Turkey’s spectacular Turquoise Coast is perfect for families to recharge, relax and explore, writes Will Slater
As lazy days go it was one of the most memorable, chugging around the beautiful islands of the Aegean Sea in a handsome wooden-decked boat, putting down anchor to swim in the sparkling blue water, relaxing in the shelter of an awning, peering out to distant horizons, chilled beer to hand.
We stop for an hour, the midway point, in Göcek, a handsome, upmarket port town, where we find postcards, playing cards for games on deck and a couple of tiles, copies of ancient designs from Roman times, which are destined to become distinctive place mats.
In Fethiye, close to where we are staying, there are many similar trips on offer, but we are on Letoonia Resort’s own boat with just half a dozen other holiday makers. Each evening the boat moors at the resort’s dock, ready for fresh adventures each morning, a stroll from our comfortable rooms.
The pace of life at Letoonia, on Turkey’s southwestern Turquoise Coast, is slow and easy. In danger of missing breakfast at the Marina restaurant? Don’t worry, it’s served until 11am at another place. Missed that? Don’t worry, lunch service starts at noon. The bars are already open and the five pools are welcoming.
The concept of the all-inclusive resort is commonplace now, particularly for families who want the peace of mind that they aren’t going to pick up an eye-watering bill on departure for ice creams, drinks and snacks, let alone every meal.
The downside is the prospect of eating the same stuff at the same place all the time. Letoonia tackles this by offering hundreds of different dishes during the course of a week at the three buffet restaurants, three snack bars and three à la carte eateries.
Each lunchtime and evening there are various meat and fish dishes, dozens of different salads, vegetables and so on (though a few staples are available constantly, so that pizza-loving children will always be happy). The Lykia Restaurant is central and air conditioned, while Moonlight is outdoors, its vast terraces a great place to watch the lights of Fethiye twinkling as the light falls. The à la carte restaurants (which need to be booked, and cost extra) give you the chance to have some table service, which is a welcome change after endlessly getting up and down to fetch food. Kebabçı, serving Turkish fare was our favourite.
Bottled water is available at any time, as is beer and wine. There are cocktails included too – though the two we tried weren’t great – but ones with premium brands are charged and were given noticeably more attention by the bar staff.
A few days just soaking up what Letoonia has to offer is top of our list. A morning stroll around the perimeter path of the private peninsula, before the sun gets too hot, is a daily delight. Hammocks, recliners, sheltered crash areas, swimming platforms and raked beaches line the route. One morning we spend half an hour following a beautiful, large sea turtle, which lazily cruises alongside us. It transpires it is a common sight, but it seemed pretty magical to us.
We go to the water sports area and take out pedalos and canoes for a paddle. There are various activities available and we try archery, though there are dozens of things on offer. There is a nightly show with lots of clowning and dancing from the hardworking entertainments team, though we preferred to do our own thing after we had seen one of the shows. We swim and read and recharge, visiting the hamaam for a massage. Heaven.
Tuesday is market day and we head out to Fethiye to do battle with the local stall holders for some souvenirs and knock-offs of every kind of leisurewear brand you can think of. A boat ferries folk across the bay. It’s a haggling haven and there is fun to be had bartering over a hoodie or handbag. We pick up some odds and ends – a pair of sunglasses, a T-shirt and some lovely pashmina scarves – then stroll over to the part of the market where the locals are shopping. Here we buy peppercorns, spices and fresh fruit.
Further afield is the spectacular Saklikant Gorge, the largest in Europe, and the wonderful Lycian and Roman ruins of Tlos, but as we have visited them before we choose instead to visit the ghost town of Kayaköy, formerly known as Livissi, which had a population of about 2,000 mostly Greek Christians in 1900 and now is uninhabited, but preserved as a museum and visitor centre.
It was the inspiration for Birds Without Wings by Louis de Bernières and its sorry history is one of persecution and enmity as the Greek Christian community, in the aftermath of the First World War, were deported. There are around 500 houses which have been left untouched from the ethnic cleansing and it is an extraordinary place.
It is hard at this moment not to think of present horrors across the border. There are now some two million refugees in Turkey, mostly people who have fled from Syria. The awful images of the drownings, suffering and violence (a large bomb exploded in Ankara on our first night) is having an impact on the numbers of visitors. Yet we are hundreds of miles from the Syrian border to the east and 100 miles or so from places such as Bodrum, where the people smugglers are setting sail for Kos. The distance means the humanitarian crisis is out of sight, if not out of mind.
We are happy to be here, with friendly people in a beautiful part of the world. Tourism is a key industry here and supporting it is better than abandoning it when the country is doing more than most in terms of humanitarian aid for refugees.
We visit the popular resort of Ölüdeniz to get a taste for the area. It has a beautiful, if stony, sweeping beach, with lots of nice bars and restaurants. We keep walking beyond where the bars end and find a quiet spot to splash in the water and relax. Above us in the sky the canopies of paragliders descend from Babadag mountain to the boardwalk of Ölüdeniz, a tourist grinning with excitement strapped to each pilot.
Back on the outskirts of Fethiye, we stop at sunset at the beautiful Lycian Tomb of Amyntas, which clings to the hillside overlooking the town. Carved into rock, the tomb dates from 350BC. We all scramble up the steep path to get closer to it, the sense of the past palpable as we touch the carved surface.
Then we turn and take a moment to look down over the town below. In the distance, across the bay, the lights at Letoonia resort are bright. It is time to return for dinner, another near perfect day almost done.
• Thomas Cook (www.thomascook.com) offers seven-night holidays to Turkey staying at the Club & Hotel Letoonia (www.letoonia.com) on an ultra all-inclusive basis from £538 per person in May. Price is based on two adults sharing, and includes flights departing from Glasgow airport to Dalaman.