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BLOG The Lycian Way – A Chance to Step Into Turkey’s Past

18 June 2020 / Travel

Steeped in history and with breath-taking scenery at every turn, the Lycian Way stretches along Turkey’s Mediterranean coastline. Some 540km long, it’s one of Turkey’s best-known trails and attracts hikers from around the world each year.

The full route, which starts at Fethiye, in Muğla, and meanders east to Konyaaltı, around 20km outside Antalya city, can take anything from 25 to 40 days to complete. Some people relish the challenge of walking the whole of the Lycian Way, while others choose a short section or even a one-day expedition in a specific area.

What is the Lycian Way?

Lycia itself – the name means ‘Land of Light’ – dates back to around the 13th century BC. The Lycian Empire, several centuries later, is recorded as a progressive society with the Lycian League, made up of cities including Olympos, Patara and Xanthos, credited as the world’s first democratic union.

In the late 1990s, British amateur historian Kate Clow spent years exploring, researching and waymarking the route with the aim of protecting Turkey’s ancient trails. Called Likya Yolu (Lick-ya Yol-oo) in Turkish, it regularly features in top-ten lists of the world’s greatest long-distance hiking trails. Its unique mix of coastal views, mountainous backdrops, traditional Turkish culture and ancient history is hard to beat.

What will I see?

There are so many historical landmarks and beautiful views along the Lycian Way that it’s impossible to highlight them all. Most people start at the at the Amynthas rock tombs in Fethiye, which are worth seeing before you get under way. Some kilometres further on, along forest tracks and coastal paths, you’ll come to the stunning Butterfly Valley. Sheer cliffs plunge downwards to a sun-kissed beach, and with a little exploration you’ll find a mountain waterfall and the colourful Jersey tiger moths that give the valley its name.

History-lovers will want to see Letoon, the religious sanctuary dedicated to Leto, lover of Zeus, and Xanthos, which was the capital of Lycia. Both are UNESCO heritage sites and offer fascinating insights into the past. Further along the route is Patara, with its well-preserved ruins and glorious 12 kilometres of sandy beach, and where excavations continue to reveal glimpses into days gone by.

The charms of Bohemian Kaş and the quiet refinement of neighbouring Kalkan have been known to distract walkers for a day or two, while further east you’ll find the Gelidonya lighthouse – the view there was voted the best in Turkey back in 2007.

Other sites worth visiting are the ruins of Olympos and, nearby, the Chimaera – the flaming stones. Legend says these natural flames, best viewed at night, are the breath of a fearsome beast that is part lion, part goat and part snake. Modern science has an explanation, of course, but they are no less fascinating for that.

Nearing the end of the route are the ruins of Phaselis, giving an absorbing peek into ancient Lycian life. The area also offers a spectacular view of Mount Tahtalı, part of the Olympos National Park and also worth a detour for the view from its summit if you have time.

Is it easy to do?

The terrain varies from flat tracks to steep gradients, so while some sections of the route can be classed as easy, others are demanding. The good news is there are plenty of small pensions and hotels along the way, so you can go at your own pace with no need to rough it overnight. That said, if you’re a devoted backpacker, there are also organised campsites and plenty of places you can pitch a tent.

Novice hikers might prefer a guide, and there are plenty of companies which offer organised tours. As well as making sure you stay safe and stick to the right paths, these offer a wealth of information about the area’s history and landmarks.

However you decide to do it, the best times to walk the Lycian Way are in the spring or autumn. The summer heat is simply too fierce for it to be a pleasant or comfortable experience, while in the winter you’ll find the hotels and guest houses are closed.

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