A dreamy day at sea in the Gulf of Fethiye
The warm turquoise waters of the Mediterranean lap the shore of Hillside Beach Club and the calming sound of the sea as it ebbs and flows, combined with the heat of the sun in the cloudless summer sky, lulls us into a peaceful reverie. We feel as if we have found a tiny part of paradise, hidden away in the magical Gulf of Fethiye.
We could spend every day of our precious holiday like this; relaxing by the sea, or swimming in it. But there are so many other things we could be doing while we’re at Hillside. From our sunbeds on the beach we can see the distant mountains and hills on the other side of the gulf… but we’re too far away to make out the islands, scattered like a string of precious pearls across this beautiful stretch of water.
The lure of this distant panorama casts its spell – making us want to take a closer look.
So, it’s all aboard for a dreamy day at sea!
Waiting by the jetty is a beautiful wooden gulet. Pronounced “goolet”, this is the Turkish word for the region’s traditional wooden sailing boat. The staff and crew are at the ready and we just know they are going to totally spoil us.
It’s another beautiful day. Dawn was a few hours ago but the heat is still gentle. Under the boat’s shady awnings it’s cool. The sea is calm, liquid topaz – a fish jumps out of the water close by – creating an infinity of radiant, shimmering jewels, reflected in the bright morning sunlight.
We make ourselves comfortable, everything we could want is provided for us. So, we lie back and let the Hillside Beach Club’s team do what they do best – look after us!
Where are we heading? Sorry, didn’t I mention it? We’re being taken on an idyllic journey across the Gulf of Fethiye to those mysterious 12 islands.
The engine is purring, quiet as a pussy cat, as the gulet glides out of the cove; cutting through the glassy, silent water, leaving a white-crested wake followed by a gently undulating swell. As we head out into the open water, Hillside Beach Club can be seen in all its natural glory from the sea.
Framed by the silver and sage hues of the pine tree backdrop, embroidered with lush emerald undergrowth, the buildings are dappled with sunlight and studded with a mosaic of bright summer flowers.
Standing in the bows as we enter the open water, we can feel the warm sun on our backs and by contrast the cooling breeze on our faces. Shading our eyes as we look out across the Gulf of Fethiye to Göcek and those illusive islands, for a moment it seems as if we’re the stars of our very own movie.
Someone cries “Dolphins!” and we catch sight of three sleek grey muscular bodies looping through the wake. One briefly looks at us with what appears to be a broad smile, before heading off with his friends on another adventure.
The gulet slowly approaches the far side of the Gulf of Fethiye and Hillside Beach Club has become indistinguishable in the heat haze from the forested hills behind it. It looks as if the boat is motoring towards the hilly coastline but then we see the islands, separated from each other and the mainland by tranquil channels. The boat eventually passes through the wider sound. Here, the island to the left is called Domuz Adası. Pig Island, in English, is so called because in the past it is believed to have been home to a herd of wild boar.
The leeward side of the island is popular with yachts but the captain finds a quiet spot to moor the gulet, so we can go for a swim if we choose. When we dive into the water it makes us gasp – let’s say it’s refreshing – and so crystal clear we can see the bottom. There are so many hues of blue and turquoise – picture-postcard in their intensity – we can’t think of enough words to describe them.
Everyone is relaxed and happy; laughter fills the air. But finally it’s time to move on to our next stop. On the other side of the channel is the largest island in the Gulf of Fethiye and we will moor here and enjoy a delicious and leisurely buffet lunch.
Our guide explains that this island was known as Telandria island until WWI and it was once settled by early an early Christian community – Byzantines. Nowadays called Tersane Island, the name – which means shipyard island – dates from the time when it was used by the Ottoman Navy. This is still evidence of where the boats and ships were built and repaired.
On the leeward (eastern) side there are numerous coves and bays, which locals call summer harbour, while the northwest has sheltered coves that are mostly used by fishers during the winter. As the windward (western) side can get battered by strong winds from time to time, it is usually given a wide berth.
On the island – which nature has reclaimed – there are the remains of some 140 houses. These were lived in by the Greek Orthodox community until 1923 and the Population Exchange (see Kayaköy). There are also some ancient tombs, two churches and fruit orchards. Just two or three shepherd families now live on the island with their goats and sheep.
It would be sad not to explore the island – and soak in its history – and it’s also a good opportunity to walk off that delicious meal! While we are stretching our legs, the Hillside team will be tidying away the lunch things and getting ready to move on to our next stop.
Yasıcca Adaları – which translates as Flat Islands – is a small cluster of low lying islets the outer rim of which is a long and very beautiful sandy beach. It is perfect for a swim and water sports. Zeytinli Ada – Olive Island – is the largest of the group. Privately owned, it is not possible to explore the island but for those interested in local history, it is home to a Byzantine olive press.
Chilling out with a cooling drink and thoroughly relaxed by the hum of the boat’s engine and the warm sun, we head towards our penultimate stop at Katrancı Island. Close to the coastline, which is studded with a series of coves, the pine forests come right down to the water’s edge, creating a wonderful contrast between the greens and the blues… Plunge into the deep, crystal clear aquamarine, azure and cobalt water and see the water spray around you like a sparkling rainbow.
It’s time to head back to Hillside beach Club. En route we stop at Kızıl Ada – Red Island – so called because of the rich rust-coloured sandstone, which almost glows as the setting sun illuminates it as it drops below the horizon. On the island is a solitary white-painted lighthouse and a spot to swim before the gulet heads back to the jetty with its weary, sun-drenched, happy band of guests.