The last time I was on the southern coast of Turkey was in 2001, as a guest with my then-16-year-old son, Alexander, on a biking/Blue Cruise adventure with "Backroads," the terrific biking/touring company based in Berkeley, Calif.
Arriving with the crew in the late summer of 2007 was a very different experience.
First, the resort town of Bodrum, where many Blue Cruises begin, had almost doubled in size. Vacation home developments covered the hillside overlooking the city and the Mediterranean Sea. And this time we just pretended to be on a Blue Cruise — we spent only one night out of seven aboard the unique wooden boats called gulets (pronounced “goo-lets”) though the completed show suggests we enjoyed a leisurely, several-day cruise. If we’d done that, we wouldn’t have to film so many sites in so short a time.
The weather was perfect, so we were blessed with lots of sun and blue sky. We had two goals while filming our episode on the Turquoise Coast: To reveal to viewers who had never visited Turkey’s coast the rich Greek and Roman ruins that could be seen there and to show how easy it is to arrange a gulet adventure.
Rudy's Travel Tips
- A visa is required for U.S. citizens wishing to visit Turkey — you can buy one upon arrival at the airport with no difficulty, paying with either U.S. dollars or Turkish lire.
- Most visitors to Turkey arrive via Istanbul, and I’d suggest staying a couple of days in that great city either before or after your Blue Cruise. It’s a short flight to Bodrum, so you can continue on after you land in Istanbul if you just can’t wait to reach the water.
- Antalya is the second city along the Turkish coast where Blue Cruises begin. I personally favor Bodrum as a jumping-off point because it’s a smaller town, but the Anatalya’s old town and its historic bazaar are definite draws. I was taken by a small hotel near the harbor of Antalya, Tekeli Konaklari. I didn’t stay there, but I did inspect the rooms and admire the gorgeous flowers in the courtyard by the pool, and I hope to return someday to check in as a guest.
- Summers are hot on the Mediterranean, so I’d suggest cruising in May or September if your schedule allows it. You can still dive off your boat into the sea (especially in September, when the water is not too cold and not too hot). If you have kids in school, don’t worry about going during the prime months — you’ll pay a bit more in July and August, but most gulets are air conditioned, so you’ll sleep comfortably. My son and I toured in June, and it was so comfortable at night that Alexander and his fellow teenagers on the trip sometimes slept atop the gulet under the stars.
- Think minimal clothes when packing. While that’s always good advice, I can’t stress enough how informal a Blue Cruise is. Boys and men can get away with T-shirts or polo shirts, shorts, a bathing suit and maybe one pair of slacks. Women can be equally informal. And since space for luggage aboard a gulet is minimal, keeping it simple is best. Comfortable walking shoes are a must, since you’ll be doing some touring on land that involves an hour or two of light hiking.
- You can arrange for your gulet before you leave for Turkey, always a good idea during the prime summer months. Any travel agent can help you or you can search on line by typing “Blue Cruise” in any search engine. If you know anyone who’s taken a Blue Cruise, all the better — ask them for a recommendation.
- During the shoulder season, May, September and October, you may be able to negotiate a better price by simply walking down to the waterfront in Bodrum where captains will be happy to discuss price and options. Would you like to start in Bodrum and return to Bodrum? If so, what sites would you like to see along the coast? Would you like to sail all the way to Anatalya and fly back to Istanbul from there? Do your homework first so you know what the market price is by searching for cruises on line.
- Just outside of Bodrum, I interviewed Kerim Acar, a designer of gulets whose family also has a luxurious gulet to rent. You may e-mail him at [email protected] Or if you’re in a hurry, give him a ring at +90 216 442 0321. The gulet we used for two days was expertly captained by Memet Karaoglu, and you may e-mail him [email protected] (Telephone +90 (0252) 712 30 79.) His gulet holds six to 10 passengers comfortably. You can charter his gulet for about 300 euros a day, lunch included in the summer. If you’d like more meals, that can be negotiated, as well. I can vouch for the kitchen — we enjoyed great meze, the traditional Turkish starter plates that often consist of smoky eggplant puree, roasted peppers, yogurt, white bean salad, and grilled octopus with fresh lemon. Main courses included grilled local fish, lamb and chicken.
- There is no “correct” number of days for a Blue Cruise and no necessarily firm itinerary. Your gulet will stick close to land, and you can discuss with your captain what you’d like to see and how many days you’d like to sail. We visited the most popular classical site in Turkey, Ephesus, as well as Knidos, and Dalyan. We cruised over the sunken city of Simena — a city that dates to the 4th century B.C. that was destroyed by an earthquake in the 2nd-century A.D. Along with the hills outside Dalyan, the coastal town of Myra boasts the most incredible Lycian tombs I’ve ever seen. The Myra tombs were carved out of stone in a hillside between the 7th and 5th century B.C. and overlook a spectacular Roman theater littered with columns, theater masks and lots of carvings of Medusa. We went near sunset, and there wasn’t another tourist in sight.
- Keep in mind a Blue Cruise allows you to explore and enjoy the coast. Besides visiting ruins, you can pull into harbors and perhaps rent bikes for a few hours of riding around. You probably won’t sail more than a couple of hours a day — there are plenty of villages and ruins to see during the day, and at night you’ll be anchored.
- A gulet is a great way to sail with a family or several friends. Gulets can hold groups of various sizes — there were 10 people on my Backroads boat, and it wasn’t the least bit crowded. Boats come with various degrees of luxury, as well — some even have a Turkish bath or hamam, done in gorgeous tile, aboard. If you’re visiting in the heart of summer, be sure to book a gulet with air-conditioned staterooms.
Rudy Maxa is an award-winning producer and host of public television's series Rudy Maxa's World. He brings his sensibility as a journalist to all of his programs and is known as one of America's foremost travel experts and writers.