It feels like a perfect summer day, but you have to keep reminding yourself this is winter in Kalkan. It’s December 7th and I’m sitting in a restaurant on the harbour in a short-sleeved top trying to remember if I put sunscreen on this morning. My weather app tells me it’s 19 degrees, but it feels several degrees warmer than that and the thermometers will climb as we reach early afternoon. If I glance over my shoulder, the Christmas tree is up, but that is the only indication that the big day is less than 3 weeks away. This is Turkey, the birth place of Saint Nicholas, who of course became Santa Claus and in fact, his home town, Demre, is just an hour up the coast from where I am sitting. However, this is certainly the place to be if you want to escape the pre-Christmas madness in the UK – New Year is the big celebration here; as at home the restaurants gear up to offer exceptionally good selections of food and entertainment. I noticed a few are providing delicious Xmas lunch menus too.
From my perch just above the harbour quayside, I can see down into the crystal clear, aqua-green water to where a shoal of hundreds of small fish are gathered by the moored up boats; it must be fishy lunchtime. From across the far side of the small harbour, the muffled sounds of power tools and male laughter drifts over as the boatmen carry out repairs and refurbishment on their gulets (traditional wooden day boats). It takes the ear a while to fathom what you are hearing, so muted and ‘background’ is the sound.
The sun is wonderfully warm on my back and the water is twinkling brightly in the light, sunglasses are a must. Over on the rocks, by the lighthouse, I can see guys fishing, deeply tanned arms expertly casting their lines into the water. This is not sport fishing, whatever they catch will be on tonight’s dinner table or frozen to eat on ‘not so lucky’ fishing days. It seems this time of year I am very lucky indeed, as the quiet harbour and plentiful fish attract the attention of the loggerhead turtles known locally as Caretta Caretta – protected in several conservation areas along the Turkish coast.
A large dog is panting gently in the sunshine but is too lazy to move into the shade, and, only a yard away from him a cat is curled up, snoozing in the midday heat – both too comatose to be bothered by the other’s existence. I watch as a large dragon fly hovers in the air a few feet in front of me, then darts away across the water – a flash of blue/green as the sunlight bounces off its brightly coloured body.
Winter here is a totally different experience to summer, much of the ‘tourist’ old town is now closed for winter, but even that has its benefits for out of season visitors. Walking around the narrow, cobbled streets and being able to fully see and appreciate the old Mediterranean style buildings and the true prettiness of the architecture is an unexpected pleasure.
The beach is now just that, a beach, gone are the summer sun loungers and parasols and natural beauty has returned. There is a café that sits just on the edge of the beach which stays open all winter; it’s all too easy to while away many hours just sipping cay (Turkish Tea), nibbling on gozleme (Turkish stuffed pancakes) enjoying the sound and sight of the waves brushing the pebbles. The islands of Mouse and Snake seem to hover just above the sea out in the bay of Kalkan and can be seen from virtually any spot you care to sit in.
The endless sandy beach of Patara, a 10-minute drive away, is also a place of stunning natural beauty and so much of it! Let me say right now, walking bare foot along the water’s edge in December is something, everybody, used to freezing cold, miserable winters should do at least once in their lives! As well as this staggering, stretch of beach, Patara is also the site of an ancient wealthy Lycian city and port. It has been painstakingly, pieced together and restored by incredibly patient archaeologists, for us to wander around and admire what was an unbelievably sophisticated civilisation, boasting one of the world’s first parliaments.
In fact, if history is your thing there are many areas, just a stone’s throw away from Kalkan where you can discover and explore many other ancient sites – Tlos, Xanthos, Letoon.
Back in Kalkan, several of the harbour restaurants stay open all winter, and there are also plenty of places open in the newer parts of town offering a mouth-watering range of cuisine, from traditional Turkish to sophisticated dishes with international influences. If you are feeling the need for a slightly faster pace, shops, cinema, bowling; you can always indulge in a day trip to Fethiye. Tuesday is market day there and I’d highly recommend a trip to the fish market on any day. Here, you choose your fish, octopus or shellfish, fresh from the counter; they take it to one of the surrounding restaurants in the same square and cook it as you desire. It’s the freshest, most delicious fish I’ve ever had the good fortune to taste.
I’m not going to paint a false picture either, there is plenty of sunshine here all through winter, in fact Kalkan boasts an average 300+ days of sunshine a year, but do remember it is winter and there will be days of heavy rain, occasional storms and it does get chilly once the sun sets. Oh, did I mention the sunsets? Breathtakingly beautiful, in fact your hardest decision in your day may well be where should I view if from tonight?
January is the generally the most wintery and wettest month, however, compared to our British winters, this Turquoise Coast version is far more tolerable – and much shorter. All the local shops and supermarkets remain open, and the Thursday market still appears every week, albeit rather scaled down to its summer version. Self- catering is the winter option, but between the cafes and restaurants that are open and the shops, it’s an easy lifestyle to live and remarkably less expensive to do so compared to the UK.
There are still some evening entertainments too. Kalkan has a significant ex-pat community and there are several events arranged every week in various places, you will find all visitors are most welcome to join in. Music nights, quiz nights, themed supper evenings and even dance lessons can all be found very easily.
Another great benefit to winter visiting is the lack of actual tourists – heading out to see local attractions is far better at this time of year as you get a better view of ancient sites, walking around is noticeably easier in the lower temperatures and if you wish to drive, there is less traffic around. However, be aware that venturing inland from the coast does require a check on weather and road reports, as trips into or through the higher mountain areas can be cut short, or indeed made very long by winter snow. Trips along the coast in either direction are usually much easier and it’s a great time to get out and see other towns too.
Make no mistake, this is a place on its winter break, but if you want some peace and quiet, some sunshine, and still want the same warm Turkish welcome you get here all summer, then you will not be in the least bit disappointed.