Afloat on the ancient Aegean, Marmaris – Muğla

Sally Verbiest takes pleasure in flying the Kiwi flag off the eastern Mediterranean’s Carian coast.

“I’m in heaven,” exclaimed my brother, Paul, on the first morning of our holiday cruising around the Datca Peninsula of Turkey.

He had just emerged from a pre-breakfast dip in the clear, warm waters of the Southern Aegean. The aroma of freshly baked bread wafted across the bay.

When a friend generously offered us the use of his 13.5-metre yacht late last northern hemisphere summer, it was a question of when rather than if we should go to Turkey. Mid-September seemed the ideal time to go, after the peak European holiday season.

We flew to Istanbul and then on to Dalaman, the nearest airport to Marmaris, where the yacht Rumpus was based.

Marmaris, is the ideal starting point for cruising along the popular Carian coast, and is one of the busiest yacht charter bases in Turkey.

We were lucky enough to have the use of a privately owned yacht, but there are plenty of options for chartering bareboat and skippered yachts as well as the traditional wooden Turkish motor yachts known as gulets.

After one night in a hotel, sleeping off the jet lag, and a few hours completing the necessary harbour-board paperwork, we bought provisions and began our journey.

Our itinerary for the next two weeks was a blank canvas. Our plans each day were made over breakfast, after checking the weather forecasts and referring to the local cruising guide Turkish Waters and Cyprus Pilot by Rod Heikell.

With at least 25 years experience of cruising the Mediterranean, Heikell is so highly regarded that his pilots have often been referred to as “the bible”.

Our visit to Turkey coincided with the month of Ramadan. Most villages had at least one mosque and we were woken each morning by the call to prayer.

Our pace was extremely relaxed and there was little wind until afternoon, so we sailed only short distances each day. We were on holiday, after all, and we were keen to explore and experience as many of the villages dotted along this coastline as we could.

Daytime temperatures ranged from 27 to 34 degrees Celsius and the sea temperature was usually about 28C, so we swam a lot.

Like most of Turkey, this coastline is dotted with the ruins of ancient fortresses, temples and villages and we explored all those that were within walking distance of our mooring spots. The Turkish villagers were so welcoming and helpful, especially when they discovered we were New Zealanders.

Most spoke English, which was fortunate, because our Turkish was limited to a few words.

In addition to Heikell’s pilot book, we also had a local restaurant guide, which helped us determine which bays we would moor in each evening.

Most of the quayside restaurants in the coastal villages offered complimentary mooring, water, power, showers and internet in return for dining at their establishments. They are dependent on the patronage of boaties and they tend to close down for the winter. Many of them also offer inexpensive hotel rooms.

Dinner was certainly the highlight of each day and because the restaurants were so inexpensive, we chose to go ashore for most of our evening meals.

It is Heikell’s opinion that “the Turks eat better than anyone else in the Eastern Mediterranean, partly due to the supply of varied and plentiful ingredients and partly to the care with which food is prepared”.

We found that even the smallest and more remote restaurants served a surprisingly large range of tasty mezes (starters), all made from fresh local produce. The main course menu tended to be dominated by kebaps (kebabs) and fresh fish such as sea bass and bream.

The locally brewed Efes Pilsen beer was available at all the restaurants we visited, but the selection of bottled wine was limited and the markup was steep. I concluded that the infamous raki is an acquired taste.

Local boats, with fresh fish and handmade clothing for sale sometimes came alongside our yacht, but we did most of our shopping in the village markets.

Of all the villages and restaurants we visited, three were the most memorable: Aurora in the village of Selimiye, where the food was outstanding, Ali Baba in Buzuk Burun, because it was so remote and they baked fresh bread in an outdoor oven, and Aphrodite Hotel in Bozburun where our hosts went out of their way to assist us when we arrived with a sick crew member.

With strong winds forecast for the last two days of our holiday on Rumpus, our cautious skipper, my husband, Mark, made a reluctant decision to return to Marmaris early.

It turned out to be a good call, not only because Rumpus was secure from the storm in her marina berth, but also because it gave us time to explore this seaside city more thoroughly.

Now a popular resort centre catering to the needs of English and European tourists, Marmaris shows little sign of the quaint fishing village it once was.

The focal point of the old town centre is an historic castle that was rebuilt by Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent after his successful campaign against the Island of Rhodes in 1522. It houses a small museum, but half the fun of visiting it is the climb through the narrow back streets and the outlook from the parapets when you reach the top.

In complete contrast, and not far from the castle is a street that Paul nicknamed “party central”. It came alive between 10pm and 4am. There is a large bazaar offering leather goods, jewellery, sea sponges, teas, spices, honey, tourist bric-a-brac and, of course, numerous carpet shops.

And when we tired of exploring, walking, shopping and eating, we blobbed out beside the marina swimming pool – “heaven” indeed.

By SALLY VERBIEST – The Dominion Post

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