Forget the crowds and over-development of some of Turkey's resorts - you don't have to head far out of Marmaris to find Akyaka, an unspoilt village with a beautiful setting and lashings of charm
Just half an hour from Marmaris, there's a beautiful village beach resort largely undiscovered by the British. Protected from over-development, and constructed in the traditional Mugla style of architecture, Akyaka sits at the head of the beautiful bay of Gokova, backed by pine-clad hills and eucalyptus groves. It's the resort of choice for the Turks themselves, from TV stars and the Prime Minister to less affluent local families and cub scouts.
Most of the British we met were previous visitors to Turkey, and many were looking for an alternative to Kalkan, the attractive but developing upmarket harbour town dominated by British visitors. Akyaka is refreshingly different - it's a working fishing and farming town, with few pretensions to sophistication. But if it's local flavour you’re after, it’s the perfect place to relax, eat well and enjoy nature.
Where to stay
The child-free Ottoman Residence (used by Anatolian Sky, the main travel company serving the area) is a great base for those wishing to enjoy the region. The hotel is set in a beautiful landscape and is architecturally impressive, with its 39 rooms overlooking an internal courtyard, leading out to the swimming pool and gardens. It’s just a 10-minute walk away from the village beach, bars and restaurants, and backs on to the crystal-clear waters of the Azmak river, where (if you can tear yourself away from the jumbo cushions and hammock) you can spot colourful frogs, dragonflies and the occasional turtle, as well as the many species of birds that make the reed beds their home. It’s perfect for those who want to relax in a tranquil setting and enjoy friendly attentive service. Alternatively, the Yucelen Hotel and Apartments are a great choice for families.
The main village beach of hard sand is packed with sunbeds and umbrellas, and gets very busy throughout the Turkish school holidays from late June to August. Pedalos and kayaks are available for hire at the far end. However, a better choice is the picturesque Cinar beach, best reached by a 45-minute walk along the promenade and through the shady eucalyptus forest and campsite bordering the sea. Served by a very reasonable café, and offering comfortable sunbeds (6TL for a pair and an umbrella), this pebble beach doesn’t tend to get busy with Turkish holidaymakers and locals until mid-afternoon, and the trek back after a hard day's swimming and sunbathing can be avoided by using the tractor and trailer service back to town (just 1.5 TL).
Out and about
There are plenty of boat trips from the harbour. A typical itinerary takes in Gokova Gulf, Sedir (Cleopatra) Island (where Cleopatra is said to have bathed on sand especially imported from Egypt by Mark Antony), and the ancient city of Cedreae. It costs an extra 10TL to gain entry to the island and its Roman ruins, and although you can swim alongside Cleopatra’s beach, an armed guard will ensure you shower to prevent the loss of the unique sand. The cost of the trip (which includes a set lunch of perhaps chicken, salad and pasta) reflects the number of passengers, and ranges from 20TL on a large boat jam-packed with predominantly Turkish passengers to 80TL on an Anatolian Sky gulet with a handful of fellow Brits. It is worth paying more than the minimum if you want some space to yourself to sunbathe and enjoy the stunning scenery and swim stops.
An unusual alternative is the riverboat trips available from the mouth of the river, or the half-day Azmak trip with Anatolian Sky (40TL) on the little boat moored at the hotel - a feast of a breakfast is served on board to a maximum of eight people, followed by a leisurely dash across the gulf to Cinar Beach for a spot of sunbathing before the journey back.
Away from the water, you can take a dolmus to Mugla and its traditional open air Thursday market, where rural farmers bring their fresh fruit and vegetables to sell alongside farm implements, cowbells, spices and local lace. Or, if fake handbags are more your thing, there’s always Marmaris. Further afield, it’s possible to take in Pamukkale and Ephesus, with an overnight stay on the outskirts of Kusadasi.
You can eat out very cheaply in Akyaka - its mainly Turkish clientele means prices are low, and choosing somewhere to eat involves far less hassle than most resorts I have visited.
For a cheap, filling snack, try a fish sandwich from one of the small café-boats where the Azmak river joins the sea, close to the harbour. The restaurants lining the main beach also offer good value. Not all display English-language menus - or, indeed, menus in any language! Try the Spica Yagmur, which is particularly good for vegetarians, or the Deniz, further along the front, directly above the sea. Wherever you choose, there will be a wide choice of delicious hot and cold mezze to start. My favourites were antep ezme (a fiery but refreshing mix of tomatoes, chilli, onions and cucumber) and mucver (fried courgette patties flavoured with dill and served with haydari (yoghurt and garlic). Sea bream is very reasonably priced, as are kebabs and clay pot meat, shrimp or vegetarian casseroles.
In the village centre there are further options. The Red Kitchen, where you point at your choice for dinner, is highly recommended - but get there early, as there aren’t many tables. Several restaurants and lokantas serve delicious pide (Turkish pizza). Bottled water and fresh Turkish bread are generally complimentary, and your bill will often be accompanied by the offer of free coffee or a plate of fruit. Most nights, two of us ate two courses with a bottle of wine for a total bill of between £17 and £25.
More expensive options are available on the river, where five traditional fish restaurants serve fresh trout alongside sea bream and mullet. Again, menus are not always available and it’s best to ask the price in advance when you choose your fish. The setting is stunning, and the fish dishes famous, but the vegetarian pasta dish I selected was truly awful.
See above - eating out is the main activity, with no Irish bar, English pub or disco to spoil the ambience. There are a few bars playing music, and restaurants feature occasional live music (a mixture of English and Turkish pop songs). Or retire to your hotel bar for beer or cocktails; the Ottoman Residence boasts its own Tom Cruise in Ashken the barman.
Need to know
The idyllic riverside setting comes at a price – the mosquitoes, which emerge in the early evening. Take plenty of repellent or buy the local products (Sinkov does the job and will be lent to you by helpful waiters in many establishments). If you're staying in the Ottoman, walk along the road in the evening to get to the village, rather than going through the woods. On the plus side, the cooling sea breeze means life is far more comfortable here than in most resorts on the Turquoise Coast.