Exploration of Turkey's Beautiful Coastline!
Is it a bird? Is it a plane? No, it's my friend, soaring on the updrafts above the pine-forested ridges that shelve towards the ocean on Turkey's Turquoise Coast. I was next to take to the runway, pacing down the slope until the bright parachute lifted into the air and the ground tumbled away beneath my feet.
Below, I could see islands strung out across Fethiye Bay and the long white crescent of Olu Deniz's beach curving around the coast towards the Blue Lagoon. From here, the beach looked like a white teardrop issuing forth from the eye of the lagoon with its iris-like shades of blue.
It's this breathtaking scenery that makes the paraglide from 2,000 metre-high Mount Babadag in Turkey's Taurus Mountains one of the most popular in the world. Apparently, it's also one of the longest drops in the paragliding world, giving you plenty of time to drink in the panoramic views.
We had travelled to the rugged coastline of south-west Turkey to enjoy a mix of adventure and relaxation, and after landing on Olu Deniz beach in searing heat, going for a swim in the region's famously crystal-blue waters seemed the natural thing to do. The outer beach that stretches along the lagoon was sparsely scattered with sunbeds and tourists and the low-rise resort that has grown up in the valley is dwarfed by the awe-inspiring peaks beyond, leaving the scenic beauty of this spot relatively intact.
The fine sandy beaches of the lagoon, however, were packed with bronzing holidaymakers, so we decided to rent a boat to lose the crowds and enjoy some serenity out on the water. I also hired some snorkelling gear, intent on catching sight of the elusive sea turtles that have made the sheltered lagoon their home. Paddling out into the languid emerald water, the melee of the shore soon seemed a distant memory. A virtually untouched landscape of limestone crags encircled us, fragrant pine wafted on the breeze and there was no sound but for the chirruping of insects and birds from the bristle of bushes and trees on the banks.
It wasn't long before I was alerted to the presence of a turtle, as a nearby snorkeler suddenly pulled his head from the water with a delighted shout. I turned and swam over just in time to see the ghostly shape of a sea turtle gently disappearing into the green gloom. Navigating the boat around the shoreline, we spotted a man-made feature amid the natural shore and floated over to take a closer look. A small enclave was set with carved stones, creating what looked like a docking point. Weathered and overgrown, I wondered if this had been left behind by the ancient Lycians who ruled this region from 1400BC until the Romans arrived.
The allure of the region was not lost on the ancient Greeks and Romans either, who left their mark on the landscape in the form of stone amphitheatres, temples and relics too numerous to mention. To explore this side of the region's history, we spent one morning rambling around the UNESCO-listed ancient city of Xanthos, which features the crumbling tiers of a Roman theatre and Byzantine basilica with its mosaic floor still intact.
Exploring Turkey's beautiful cultural sites can be hard work in the heat of high summer, but luckily for us, spas are part of the local culture too. There are traditional Turkish hammams everywhere, and visiting one is highly recommended after trekking up and down the region's high bluffs. Inside the hammam's marble and mosaic rooms, we were lathered and buffed on stone plinths before being slathered in oil and kneaded from head-to-toe. The experience was so relaxing that we decided to treat ourselves to another session later in the trip.
Having explored this beautiful stretch of Turkey's coastline, we felt we'd had a really well-rounded trip with new vistas and some unique experiences. As well as feeling totally relaxed, I had discovered an ancient civilization I had never heard of – the Lycians – spotted one of my favourite animals – the sea turtle – and fulfilled a life-long ambition of jumping off a mountain and living to tell the tale.