Gulet-cruising: Wood's the way when sailing the Turkish coast

Gulet-cruising: Wood's the way when sailing the Turkish coast

Turkey's traditional wooden sailing boats are the best way to see the country's remote areas
The Blue Cruise is one of the most common gulet routes, named after the 1960s Turkish novel of that name. The book first encouraged Turks to vacation on their own coastline.

I leap off the prow of our two-masted gulet into the warm water and, with a splash, the night is definitively over.

After sleeping the night on deck on one of these traditional wooden sailing ships, a dawn plunge is a great way to wake up.

Gulets sleep a dozen or so guests in comparative luxury below deck, but sleeping in the open air, below the Mediterranean stars, is the better way to do it.

Like most out of the port city of Bodrum, our gulet voyage has kept close to the coast so far.

They call this the Blue Cruise route after the Turkish novel of that name, “Mavi Yolculuk,” published in 1962 by Azra Erhat.

It was this book that first encouraged Turks to holiday on their country's southern coastline. Now the whole world comes here.

Blue sails

GuletMuch of what the Turkish coast has to offer -- rock-cut tombs, abandoned villages -- isn't sign-posted on land, but on a gulet the attractions glide into view.The quaysides in Bodrum, Kaunos, Kalkan and Göcek are full of these polished wooden ships, often with distinctive blue sails or blue-cushioned deck furniture.

We have a typical Blue Cruise adventure when, just after breakfast, our captain puts into the once-busy coastal port of Knidos, now a series of ruins round a small circular bay.

Serkar, our guide, explains that in the fourth century BCE Knidos, like Kos and Halicarnassus, was part of a federation of six great Greek trading cities along the coast of what is now Turkey.

It fell into decline partly because it was only accessible from the sea.

This is part of the appeal of a gulet cruise. You get to see places that would take hours in a four-wheel-drive overland.

Much of what the Turkish coast has to offer -- rock-cut tombs, abandoned villages, remote mosques and ruined fortresses -- isn't even sign-posted on land, but on a gulet the riches glide into view.

After breakfast, Big Mustapha, our ship’s shaven-headed steward, helps us into his dingy four at a time and pilots us over to Knidos. 

Cicadas buzz as Serkar and I climb to the top of an old marble amphitheater and gaze back at our gulet.  Wiping his brow, Serkar explains that Turkey has more Greek and Roman remains than modern day Greece and Italy.

"And in better condition," he tells me proudly.

The only problem is the midday heat. 

Soon Mustapha begins ferrying people back to our gulet, but my wife can’t wait.

She dives off the jetty and sets off swimming back to the ship. Three others follow her. 

GuletGulets let you see parts of Turkey you'll never see any other way.

Hugging the coast

The rest of our journey follows this pattern.

Hugging the coast, we drop anchor to explore ruins or shop for souvenirs at little villages or call in at Greek islands such as Nisyros, Symi and Kos.

Almost all the islands you see along the Turkish coast have been Greek since the end of World War I.

One afternoon we sail to Palamut Buku, a beach with a mosque and one small shop where Captain Bekir and Osman the chef go to fetch fresh supplies.

The food along the way has been so good we ask for a cooking lesson, which Osman gives us on deck -- I think he’s grateful not to be working in that hot galley kitchen for once.

Of all our landings my favorite is Loryma, a coastal fort built by people from Rhodes in 411 BCE and which saw action in the wars between Alexander the Great's generals.

It's a steep climb but we have the ancient, sheltered place to ourselves, just our party of 12 and the cicadas.

The following day we moor off a little wooded beach called Arymaxa, which is beneath an abandoned Roman settlement called Lydae.

Once again Mustapha pilots us ashore and gives me the walkie-talkie to call him when we want to come back.

The going is hot under a blazing sky, but the last part of the route is under the cover of some very hardy pines. Around one corner we meet a group of startled donkeys sheltering from the heat.

At the top of the path, in a saddle between two big hills, we find ruined mausoleums from the third century.

They look familiar and according to Serkar contain the earliest known examples in Turkey of the Byzantine arch used to such great effect in Istanbul’s Hagia Sofia.

Hidden places

GuletMuch of what the Turkish coast has to offer -- rock-cut tombs, abandoned villages -- isn't sign-posted on land, but on a gulet the attractions glide into view.Captain Bekir takes us to many hidden places along the coast, but our next stop, Kaunos, is busier than normal.

We transfer to a shallow ferryboat that takes us up river to a 200-meter crag on top of which rests the ruins of the Kaunos acropolis, founded about 30 centuries ago. Elaborate, pillared tombs are cut into the rock below.

It’s too hot to visit the acropolis straight away so we spend the afternoon rolling around in the mud baths of nearby Dalyan (admission $2.60).

In the bar hangs a photo of a rather bemused Dustin Hoffman, who you imagine coming here to get away from it all and inevitably finding himself recognized.

But that’s part of the joy of these gulet cruises. You can visit parts of the Turkish coast you couldn’t reach any other way.

Many companies offering gulet cruises of the Turkish coast and Greek islands. Peter Sommer Travels is a British-based company with seven-night, full-board, guided cruises out of Bodrum and Gocek that combine the Turkish coastline with Greek Islands. Prices from $3,456 per person.

Exclusive Escapes, another British-based outfit, has seven-night, full-board cruises along the Turkish Mediterranean from various ports. Prices from $1,919 per person based on two sharing a cabin, or private gulet charters from $13,823 based on eight sharing.

For more information on touring Turkey, visit

SunsetSunset from a gulet -- waking up with a dive into the warm ocean after sleeping on deck is part of the experience.

Adrian Mourby is an Oxford-based novelist and broadcaster. He writes on both travel and culture for The Independent newspaper.  He began his working life as a BBC producer but for the last 20 years he has travelled the world writing about his experiences.

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