With mass vaccinations underway and the hope that summer holidays may actually be a real prospect, one thing is for sure: alternative destinations have never been more attractive.
With safety and seclusion now front of mind, the year ahead in travel is set to see the rise of the ‘unsung hero’ – places that are off the beaten track and away from the pack.
Göcek, a small waterfront town on the Turkish Mediterranean coast, is just that. While others jet off to Bodrum or Marmaris, you can pack your bags for Göcek knowing you’ll be one of just a handful of British tourists to have discovered this hidden gem.
Overlooking a backdrop of dramatic forest-clad mountain ranges, picturesque islands and coves, pretty beaches and market towns, Göcek feels like the perfect spot to relax and recalibrate after the dumpster fire that was 2020.
Set on a small corner of the spot where the Aegean and Mediterranean seas meet, in ancient times, Göcek was known as ‘Kalimche’ – and it was here, if legend is to be believed, that Icarus plummeted to the sea after his famous flight.
Once populated by pirates, it later became the stomping ground for Ottoman traders and it is only in the past few decades that it has become a trendy Mediterranean resort. Now, each summer, the quiet bay draws affluent Turks visiting holiday homes or jetsetters lining the harbour in super-yachts.
Small and perfectly formed (its population is only around 5,000), Göcek is easy to access – Dalaman airport is just 20 minutes’ drive – it has nearly 300 days of sunshine a year and it’s as far from a sprawling tourist resort town as you can imagine – there are no high rise hotels or apartment blocks in sight, no mega clubs or football bars.
Where to stay
Set in an idyllic cove facing an archipelago of beautiful islands and flanked by a luxurious, yacht-lined marina, D Resort Göcek is one of the area’s best places to stay – a luxe destination that remains resolutely low-key.
Known as a favourite secret getaway of Turkish film stars, Britain’s socialite set and celebrities like Beyonce, Rafael Nadal and Roman Abramovich, this ultra-private, secluded resort is immersed in nature and feels far away from the rest of the world.
D-Resort has a spa, gym and fitness area, marble hamman, private abachi saunas, steam room, vitality pool, and a floor dedicated to traditional and Asian massages.
One of only a handful of hotels in Turkey invited to join the prestigious Small Luxury Hotels group, this boutique hotel feels stylish from the moment you arrive. Rooms are dressed in crisp whites and navy blue with dove grey marble tile and whitewashed wood – a contemporary take on Hamptons beach chic.
Where to eat
Breeze restaurant, set on the D-Resort’s private white sandy beach with tables laid on a jetty over the clear waters. There is a great menu of fresh fish, seafood and local produce as well as pizza and pasta – the lobster pasta (market price, picked fresh from the tank) is highly recommended. It’s a great place to sit and watch the incredible yachts pulling into the harbour or shoals of fish swimming around the lit waters.
At sunset, you must visit the resort’s restaurant, Q Lounge. Open-air and located on the top of a hill with panoramic views of the sea and islands in the distance, here you can sip Japanese-influenced cocktails over a menu of sushi, sashimi and robatayaki served in tapas style with relaxed music. The food is incredible and the atmosphere electric.
We sat at a counter at the very front of the restaurant, overlooking the Med as the sun set and declared this spot possibly the most idyllic place to eat anywhere in the world.
Away from the luxury of the hotel’s world class sushi restaurant you’ll find Göcek’s local offerings – for us, an experience not to be missed.
Set on either side of a path running the length of the shore are dozens of restaurants, bars and cafes with tables on jetties running out over the sea, fairy-lit trees hanging low over cute tables set on the beach and comfortable, bohemian cafes with low furniture and relaxed vibes.
Walking the length of the strip is a pleasant way to start an evening, eyeing the fresh catches displayed in chillers and choosing where to eat based on what you see. We went in July and again in August and found no need to book at most of these restaurants, but if you want a particular time or table you should book in advance.
The Del Marinn coffee bar has tables and chairs set out into the sea so the water cools your feet as you sip your wine. They serve classic snacks – olives and dips – wine, coffee, milkshakes.
Next door is a very good fish restaurant (among many on this charming strip) that serves fresh fish chosen from the chiller along with excellent breads, mezze salads and lovely local wine.
What to do
It would be a breeze to spend your days on the hotel’s white sandy beach, drinking in the views of the sparkling sea, hazy islands in the distance and sailing boats as they come and go.
But if you can drag yourself away, there’s plenty of relaxed fun to be had. Borrow a bike or meander into the quaint village of Göcek, where you’ll find a place that feels truly unspoiled – you hear birdsong and the lazy clink of metal on mast and not much else.
The entire area can be seen in an hour, it’s small – just a few restaurants set along the shore serving freshly caught fish and grilled Turkish kebabs, colourful boutiques, a handful of coffee shops and a weekly farmer’s market.
Take to the seas
As Göcek is now best known as a sailor’s paradise, a destination on the map for superyachts and sailboats alike, taking some time out on the water is a must. Charter the hotel’s luxury speedboat for a high-octane adventure, some water skiing and watersports, or for a more relaxing day at sea, a gulet (traditional Turkish sailing boat) to tour the islands around the coastline.
The nearby bay is full of marinas, and the town is home to international yacht races.
The little bays of Göcek are worth checking out, including Hamam, Göbün, Kille Bükü, Bedri Rahmi, Yavansu, Sarsala, Yassıcılar and Mart.
There are two ways to access these bays: either join a day-long tour or charter boat tours that take you to the blue Göcek bays for a week.
Much as we wanted to charter our own private gulet, as we were just two, we took the more economical option of a group day trip for around £40 per person. The boats line the waterfront in Göcek – take your pick on an early evening stroll and book for the following day.
We boarded at 9am in time for champagne and fresh fruit breakfast followed by fresh coffee and cake on the open waves, a lunch of fresh fish and cold beers punctuated by dips in the secluded bays and daredevil jumps off sea cliffs.
Visit the ruins
Göcek has plenty to offer the relaxed traveller – but if you’re after adventure, there’s plenty to be had. One early morning we hired a car to drive to Kayaköy, an abandoned village near the town of Fethiye.
An hour or so from Göcek on easy roads, we arrived via cute lanes where we stopped briefly at a cafe set in a local family’s front garden for hot traditional coffee before taking to the steep paths of this old ghost town.
Once known as Levissi, it was renamed Kayaköy or Rock Village when its 10,000 Greek Orthodox Christian and Anatolian Muslim inhabitants abandoned their homes after the Greco-Turkish war among religious redistribution of the population that saw the 6,500 Christians forced out in 1923. The Muslim population left soon after.
Crumbling buildings line the cobbled roads, the faded walls of houses, schools, town halls and churches a memory of more harmonious times. Looting has seen much of this village damaged but some buildings are in better condition than others, with furniture in place and family photos hanging on the walls. The village is now protected as a museum site. Tickets can be bought from the ticket office next to the lower church and cost 5 lira. The village is open in the evening and lit up at night – a good way to avoid the punishing heat on the exposed hillside.
Well worth a visit to refuel after a hot walk around Kayaköy was the lunch spot opposite the ticket office – Kaya Köy Sofrasi – for gorgeous fresh lamb pide hot from the stone oven with salad and mezze.
Fabulous Fethiye Fish Market
On the return journey we detoured via Fethiye at sunset to visit the famous fish market.
Here you pick freshly caught fish at market price – around £3 for a whole sea bass, for instance – from the many enticing stalls before taking it to the restaurant set around the market square that catches your eye for it to be cooked to your liking. Choose your restaurant first, arrange your table and tell the fish stall owner, who will clean their fish and take it to the restaurant for you. The restaurant will charge around £2 to cook the food and serve with salad and bread, with a huge variety of mezze as extra if you choose. The bustling market is a feast for the eyes – the gleaming seafood alongside colourful fruit and vegetable stalls, the owners calling and competing for your custom. It’s all very good-natured and makes for a vibrant, unforgettable evening.
We had heaps of fresh shrimps, grilled tiger prawns and the most succulent whole sea bass, served with cold beer, garlic yoghurt dip and olives. Sensational food and a marvellous experience.
Paddle boarding and kayaking
Looking for a bit of action and unable to kayak around Göcek itself due to shipping access, we headed 45 minutes along the coast to Ölüdeniz, where we had seen idyllic photos of the Blue Lagoon.
In pictures, this heavenly-looking bay has turquoise waters and seems almost unpopulated. In reality, it is a busy little bay next to a very busy tourist town of Ölüdeniz. We made the mistake of going into the town itself looking for this paddleboard haven.
Actually, avoid the main strip and beach of the town – too many football bars and a busy beach – a less than ideal place to kayak/paddle board – and drive west to the bay itself. At the back of the bay, past the packed beaches, you’ll find the rather nice Sun City Beach Club – much quieter, tranquil little spot with paddle boards and kayaks for hire. We spent a lovely few hours paddling around the bay – admittedly not quite as turquoise as the pictures showed, but lovely nonetheless.
Göcek – the Turkish Delight
The rest of your days can be happily spent lying on one of the loungers dotting the shoreline, ordering from the restaurant menus direct to your sunbed as you look out on to the blue sea, the archipelagos and watch the many yachts, gulets and speedboats lazily come and go. Mesmerising and oh so peaceful.
Every time we leave Gocek we are left with the feeling we have found a special and beautiful place that remains undiscovered by much of the outside world.
The Mediterranean at its very best.
easyJet offers return flights from London Gatwick to Dalaman International Airport, Turkey in June 2021 from £129 per person. To book or for further information visit easyjet.com
Rates at D-Resort Göcek start from £270 per night, per person in June 2021 based on two adults sharing a Standard Room (Advanced purchase rates). To book or for further information visit dresortgocek.comCredit: Original article published here.