aside, the most traditional and most common vessel in local waters is the timeless Turkish gulet. As Ministry Director Tüylüoglu explains, these classic boats have “evolved from traditional Aegean cargo vessels into their present form with sunbathing decks, dining area, and cabins below”.
The man with the inside line on these Turkish cruising craft is Eyüp Bayraktaroglu, Managing Director of TurkYacht (turkyacht.com), the market leader for gulet charter. “Unlike any other production-line boat, gulets are handmade and unique,” explains Bayraktaroglu, “which allows for a highly personalised vacation.”
For example, epicurean guests who wish to sail between Marmaris and Bodrum – the gulet industry’s two main hubs – may charter a luxury vessel like 35-m Bedia Sultan (from US$26,746 per week for a party of 10). Guests may purchase stocks from local fishermen and street markets en route, parley with the chef about ancient Anatolian recipes, or even make sushi on deck. Halal diets are naturally catered for year-round.
To explain the concept of small luxury sailing, Bayraktaroglu uses the analogy of a cruise ship. “Instead of a 5,000-person liner, this industry moves away from the notion of serving a large group of strangers and shifts to small groups with a tight social connection.” And unlike a cruise ship, guests on a gulet can stop wherever they please. Keen divers, for example, can charter a smaller gulet like Gökce 3 (from US$11,230 per week for a party of 16) to explore the lonely creeks of the Datça Peninsula with masks, snorkels, canoes, and paddleboards. These traditional boats have moved a long way from ferrying oranges and olive oil around the Aegean…
But for ultimate seclusion sailors should look to smaller, not larger, yachts. Nothing beats the privacy or versatility of captaining your very own boat. With this in mind Wilma, Hasan, and Aziz Simsek set up Budget Sailing (budgetsailing.com) in the Turkish resort of Goçek, a 20-minute taxi ride from Dalaman Airport. Their small yacht fleet ranges from 7.5 m (from US$870 per week for four guests) to 19 m (from US$6,020 per week for five guests). The thought of waking up in an isolated cove and diving into the sea is an alluring one.
According to Wilma Simsek, “The Turkish Aegean Coast is filled with mountain ranges that close around countless creeks, inlets, islands, and peninsulas,” so there’s plenty of space to find a bay of one’s own.
Moreover, ”The sea around Goçek has no tides or currents and is warm until mid-November,” she says, making it a perfect place for beginners. Indeed, in 2014, Budget Sailing will become the first boat rental agency in Turkey to offer official RYA yacht training. It seems like the legion of yachtsmen along the Turquoise Coast is destined to grow.
Fethiye Fish Tales
The freshest fish is available in the sailing resort of Fethiye. A decade ago, the mayor of this Turkish town revived the flagging fish market by encouraging visitors to purchase sea bass, prawns, and lobster by the kilo directly from the fishermen – then get a local restaurant to grill, sauté, or barbecue their catch for a nominal fee. Swordfish – or kiliç as it’s known in Turkish – can be served on shish kebabs. Prawns (or karides) come bathed in garlic butter. Monkfish (or fener) can absorb deeper flavours like black olive and tomato stew. Platters of salad and meze are thrown into the bargain too.
The discovery of Bodrum
Spare a thought for poor Cevat Sakir Kabaagaçli (1890–1973). This bohemian intellectual was exiled to the sleepy fishing village of Bodrum in 1923 for seditious writing – and inadvertently put the town on the tourist trail. As proof of Bodrum’s former isolation, it took Kabaagaçli two weeks to travel south from Ankara. But on arrival here he saw the Aegean Sea, which “cracked upon the horizon without warning like a vast blue thundering infinity.” Kabaagaçli lived, wrote, and rejoiced in Bodrum for the rest of his days. A keen environmentalist, he even wrote to the British Museum to demand the return of objects pilfered from Bodrum Castle.
By the numbers
The distance in kilometres from Kas in Turkey to the Greek island of Kastellorizo. Hundreds of hardy swimmers paddle between these two ports in a bi-national swimming regatta each year.
The number of Blue Flag beaches in Turkey. These stretches of sand adhere to strict environmental norms. Among the best is Turkey’s most famous beach, the arcing sandy peninsula of Ölüdeniz.
The number of islands in the Bay of Goçek. This cruising area is inhabited by turtles and dolphins, and is one of the most sheltered sailing spots in Turkey.