Turkey's 540-km Lycian Way draws hundreds of foreign hikers

The Lycian Way, one of the world’s ten longest hiking trails, attracts hundreds of foreign tourists from around the world each year to make their way along a route that takes weeks of walking, with frequent stops along the way to spend the night and gather memories.

The 540-kilometre Lycian Way runs along Turkey’s southern coast, from Fethiye to Antalya, passing at points through rural areas and mountainous inland as well as the coast, and at times reaching altitudes of 1,800 metres.

One of these foreign travellers is Sherry Ottkim, who walked the entire Lycian Way in 2014 and says the best time to do it is between April and May. She stayed in pensions in the villages along the road, but on some days, she didn’t come across any villages at all. She says travellers need to be prepared.

“Between Kaş and Demre, there are hotels and houseboats you can stay at along the road, but we decided to camp out. While we were walking during the day, our food was really simple. You pick up some bread, tomatoes, olives, cheese, and cured sausage from whatever village bazaar you pass through, and that’s pretty much what you eat. We tried at least once each day to find a village restaurant where we could have a hot meal, but that really depended on the day’s walk and the trail. Sometimes we didn’t pass a village, and we just had to carry a lot of bread and olives for a few days.”

She remembers the fruit trees they came across along the road, and how happy these made everyone. Ottkim has some advice for making the trip. “You definitely need good equipment, especially good walking shoes, because the trail is rough and near the seaside, you have to climb up and down a lot of hills. That’s where a walking stick comes in handy.”

She added that she had found the Lycian Way more physically demanding than the Camino de Santiago, the famous hiking route in northern Spain. “It’s more akin to hiking in the Himalayas, like the Annapurna Massif,” she said.

The most difficult thing about the hike, says Ottkim, is not getting lost. “In theory, there should be red and white flags on the rocks and trees, but this is usually not the case. We got lost a couple of times a day. When that happened, the GPS on my phone was a lifesaver. However, you have to keep in mind there are a lot of places with no reception, so you’ll need a portable Wi-Fi hotspot, too.”

James Bainbridge didn’t have time to walk the entire 540 kilometres all at once, so he rode in local minibuses part of the way. “I started off from Fethiye and passed through a few villages until we reached Faralya, a village facing Babadağ Mountain near Butterfly Valley. There’s an interesting holiday village at the end of the road, and I followed the rocky trail to the beach, and I spent the night in an elegant country house.”

He has good memories of mountain villages and camping in the treehouses in Olimpos. “My best memory is of when I walked about four kilometres through some small fishing villages. When I scrambled up a little rocky path, I came out onto a ridge full of Lycian graves. A few hours later, a fisherman took me to the gulf to see the Lycian town of Simena (known as Sunken City), which sank into the sea in an earthquake 2,000 years ago.”

The famous Lycian rock tombs, were cut into the cliff faces hundreds of years before the birth of Christ by the civilisation that gives the hiking route its name.

Colin Stump walked the Lycian Way in April of 2013. “The first night was fun. The sounds of barking dogs, croaking frogs, and the gunshots of villagers hunting wild boar. The second night, birds chirping and donkeys braying added to the cacophony.”

Stump’s warm-up walk began among some ruins and continued through pine forests, limestones, the beach, and people parachuting over Ölüdeniz. From his second day on the Lycian way, he recalls the beauty of the villages under Babadağ Mountain and the turtles along the winding path. The next day was exceptionally sunny. He climbed to the top of a hill and says the view was worth the climb.

He spent a night in Patara, which dates back to Lycian and Roman times, and says he’ll never forget the Patara beach. “It was such a tranquil night.”

The next day, Stump explored a more challenging trail along an aqueduct. “On my last day on the Lycian Way, the last place I rested on the seaside was near Kalkan. It was an easy and charming walk. The route takes you through cool pine forests and a lot of olive orchards until you reach the enormous walls of the aqueduct; to the East, there’s Xanthos Valley and the Gulf of Kalkan, with gorgeous views of the turquoise waters.”

He recalls the dense shrubbery in some parts of the trail and says that long trousers can be a blessing.

John Hayes spent eight days hiking the Lycian Way in March of 2016. Due to limited time, he took the opposite route from the one suggested in his guidebook, and went East to West, starting from a holiday village in southwestern Antalya. “I had one day to visit the ruins of Myra and St. Nicholas Church.  I stayed at a pension near some ruins, and from there, I went on to Kaş. The last couple of days were fantastic. I spent a night in Kaş, and the next day I got on a bus and went home.”

Hayes says that because he went there in March, before the start of the tourist season, the lodgings were cheap and the food was fantastic. “I’d been to Turkey before, and I’ve always found people there hospitable, friendly, and gracious.”

Hayes recalls some other risks on the trail. “The dogs from the villages can be a problem, so I brought a device that makes a high-frequency sound only dogs can hear. That worked pretty well. The other things you have to watch out for are beehives, but snakes will get out of your way and wild boar like to sleep at night, so you’re unlikely to run into either of those.”

He also saw a lot of turtles, lizards, squirrels, blue jays, hawks, and bee-eaters. “I’ll come back to Turkey,” he says. “There are some high mountains in the interior that are covered in snow in April, and I can’t wait to climb them.”

Leigh Turner, British Ambassador to Austria and UK Permanent Representative to the United Nations in Vienna, hiked 40 kilometres of the Lycian Way in April of 2016. He described his journey on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s blog:

It was wonderful.  The scenery is spectacular; the walking enjoyable; the overnight stays sublime. If you fancy the Lycian Way, I recommend it. You needn’t be a hiking demon, although some degree of fitness helps. Nor do you need masses of equipment: a good pair of boots; sun protection; and a rucksack to carry water, food and emergency bits and pieces (lighter, warm clothes, torch, whistle etc.) is about it.

The main decision you have to take is whether to walk without help, or to employ a company which will organise overnight accommodation; carry luggage from one overnight stay to the next; provide you with a GPS with the route marked on it, and so on. I did the latter and found it brilliant, especially the GPS, which made it harder to get lost. But I saw other walkers on the route loaded with gear including tents and cooking stoves.  The choice is yours.