Cirali, Turkey: A sleepy seaside village where the mountains breath fire

TL;DR for our Cirali Post:

  • Photos from Cirali
  • Favorite Moments: Fire breathing mountains, swimming in 75 degree waters, sunrise, tasty mezes
  • Walked:
    in Cirali: 80,616 steps / ~40 miles
    in Total: 1,704,162 steps / ~852 miles

As we began our month long Turkey adventure, we were looking for a sleepy seaside village location along the Lycian Coast to start things off.  We knew that we we would be ready for a break from crowds since we’d just been in Venice and we had 4 days to kill before our Blue Cruise (stay tuned for our next post on that). Our research uncovered Çirali (pronounced Cheah – Ra – Leah)– and given our new addiction to swimming in the Mediterranean, we were excited.

Çirali is primarily an agricultural village and very small with a local population of just 1,000.  If every local guesthouse (there are no big hotels here) was filled, that’d add another 1,500 (most of them, however seemed pretty empty).  It features a 3.5 km beach with the ancient ruins of Olympos at one end, the flames of Chimaera on the other, with turtle breeding grounds in between– it’s easy to see why it has been discovered by adventurous travelers.

While Venice was hot and muggy, we  found Turkey just plain hot, with high temperatures ranging from 101 – 105 for our entire visit to Çirali.  This Alaskan girl has never been more thankful for AC! As a result we got up with the sun, were active until 10:30 or so, survived mid day with AC and shade and then enjoyed the cooler evening hours.

The Ruins of Olympos
One morning we wandered through the orange groves to the beach from our pension to watch the sunrise with a handful of the village dogs.  Then we walked about 15 minutes down the beach to catch a trail through the ruins of Olympos and up to the modern-day village of Olympos.  While the ruins have an amazing history, they seem largely forgotten and aren’t being well preserved– so wandering through them (once you got off them main path) felt more like an Indiana Jones movie than museum.

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The ancient city was founded in the Hellenistic period and, according to Homer, the god Poseidon looked out at the sea from the mountains above.  In 78 BC, Julius Caesar and the Romans took the city from the Lycians after a victory at sea. Throughout the Middle Ages many others occupied the area, but by the 15th century Olympos had been abandoned.  The ruins that remain are scattered and overgrown with wild grapes and trees but still worth a visit if you find yourself in the area.

The Eternal Flames of Mount Chimaera
It’s true!  Flames come out of the mountain here, and have been without fail since ancient times. We decided to see these volcanic gas vents for ourselves and walked (about 4 km) to Mount Chimaera at sunset one evening.  While the backroads had an occasional street light, the 1 km trail leading up the hill to the flames wasn’t lit– having our head lamps proved quite valuable as we climbed the rocky trail.

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The effort was worth it though, as I’d rank this volcanic phenomena high among such natural experiences…  Not quite as good as walking right up to lava in Hawaii, but pretty freakin’ cool!

The Beach
Did I mention it was hot while we were in Çirali?  Seriously, it was crazy hot.  If it weren’t for the lovely Mediterranean Sea to help cool us off, we wouldn’t have such fond memories.  The swimming at this pebble beach was wonderful and we even bought goggles so that we could see the limited variety of fish swimming beneath our feet.  There are some restaurants and cafes along the beach and umbrellas and sun bathing chairs, but all of our time there was spent in the water.

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The beach is also protected by the WWF (World Wildlife Fund for Nature) for the nesting of the endangered loggerhead turtles.  There were several nests on the beach which were roped off and protected and you are not allowed to use flashlights on the beach at night as the light might distract any hatching baby turtles from the moon light which leads them to the sea.

What to eat
If you enjoy turkish food then even a small village like Çirali won’t disappoint.  There are several restaurants which serve up delicious mezes (small dishes), pide (turkish pizza), gözleme (turkish pancake cooked on a rounded griddle and often stuffed with cheese and spinach or meat), kôfte (meatballs), dolma (stuffed grape leaves) and other scrumptious foods.

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Breakfast  (almost certainly included with your pension stay) is traditional turkish fare including amazing tomatoes, cucumbers, olives, cheese, bread, jams, honey and often boiled or fried egg.  Also of note were the pomegranate trees lining every street.  While the fruit is not ripe until winter, many dishes are served with pomegranate syrup and pomegranate juice is readily available.

Where to Stay
While Çirali does not have any large hotels you’ll find numerous family run pensions and guesthouses.  We stayed at centrally located Harun Mila Pansiyon, which was a short 3 minute walk through an orange grove to the beach.  It offered plenty of shade in its surrounding gardens and delightful AC, which was greatly appreciated in the grueling 100+ degree weather.  Note: you can also stay in the village of Olympos, which we visited during our trip.  Olympos feels slightly larger, more touristy, and way more hippy with its treehouses.  For us, it felt a bit contrived.  That said, I could see how it could be fun to spend a few days there if you were a fun-loving hippy.

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