I introduce this tour by retelling a conversation with Peter Wurslin in Jackson, Wyoming during the summer of 1987. Peter Wurslin and two friends took six years to bike around the world and he had just returned to his home town of Jackson. Sally and I doggedly tracked him down to get a chance to pick his brain. The conversation between Peter and me went something like this: I asked,” Where were the highlights of your trip?”
“Well, there was the coast of Yugoslavia, France and England, and also Turkey, southern Turkey. Uganda was a real surprise.”
We’ve been to your highlights except for Turkey and Uganda. Uganda is a big surprise to me too.”
“Southern Turkey was great. The people were friendly and the scenery great. This surprises a lot of people.”
Sally and I always thought that Istanbul was one of the most exciting cities in the world. It literally is situated at the crossroads of Europe and Asia.
Our first time through Turkey was in 1970 (without bikes). We were on our way overland to India (it was possible then) so we rode busses through all of Turkey and into Iran. Our impression then was of the “terrible Turks”. We felt more comfortable then with the Iranians than with the Turks.
The next time we went to Turkey was in 1985, when we finished a long and fascinating bike tour from Vienna to Istanbul. Our impressions were completely changed. The friendly exuberance of the Turks was welcome after the dour life of Eastern Europe then still under the Russian thumb. The biking however had been “hell” into Istanbul on busy roads.
Now we recalled our conversation with Peter Wurslin and we determined to return to see for ourselves this recommended bike route along the Southern Coast of Turkey.
In May 1989, we flew to the Island of Rhodes in Greece and ferried across to Marmaris, Turkey. This completely avoided the biking hassles of Istanbul and it’s environs.
Southern Turkey lived up to our expectations and actually surpassed Greece in many ways. Now, it’s been recommended that central Turkey is excellent for biking. We will eventually go there to ride.
Please note that this bike trip and its rating was from almost 20 years ago and its guaranteed that things have changed. But, at the time, it was a great biking trip.
How We Rate This Trip
Good European road standards along most of the coast. Some areas of deterioration. Road was newly surfaced from Fethiye to Anatalya. Very few optional back roads. Although along the coast, the mountains come right up to the coast until west of Anatalya. Grades were usually manageable but there were a few steep grades along the coast.
Although there were long stretches of low traffic areas, there were also times where the traffic was fairly heavy around the bigger cities. There are seldom minor road options so you are forced to ride on the main coast road.
Warm in spring and fall. You can still enjoy warm nights in September. Summer can be hot. Inland: very hot and dry. Predictably dry in summer including early fall and late spring. We never saw rain. The sea air is clear and the sea is generally crystal clear.
Calm Mediterranean type weather with periods of wind usually off the sea. The wind is usually low.
Lovely quaint seaside villages with harbor side cafes overlooking the harbor. Marmaris and Kalkan and Kas were especially beautiful with many opportunities for sea views. Some very nice beaches. Bodrum has a beautiful fort. Generally the road hugs the mountains all along the coast. So you get vistas after climbs and then sometime you ride right along the craggy coast. This is the deep blue, sun swept Mediterranean.
There are no bicycle tour guides but the general information is very good. There are tourists offices. Orientation is “sun and sail” tourists. There are good maps. People are helpful with road information and directions. There are some European cyclists along here.
Road Safety: 4
Areas of narrow roads. Drives are a little wild at times. Also, the large trucks burn low grade diesel and completely foul the clear air when they are present
General Safety: 5
There are some sneak thieves around the larger cities. For example, in Istanbul you must protect your money and belongings. However along the coat it is generally very safe. Violent crime is very rare in this area.
By European standards, the value in Turkey is excellent. Even compared to Greece, which in many ways is similar, Turkey is much better value. Hotels in the $20 per night category were very acceptable as far as cleanliness and comfort. Food is very modestly priced.
We relied on bottled water (found everywhere). Excellent beer from Tuborg. Good and cold.
Turkish food is excellent. Often we ate at cafeteria style cafes. You order what looks the best and you order a variety of vegetables, patties and meats. Of course, the sea food is excellent.
We found good hotels in the $15 to $30 a night range. We found clean and well maintained rooms in the central areas of the tourist towns. The Turks keep very clean places. The coast offers great towns for overnight stays at just about the right intervals so that each night we enjoyed good facilities.
Turkey is a taste of the Middle East but with a more tolerant attitude. Turkish hospitality is almost overwhelming. We experienced warmth and spontaneity and endless “thumbs up”. Off the beaten path, they were very curious about 2 bikers but they aren’t used to seeing western women.
Turkey is 99% Moslem. However they are tolerant. Ataturk brought Turkey much closer to Europe. The Arabic sound is heard in the music but it is very listenable. The countryside still is very traditional.
First there is Ephesus and then there are Istanbul and Troy. There is a virtual roll out of centuries from the 3rd Century B.C. Greeks to the Byzantine Forts all along the coast. The ancient ruins rival Greece and the Latin history is very well preserved. Many consider Turkey a better historical museum than Greece.
TOTAL SCORE 98
Route Descriptions and Maps
Mamaris to Dalyan 88Ks
Out of Marmaris on Hwy 23 for 32Ks to the turn off on the main coast road. The road out of town is very steep then rolling hills. There is one pass with 8% to 10% grades. This road has moderate traffic. It is inland and the scenery is not spectacular, except for a beautiful Eucalyptus tree lined road just before the turn. Turn right on Hwy 6 (east) for 32Ks to Koycegiz. The traffic is moderate but since the road is fairly straight and flat it is fast moving. The road swings south for 10Ks along a bay to the turn off for Dalyan. The last 15Ks to Dalyan has little traffic and small climbs through farmland.
Dalyan to Fethiye 70Ks
Take the road to Dalaman (16Ks) where you pick up the main coast road, Hwy 6 south. Continue for 24Ks up a mountain and back down to Gocek (darling little fishing village). The traffic is moderate. Then back up a mountain and down into Fethiye. This is a good size town with lots of commercial and private fishing.
Fethiye to Kas 108Ks
This area is littered with remains of ancient cities. The road goes inland. After a long climb out of Fethiya, the road stays up through evergreen forests and then rolling hills in beautiful farmland, scattered with herds of sheep and goats. Xanthos is 62Ks from Fethiya. It was the capital of Lycian and, although now badly ruined, well worth a visit. The road stays up on a ridge to Kalkan (18Ks). This is an idyllic old village built on a hillside, sloping down to a bay. From here the ride is SPECTACULAR. The road juts out along the shore next to sheer cliffs. 15Ks from Kas is a striking mountain gorge crossed by a small highway bridge. There is a perfect little sandy cove, reachable by a long flight of stairs. You will see boats bringing people to this beach from Kas. Kas is the quintessential Turkish seaside village and has been discovered by travelers.
Kas to Finike 78Ks
The first 11Ks are straight up a mountain. The top has views of the coast and islands, you stay on top then there’s a great ride down. The road descends into Kale which lies on a fertile river delta with many greenhouses. It is said that the legend of Father Christmas (Noll Baba) began here in the 4th century. This area is farm land along the coast. A beautiful flat coastal ride to Finike, skirting the mountains (Reminded us of the Yugoslavian Coast).
Finike to Antalya 115Ks
This route starts out flat along the coast skirting a beautiful sand and pebble beach. 15Ks outside of Kumluca the road winds back up into the mountains. There is a beautiful panorama 28Ks from Finike. Then for the next 6Ks you get beautiful mountain views. The road stays up and gradually winds down to Antalya. Antalya is the chief city of Turkey’s eastern Mediterranean coast. The traffic is heavy for 30Ks on either side of the city.
Antalya to Side 74Ks
The mountains are no longer next to the shore and the winds pick up in this area. We had a strong head wind all the way to Side. Near Aksu, 15Ks from Antalya is Perge, a very ancient town. It prospered under Alexander the Great and the Romans. There are substantial remains here. Another 32Ks is Aspendos where the finest Hellenistic and Roman theater remains were restored after a visit by Ataturk. We had the luck that a French tour stopped while we were sitting at the top of the amphitheater and a tourist tested the acoustics with his beautiful operatic voice. The sound was so sweet, he got carried away. Everyone was spellbound during this beautiful solo. When he finished, a spontaneous applause erupted and then laughter at his total embarrassment. The road was flat to Side. In the town, there is a very impressive ruin. Here we had the luck of the full moon. Viewing the ruined temple of roofless Doric columns, surround by the sea in the moonlight made all the ancient myths come alive.
Side to Alanya 63Ks
We rode to Alanya but don’t recommend it. It’s flat along the coast and the winds tend to be strong. It’s fine if they’re at you back. Alanya is similar to Acapulco in Mexico. A town in the middle of nowhere on a nice beach, lined with big hotels. The beach was bustling with para-sailing, boats and bathers. This is the Florida of Europe.
Alanya to Marmaris
We retraced our route back.
Marmaris to Bodrum via Datca and Ferry 75Ks
We rode the road from Marmaris to Datca three times. There is an 8K climb out of Marmaris, then down into a long valley and up again. The road stays on top for a long while and you can see the ocean on both sides of this peninsula. The views are spectacular and the traffic light. The ferry leaves from the north coast and the road is dirt for about 3Ks. This schedule is very hard to find. The only place we found it was in Datca, 5Ks south. In Marmaris, they didn’t even think there was a ferry. The crossing takes 90 minutes and can be rough if it’s windy. You can see the Greek island of Kos off the Turkish coast. Bodrum has a storybook castle in the harbor and is a beautiful little tourist town.
Bodrum to Didim 112Ks
46Ks to Milas along the coast. There were 2 climbs and descents. Left on the main coast road, Hwy 30, which is busy. 44Ks to junction for Didim and Altinkum Plaji. Left for 22Ks to Didim which was like an English resort.
Didim to Kusadasi (Ephesos) 70Ks
Along the coast off of the busy main road to Akkoy then to Milet and Priene and finally to Soke which is on the main highway. We went off the highway again to Kusadasi on the coast. Some climbs. Kusadasi is a place to stay to investigate the great Ephesos.
Kusadasi to Izmir 67Ks
Through Plaj and Degirmendere and Bulguria to Cumaovas, 45Ks. Out of Cumaovas it’s 4Ks to the main highway that goes into Izmir. Into Izmir is terrible for 18Ks. This is simply to get there. Nothing recommended.
Izmir to Istanbul
By Air or Ferry.