I am in love with Cirali. It’s a peaceful village on the sunny Mediterranean coast of Turkey; an eco-tourist paradise, a beach town surrounded by mountains and forests and orange groves. Every view is breathtaking, and the air here is alive with magic, myth and miracles.
A beautiful beach
Cirali beach is a beautiful, curved stretch of warm sand. The water is ridiculously blue, and the squeaky-clean beach is rarely crowded. Open-air restaurants along the beach invite patrons to enjoy their lounge chairs and beach umbrellas — or you might choose a more private spot at either of the rocky ends of the beach. There you’ll only be disturbed by vendors selling delicious stuffed mussels from tin tubs.
An Ancient City In The Forest
Behind a rocky outcropping at one end of the beach are the ruins of the ancient city of Olympos. This was the most delightful and unexpected find of my journey since Pisac in Peru. The ruins follow the bed of a creek that once divided the city, and extend into the forest. Roman temple columns lie broken among the undergrowth. An entire castle rises up from the foliage like something Indiana Jones might seek, and a quiet necropolis stands framed by mountains.
The city was once home to Lycian pirates, until Rome took the city to stop the pirate seiges. Later, the city was inhabited by Cicilian pirates and in the Middle Ages, the Genoese, Venetians and other Italians build fortifications. This rich history means you can see everything from a Roman gate dedicated to Marcus Aurelius to Italian castles. Someday, these ruins will be protected and you’ll be led through the forest by a tour guide, but for now the site is wild and you can discover the ruins on your own as you wander. Climb up to the Acropol at the top of the hill for an extraordinary view of the Olympos valley.
The eternal flames of Chimera at Yanartas
The clearest “wonder of the ancient world” in this area is at Yanartas, where you’ll see the eternal flames known as the Chimera. These campfire-sized flames have been burning mysteriously from the rocks for thousands of years — no wood or visible fuel at all, the fire comes straight from the rocks.
The flame acted as a lighthouse for passing ships in ancient times, but since then earthquake activity has shattered it into dozens of smaller flames. Legend says the fire-breathing monster Chimera was buried here, under seven layers of earth, after being defeated by a hero riding a pegasus. The modern explanation is that the flames are fueled by methane gas leaking from deep under the earth. Either way the flames seem miraculous to a visitor. I was able to walk there from the town in about an hour, and hiked up the mountainside to see the flames. It was quite late — and very dark — when I hiked back alone, but I felt perfectly safe.
A secluded beach with toddling turtles
The sea at Cirali Beach has magical qualities as well. Some nights, phosphorescent plankton drift close to shore, lighting up when swimmers disturb the water. It’s like swimming in a star-filled sky. Locals tell me they test the water on moonless nights and if they see the plankton light up, they go skinnydipping in the glow.
In summer, night swimming is not allowed, because a different wondrous thing is happening. Giant Loggerhead turtles (Caretta Caretta) swim to Cirali Beach to lay their eggs. The babies hatch and toddle into to sea in late summer.
Trekking: The Lycian Way
The Lycian Way is a trail that winds along the the Turkish coast. The trek is a lavish one, with seaside views, mountains paths, and ancient sites connected to Lycia, Greece, Rome, and the Ottoman Empire. If you speak Turkish or aren’t afraid to communicate through gestures, you’ll have lots of opportunities to meet local folks along the way. The trail takes 4-5 weeks to complete, but it’s possible to hike smaller sections as well.
Where to stay
Visitors looking for a family holiday in Cirali can do no better than Akdeniz Bahcesi (literally Mediterranean Garden). Guests stay in comfortable self-catering cottages with wi-fi in the midst of an organic garden, among orange and pomegranate groves.
The family retreat offers a bed and breakfast plan, with dinners available for purchase. Homestyle meals of the highest quality feature organic produce and fruits grown right on the property and freshly harvested. Breakfast might feature homemade jam or freshly squeezed orange juice made from just-picked oranges. Families love the quiet location, the painting, crafts and playground for the children, and the chance to learn handcrafts and traditional weaving. The owners, Kudret and his mother Serpil, speak English very well.
My first lodging here was with my Airbnb hostess Diana at her property in the forest. Campers, hikers, and other nature-lovers who like to rough it can rent a cabin, treehouse, yurt or tipi from Diana on AirBnb (if you’re not already a member, use this link to join and you and I will both receive a credit!) Diana’s place is rough and rugged — the kitchen is outdoors, and there’s no air conditioning. You’ll be surrounded by chickens, ducks and cats and may meet up with snakes, spiders or even a scorpion. The bathrooms have all the modern conveniences like flush toilets and hot water, though, and the beach, restaurants, and shops are a short walk away.
This has been one of my favorite places in the world so far. Besides hiking and beach lounging, guests can enjoy scuba diving, take boat tours, and enjoy the delicious Turkish cuisine in a huge assortment of outdoor cafes. All the food is delicious here, I haven’t had a single bad meal, so I can happily tell you to choose your restaurants by price or view. My personal favorites are Karakas for its beach view, Oleander for a romantic garden setting and excellent service, Ceylan for guzleme (turkish crepes) and Lemon Restaurant for everyday friendliness and great music. Merhaba is a secluded spot on the undevloped side of the beach. Ask a local to help you find it.
Speaking of friendliness, the local people are extremely warm and welcoming. I love walking through the village, on quiet streets lined with densely flowering shrubs and palm trees. Even when the weather is very hot, it’s not humid, there is always shade, and a gentle sea breeze keeps you cool.
Ciralie a popular weekend destination for Turkish families, and there are some international tourists as well, but it still feels relatively undiscovered. It’s easy to get by without knowing any Turkish (menus have pictures & waitstaff have enough English to get you through). People are friendly, and you can’t help but relax here.
This is paradise.