Sit on the rooftop of one of Kalkan’s cosy bars or seriously good restaurants and you will, even fleetingly, have a sense all is well with the world.
Kalkan remains remarkably unchanged and refreshingly untouched
Legend has it that several hundred years ago a woman from the neighbouring Greek Island of Meis travelled to the, then unexplored, coastal region of what we now know as Kalkan to sell goods. Her expedition was a success, beginning the evolution of what is today one of the most charming Mediterranean harbour towns.
A thriving Greek village until the 1920s, Kalkan and its neighbour Kas were – until just 40 years ago – known for little more than olive groves and charcoal burning.
I first visited a decade ago and, unlike a lot of places that have staked their claim on the tourist trail, Kalkan remains remarkably unchanged and refreshingly untouched.
It’s rather like a superior guest at an inferior dinner party who knows she has nothing to prove and no one to impress. The rest of the Med may strutt its stuff in a quest to devour its share of the tourist dollar. Not here. Kalkan knows what it does it does effortlessly well and it couldn’t give a hoot about the competition.
Part of its charm rests in its location. The pedestrianised centre majestically slopes down to the harbour and is full of colour, interest and local life. This is undoubtedly Kalkan’s weapon in the fight against development. While the surrounding mountain terrain appears full to bursting with apartments and villas (that has changed since my first visit), the nucleus of this gem of the turquoise coast slumbers away seemingly oblivious to what’s going on around it.
With its narrow cobbled streets flanked by weatherboarded houses from which bougainvillea drape and lavender and jasmine waft, by day Kalkan has a soporific, undemanding allure. All that’s required of you is to browse quaint shops, stop off for some borek and a glass of wine for lunch, or wander down to the harbour to see freshly-caught fish being brought ashore for that evening’s diners.
Kalkan is reported to have no fewer than 150 places to eat and I’ve not only never had a bad meal I’ve had some of the best dining I’ve enjoyed anywhere. Restaurants pepper the rooftops of Kalkan as if the world’s foremost maitre d’ was balancing enticing dining rooms skywards.
You won’t find hotels in the centre of the old town (another reason to rejoice) but there are many excellent places to stay, anything from a 10-minute walk to a short cab ride away. Much of the accommodation is of the smaller, owner-managed style, set away from town and often secluded but with all you could need on the doorstep.
What you tend to get is clean, comfortable and friendly (although you will also find four and five-star luxury). These are the type of places where, by holiday end, you’ll be on first name terms with the management and where, should you choose, an early evening iced cold Efes with new acquaintances can be enjoyed while the lights of the pretty harbour begin to twinkle below.
It’s all too easy to simply give in to the delights of Kalkan and not venture far at all during a stay but that would be to ignore some seriously good places of note within easy reach.
As delightful as its harbour setting is, you’ll have to head off a little further in search of beaches, of which Patara and Kaputas are the best. Both are easily accessible by local bus so don’t waste time or money on an organised trip.
Saklikent (“hidden city”) is, at 300m, one of the deepest canyons in the world. From April, 4km of the gorge is walkable but, beware, the water you have to cross to access the main opening is icy cold. There are a number of cafes in which to relax along the bank, making for what is an all-together pleasant detour from your base.
Another gem is the sunken city of Kekova – the centre of a major earthquake in the 2nd century AD that caused a downward shift of land and submerged ancient houses. It’s around an hour’s drive from Kalkan (car hire is easy) and worth the effort.
Far less enticing is the trip to Demre, a village where St Nicholas preached. There is little of the church left and the area is high on commercialism and low in anything that can truly be described as saintly.
If you’re in need of a little rejuvenation – and can draw yourself away from Kalkan overnight – then head to the ‘healing centre’ of Pamukkale. Translated as ‘cotton castle’, its white calcium carbonate deposits give the area the look of an ice fjord.
The appearance is extraordinary as is the reputation it has for wellness and the properties of its fresh hot springs that are said to cure or alleviate a range of conditions. Pamukkale can, however, get extremely busy so if you’re travelling in high season and crowds have you breaking out in the sort of stress you’d left home to avoid, you may be better opting for some pampering in a traditional Turkish hammam.
If all of this sounds a little too strenuous then, in my view, one of the most delightful things you can do around these parts is take to a gulet for the day. Some of these traditional wooden sailing vessels are better than others so it’s a good idea to walk round the harbour to form your own impression. Once aboard, a gulet will transport you to secluded bays and protected coves for swimming, snorkelling and little more in the way of exertion. But if even that sounds like more activity than you’re ready to commit to then you can just relax on deck with a book and wait for the crew to serve you an excellent lunch and afternoon tea.
Kalkan is stylish without bring pretentious, classy without being ostentatious and welcoming without being in your face (anything but in fact). It’s sophisticated and, it would seem, a firm favourite with us Brits. Figures released in 2012 showed we made up a staggering 96% of all visitors to this rather special corner.
This is a place that has typically attracted the more discerning holidaymaker and you’ll come across no shortage of well-heeled couples trailing a young “India” or “Hugo” in their wake. But Kalkan isn’t stuffy – it does laid-back style effortlessly well and appeals to those tired of overcrowded, overhyped resorts. But let’s just keep it between ourselves!