On the sunny Mediterranean coast of Turkey, a 540-kilometre stretch of coastline from the metropolitan region of Antalya to gorgeous Fethiye forms the famous long-distance Lycian way. Ranked highly among other famous walks of the world, and comprising of historical ruins and marked trekking routes, it is a strong magnet for novice and experienced hikers and trekkers.
Named after the Lycian Empire that existed around the 8th century BC, impressive historical ruins, and rock tombs left behind by them, are just one of many attributes of the route. The forward-thinking and democratic society peacefully ruled the southwest coast for many centuries. However many other civilizations conquered them on numerous occasions, and they eventually assimilated themselves into other cultures, predominately the Romans. Originally, a federation of 19 cities including Patara and the UNESCO world heritage sites of Xanthos and Letoon, they were also expert builders and philosophers.
It is a testament to this ancient civilization that avid trekkers follow their footsteps to explore ruins of their prominent dwellings and witness the best coastal landscapes of Turkey. What makes the walk even more attractive is that unlike other hikes of the world, small pensions and hotels along the route avoid the need for backpacking, camping, or sleeping rough. The trek (called Lykia Yolu in Turkish) takes an average of 29 days to complete but because of the heat, many hikers do it in stages thanks to the marked tracks.
Novice hikers should join an organized tour because the Lycian way is not one of the easiest treks of the world. Cutting in and out of the peninsula and rising into steep gradients at times, trekkers have been lost in the past because the red markers wear out over time. Many companies sell organized excursions ranging from two days to complete the Fethiye section or weeks to walk further east along the coastline to Antalya.
If you do decide to walk it independently, the best times of the year are spring or autumn because, in the winter, hotels and remote areas close down while summer temperatures are just too high to be physically comfortable. Originally researched by Kate Clow, a British amateur historian, in the 1990s, the Lycian way has the potential to be the best travel adventure you will ever make.
Prominent Landmarks to See on the Lycian Way
As well as passing through small traditional villages, past farmer’s fields and along rugged coastline paths, an average of 23 historical sites shows trekkers, much more than a cultural or historical journey. It tells the tale of the Lycian Empire, their rise to fame and their fall to oblivion. The people, their traditions, their beliefs, and heritage come alive by visiting the ruins.
The ruins of Patara were one of Lycia’s most prominent cities. Also, a member of the Lycian League, history’s first democratic union, it was dedicated to the god Apollo and achieved great commercial success as a sea trading port. Hence their fame preceded them and in 333BC, they surrendered to Alexander the Great and his conquering army.
Further along, the coastline, Xanthos, and Letoon whose historical timeline closely intertwines with Harpagos, a Persian general who conquered the city in 546 BC, are now UNESCO heritage sites. Although Harpagos was a fierce warrior, he had a reputation for tolerance and religious freedom.
Despite this, when the general captured Xanthos, citizens committed suicide instead of surrendering.
Further east along the coastline, the ruins of Olympos in a fairy-tale setting of a forest hold the sarcophagus of Captain Eudemos. Nobody is entirely sure who he was, yet the inscription on his tomb indicates he was of notability. Walking further into the dense, green landscape, excavated houses and churches hidden among overgrowing plants present a different face away from Turkey’s colorful Ottoman history.
In the same area, the burning flames of Chimera, that are best seen at night, flicker from a rock collection for 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Now explained by science, for centuries, pirates used them as a warning against rocking their boat against the coastline and before that; myths existed of the mythological creature with the head of a lion and tail of a snake.
Edging nearer towards the Antalya region, the ancient ruins of Phaselis, sitting in between two beaches and fronted by a majestic view of Mount Tahtali was for most of its uneventful past, a thriving sea trading port. Excelling at their trades, locals even built a water aqueduct to supply the Roman baths, and the main agora street was thriving with sellers and buyers. However, pirates looking for easy cash and valuables soon sent citizens fleeing into the mountains, eventually deserting the city.
Other prominent sites to visit while trekking the Lycian way of Turkey include a summit view of the before mentioned Mount Tahtali sitting within the Olympos National Park. The churches of Gemiler Island are said to have once been used by Saint Nicholas aka Santa Claus. Also although not related to the Lycian Empire, the Ghost Village of Kayakoy near Fethiye city center portrays the illustrious history of when Greeks and Turks lived side by side in peace.