Friday, 8 July 2011

A week in Ovacik, close to turquoise waters and the Aegean coast

The Amyntas Grave has long been the symbol of Fethiye (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

Patrick Comerford

I arrived in Turkey late yesterday and I am staying for a week in Ovacik, a holiday resort in south-west Anatolia, near the coastal city of Fethiye and some important classical sites.

Ovacik and neighbouring Hisarönü were once sleepy villages that have become one large lively resort in recent decades. They stand on a high plateau 4 km from the coast, surrounded by stunning mountains, and close to the white sands and blue waters of the famous lagoon of Ölüdeniz and the pebble and sand beach of Belcekiz.

Ölüdeniz has become a popular image on tourist posters for Turkey throughout Europe. Just above Ölüdeniz, amongst the pines on the lower slopes of Babadağ, the former village of Ovacik straddles the mountain road between Fethiye and Ölüdeniz.

I am staying in the Grand Ucel Hotel, which is set in a pine-covered valley, 1 km from Hisarönü, 5 km from Ölüdeniz, and 4 km from Fethiye. This is just a few steps away from the bustle of the resort are some quiet country trails, making this an ideal base for enjoying this captivating area.

Lycian rock tombs, carved into the cliff-face above Fethiye (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I first visited this corner of Turkey five years ago in July 2006. During the next week or so, while I’m here, I plan to visit Fethiye, a lively port and market town, with its lengthy seafront, cafés and restaurants, its lively market and its classical sites.

Fethiye is the site of the Lycian settlement of Telmessos, with its famous Lycian rock tombs, including the Tomb of Amyntas, carved into the dramatic cliff-side above the harbour. There are the remains of a Greek theatre, a crusader castle, old mosques and an historic Turkish bath too.

In Byzantine times, the city was known as Anastasiopolis, and later it was known as Makri (Μακρή). But after the expulsion of the majority Greek Orthodox population in the 1920s, the name was changed to Fethiye in the 1930s in honour of a local war hero, Fethi Bey.

The abandoned houses, churches and streets of Levissi remain on the slopes above Kaya Köyü (Photograph: Patrick Comerford)

I’m also planning to return to the Anatolian village that inspired de Bernières as he wrote Birds Without Wings. This prequel to Captain Corelli’s Mandolin is set in Eskibahçe, a small village modelled on the once-thriving but now-abandoned town of Kaya Köyü. The people who once lived in Kaya Köyü were mainly Greek-speakers who knew their town as Levissi, and who were proud that it was built on the earlier Hellenistic town of Karmylassos. It was a bustling market town until its population of Orthodox Greeks was deported forcibly in 1923.

I was so disturbed by the haunting story of these people when I first visited Levissi in 2006 that it was almost two years before I wrote about the experience.

Many of those people who were forced to leave Levissi first sought refuge in Rhodes, the nearest Greek island, which was occupied by the Italians in the 1920s.

I hope to make a more peaceful journey to Rhodes by ferry from Fethiye over the next few days, and perhaps visit some of the other neighbouring islands too. And I’m looking forward to visiting the beach at Ölüdeniz, and to swimming every day, in the hotel pool and in the turquoise blue waters of the Aegean Sea.