Everyone knows the birthplace of democracy, right? Well, without wishing to start a new Trojan War, the Lycians may demur on this point.
So called because they dwelled in Lycia – an ancient coastal Turkish state in what are today the provinces of Antalya and Mugla – from around 3000 BC, these highly unusual people lived in a uniquely peaceable fashion.
Unlike their warring neighbours, they formed the first known democratic union of 23 cities (long before democracy developed in Greece) and women had a remarkable position in society at the time, too. It is believed that Lycians used their mothers’ names rather than their fathers’, and it was a woman who presided at the national assembly every year in the city of Letoon. The founding fathers in the US were so impressed by them they looked to Lycian democracy when writing their own constitution.
Perhaps most surprisingly for people most of us have never heard of, a remarkable amount of their civilisation is still around today.
Along the southern Turkish coast you can still see the remains of many of their cities – Telmessos, Xanthos, Pinara, Tlos, Cadianda, Patara. Later cultures (mainly Greek and Roman) moved in and made their own additions.
However, there is one aspect of Lycian architecture that was unique to them and stands today much as it did when it was first built: the Lycian tombs. Carved into rock on the cliff faces of this mountainous region, they usually have a wonderful view of the Med (the Lycians were clearly keen on a pleasant afterlife), and are well worth a visit.
But perhaps the biggest draw is the Lycian Way, a 325-mile hiking trail, which stretches from Hisaronu, near Fethiye, to Asagi Karaman in Konyaalti. Walk any portion of it and you’ll get jaw-dropping views of this coastline of coves and beaches, rugged cliffs and tiny islands dotted in deep blue water.
I had heard that the walks around Faralya, a quiet village surrounded by pine forest and filled with butterflies and dragonflies, were particularly fine, so it was there that I began my introduction to ancient Lycia.
I walked with Ghislain Sireilles, owner of the Mandarin and Mango Hotel in the village, a keen guide and walker himself, who took me down through the forest to Butterfly Valley and Aktas Beach.
We spotted rare wildflowers (this is a region renowned for its orchids), natural springs with pools for swimming and the local wildlife. My favourite moment was when a tortoise wandered nonchalantly across our path – and why not? It was his territory, not ours.
As well as the Lycian remains, there are Byzantine monasteries, mountain villages and vineyards to visit and, for a truly spectacular view, you can not only hike up the Babadag mountain, you can tandem paraglide off it, too. The summit is a smidgen under 2,000m (6,560ft) – though you don’t have to jump from quite that high – and is one of the best aerial views in the world, looking down onto what is arguably Turkey’s most beautiful coastline.
Below, right on the beach, is the nearest main town of Fethiye – a place quite alien to the mass tourism many associate with Turkey. It’s principally known as a yachtie paradise, with a handful of bars and restaurants strung out along the promenade facing the sea, as well as plenty of boats for hire if you want to get out on the water.
The beaches are stunning too, the most famous being Patara, some 11 miles long and backed with row upon row of sand dunes. When I visited in June, I counted just a dozen people along its sandy length. Clearly, the Lycians knew how to keep a secret – and it seems they’re keeping it still.
Anna Selby was a guest of Mandarin & Mango (0090 252 642 1002) in Faralya, which has a lush garden, a big pool and quirky, rustic rooms. Stay from £242 per night (based on two sharing), with a half-board option that includes a five-course dinner (£26 extra per person).
The hotel also offers a walking week with a guide for a further £95 per person, and can arrange transfers from Dalaman Airport.
EasyJet flies to Dalaman from London Gatwick and regional airports from £23.99 per person