Turkey’s lotus eaters
The rocks at Olympos, Turkey. (Tim Barker/Lonely Planet Images)
Pirates fancied the mountain-and-sea terrain of what is now the southern coast of Turkey, around the 4th Century BC. Lurking in the quiet coves of the Mediterranean, they raided plump ships sailing by and built beautiful stone cities along the coast.
The people are known as Lukkies, or the People of Light. Some historians call them pirates, others simply "sea men". And their memory is being resurrected by another free-spirited army, of sorts, today: backpackers. Travellers from all over the world guard what is left of the ancient cities from the invasion of modern five-star accommodation.
Life in Olympos, one of the 23 ancient Lycian towns, some 100 km from Antalya, is simple. Travellers live in the rustic tree houses, eat by the fire and spend their days exploring the ancient frontiers on the beach. The oldest trees with the fattest trunks nest hostel-huts built about five years ago fitting up to six people. Bungalows with twin or double beds and private bathrooms are less romantic but still feel natural with wooden beds and plank floors.
In the spirit of piracy, the area is tricky to find. From Antalya central bus station there are shuttle buses running to the towns of Phaselis, Kas and Fethiye that will stop by Olympos. Take a window seat to admire the mountain ranges on the way to the tree houses.
After an hour on the road, the driver drops you off by a small, remote café on the top of a mountain. You are nearly in Olympos, just a 20-minute ride down a serpentine route to the tree houses. As you wait for the bus, have a cup of tea while sitting on a pillow on the floor. Served in a traditional Turkish tulip glass, the smoky flavoured black tea comes from an old kettle and costs as little as 1 Turkish Lira. The view of the mountain peaks poking out from the sea comes for free.
Located at the foot of the rocky Taurus Mountains, the tree-house villages are a modern beach idyll. There are no beach chaise lounges or ice-cream vendors infesting the coves but there is Internet and phone. With solar energy harnessed on rooftops, showers are warm on sunny days and lukewarm when it rains.
Kadir's Tree Houses was among the first to invade the coast some 20 years ago. Located 20 minutes away from the beach, it is a wild paradise for 20-something, flip-flop wearing Australian and Turkish youth and their version of fun. Parties end at dawn at which point revellers rest in rustic and cosy tree house accommodations with names like Fawlty Towers and Hotel California.
For a quieter stay, book into options like Bayrams (five minutes from the beach, families with children welcome, cushioned little gazeboes perfect to chill out during the day and night), recently built Turkmen tree houses with hammocks in the garden, also close to the beach or Orange Pension - another tree hostel in the middle of the orange grove. Most of them charge from 25 to 60 Turkish dollars per bed, per night, which incredibly includes buffet breakfasts and excellent dinners.
Olympos still shows evidence of the ancient Lycians. Remains of their watch towers, temples and fortresses built around the bay still dot the beach, part of the Olympos Natural Park, and can be explored independently or with a guide. In nearby jungles you can find evidence of Lycian ancestor-worship. Sumptuous friezes and inscriptions cursing anyone tampering the grave decorate many sarcophagi found in the outgrowth. And along the mountain river in Olympos that falls into the sea, there are remains of Roman baths from the 5th Century BC.
Aside from ruins, there are scores of other activities to keep you entertained for a week and on: kayaking, rock-climbing, canyoning, safari trips to nearby villages and boat cruises to check out islands and coves in the area. One of the most popular night-time pleasures, apart from partying at Kadir's Bull Bar is a trip to the Chimaera mount that lights up with flames at night from the methane that seeps through its cracks.
Visitors who make the effort to reach Olympos are rewarded with a laidback spirit mixed with romantic history that gives it a timeless lotus-eaters quality. As a popular local t-shirt describes it: "I came, I saw, I stayed, and stayed, and stayed, and stayed."