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Weekend trip: Banyan Tree Al Wadi

If you’re a resident of the UAE and you find yourself thinking, “I could really go for even. more. sand. this weekend”, the Banyan Tree Al Wadi in Ras Al Khaimah is a pretty ideal choice. Nestled within a desert nature reserve, the pristine rolling dunes are home to both native wildlife – Arabian oryx (saw them), desert foxes (didn’t see; but did see at RAK Banyan Tree’s beach location last year), snakes (only saw tracks), gazelles (saw them) – and some pretty plush pads.

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We stayed in an Al Khaimah Tented Pool Villa. Inspired by Bedouin tents, it really makes you think: if Bedouins were living like this, why in the world would you ever want to build a city? The villa was split into two equally-sized wings, one of which was just the bathroom. Nothing else. Just the bathroom. It was like something out of MTV Cribs (does anyone even remember that show?). In short, it was decadent.

The other wing included a king-sized bed, seating area and desk (I envy whoever would use this place as an office). And lots of nice smelly things – incense, oils and candles were scattered throughout. And I lit them all. The entire villa is hooked up with a sound system with speakers in each wing able to be individually adjusted. Floor-to-ceiling glass windows surround the entire villa (and can be covered by thick drapery) so you always have a nice view, and the contemporary decor in light, sandy tones is accented by dark wood paneling and Arabesque detailing in carvings and on fabrics.

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Outside there’s a large terrace overlooking dunes and ghaf trees with a few different seating/lounging/dining options. But most importantly there’s a ginormous personal infinity pool. And given the time of year we visited (the start of autumn, so evenings are veering on chilly), the pool was pleasantly warmed. Steam rose from the water in the cool mornings.

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I also got to peek at what might be considered the “standard” room – the Al Rimal Deluxe Pool Villa. Smaller, but far from cramped, the bathroom is still generously sized, there are comfortable seating areas and the terrace with desert views still leads to a personal plunge pool. Situated in what felt a bit more like a neighborhood, it had a less secluded feel than the tented villas, but was no less indulgent, really.

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There are lots of activities on offer, like falconry demonstrations, archery and horseback riding. I took on the latter, which was pleasant 45-minute stroll through the tranquil desert on a lovely, well-trained horse. You can borrow bicycles and take a ride through the grounds, stopping off to see the resort’s falcons, eagles and owls, or head to a watering hole that attracts oryx and other wildlife.

For dining, we enjoyed a picnic in one of the resort’s desert gardens with Arabic salads, sandwiches and even cookie ice cream sandwiches. In the evening, an Arabic barbecue is set up with entertainment and lots – and lots – of meat. Breakfast is served in Al Waha with a spread of bakery goods, fresh produce and a variety of international breakfast items. And while I didn’t get to experience it, Samar Lounge (with the Moon Bar on its roof) looked like rather a chic spot for socializing.

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One of the thing that I, personally, have always related to the Banyan Tree brand are its wellness offerings. Not hugely into spas personally, the boyfriend and I did try (and I think think this particular experience is best when enjoyed with another) their signature Rainforest, which takes guests on a “Rain Walk” through a varied hydrothermal experiences from aromatic steam rooms to ice igloos and tropical showers (16 therapies all-told), finally dumping you into a vitality pool. Taking about an hour to complete, it’s definitely worth trying, even if you aren’t into most spa experiences. It’s pretty unique.

And if the desert’s not enough for you, the resort has a number of shuttles each day scheduled to take guests to and from their sister beach resort, Banyan Tree Ras Al Khaimah Beach (which I blogged about previously here).

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I didn’t really have expectations either way with Banyan Tree Al Wadi, and I left pleasantly impressed. Certainly one of the best desert experiences I’ve had in this region and the level of luxury, privacy and personalized dining options make it a worthy consideration for a special occasion (or even if you find yourself with the general whim to treat yourself for a weekend).

[ see more of my Banyan Tree Al Wadi photos ]

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Antalya & more ancient stuff

After trotting along the Lycian Way (despite the fact we didn’t fully trek it as we had intended to), I thought I deserved to indulge myself a little, so booked one of Antalya’s best boutique hotels. Located in the old town (Kaleici), I was pretty excited to check in at the Alp Pasa Hotel.

The good: The hotel, made of renovated 18th-century mansions in Ottoman-style, is truly stunning. It’s beautifully decorated, feeling historic but with all the modern comforts, and I get the impression that each room is individually styled. Mine (the Attila room, if I remember correctly – all rooms are named, not numbered) was on a top floor with a nice balcony looking over old town’s rooftops towards the Taurus Mountains. The bed was cushy, the bathroom with a Jacuzzi a total luxury (especially after 1.5 weeks of pansiyon bathrooms) I loved the draped chaise longue and the industrial-esque lighting was a great touch against the rustic wooden ceilings. The pool area and al fresco seating on the street was lovely, but the pool was very small, and the loungers filled up quickly each morning, so if you just want to sit in a pool all day, this may not be the place for you. Aesthetically, I could find no fault with Alp Pasa – it is really gorgeous.

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the seating area in my room

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drippy candles next to the pool bar

The bad: The service is appalling. Check-in was lengthy and there was some confusion with my booking details. But I could live with that. For an upscale hotel, the bar service was seriously lacking. Gin fizz, please. Nope, they didn’t know what that was, which I thought was odd considering every random bar and pansiyon we had been at so far knew what it was. But anyway. The bar menu also included sherry, port and Scotch – none of which, we discovered upon trying to order them in succession, were actually available. Other than a late-night dessert (a brownie, which I’ll admit to being quite tasty), we did not eat there outside of breakfast (the dinner was buffet style, which isn’t my cup of tea). The breakfast buffet was pretty mediocre, which I feel must have taken effort in a place like Turkey where the produce is really excellent. Again, I had much better, fresher breakfasts at all of the low-key pansiyons I stayed in. Alp Pasa’s breakfast was more westernized than what I had experienced in the previous two weeks, and it was not to their benefit: scrambled eggs were watery and the juices were the least fresh of any I had tried throughout the trip. They really should had stuck with what they (presumably) know – local cuisine.

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one of the hotel’s courtyards

As for Kaleici? I love me a good old town and Antalya’s was not bad at all. It was a great mix of old Ottoman buildings housing chic, modern lounges and traditional restaurants. Hadrian’s Gate is likely the best-known part of the old town and I think it probably deserves its repute, as it feels pretty spectacular when you walk through the triumphal arches.

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Hadrian’s Gate

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bougainvillia-lined lanes in Kaleici

The bazaar near the old marina was predictably full of junk, but looking through shops scattered throughout the rest of the town, you could definitely find some beautifully-hand-painted bowls and tiles (in one shop, the owner was painting them from a small studio). The restaurants along the marina were great for sundowners – the service was friendly, the wine delicious and there was even a nearby park filled with happy cats. And also lots of tour boats coming in from day trip, blasting loud music from gaudy faux pirate ships. Ugly, but entertaining to watch.

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a quieter moment in the marina, with many of the day tour boats out

Our main reason for spending a few days in Antalya, though, was to use it as a base to see the sights – some ancient, some natural – around it. And you can get to most of these through bus tours, but we rented a car to take ourselves around – the roads are pretty straightforward and the sites aren’t too difficult to find, so I would certainly recommend this over a bus.

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Aspendos

The impressively well-kept theater of Aspendos – with more ruins around the theater from the ancient city – is about an hour away. Old Roman theaters are always fun to explore, but this one especially given how well it had survived over the centuries. It’s in such great shape, in fact, that it plays host to an annual opera and ballet festival (Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival). I always thought it would be super neat to see an opera performed in an ancient theater, so we made a return trip to watch a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata on the following evening. The seats were a bit hard and it was a bit chilly out, but all in all, an experience that I am so pleased to have had.

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opera in the theater

Not far from Aspendos, you can stop by the Manavgat waterfalls. Or not. I didn’t find them all that impressive and the area was all built up with stalls hawking stuff to tourists. There are better waterfalls near the ruins of Termessos called the Duden waterfalls. It’s also fairly built up for tourists, but here, the waterfalls are far more beautiful – and there’s even a cave behind the waterfalls you can walk through to get a different perspective.

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Duden waterfalls

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the main street in Perge

Closer to Antalya (and on the way back from Apendos if you’re driving) is Perge, which is still being excavated. There is yet another pretty fab amphitheater although you cannot explore it (it’s fenced off as it’s being excavated) and – of course – bathhouses, some of which you can still see the tiles and mosaics in place, and lengthy but beautiful colonnaded street. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in its prime, with water flowing from fountains down the middle and statues and vendors lining the sides of the street.

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carvings laying around Perge

(To see Perge’s statues and ornate tombs, check out the Antalya Archaeological Museum – a short walk from Kaleici – which has a great many of them on display. Added bonus: the museum’s courtyard is inhabited by those Foghorn Leghorn fluffy-legged chickens that are so cute.)

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a Lycian tomb high atop Termessos

For me, the most impressive site (although also one in the most ruin) would be Termessos, on Gulluck Mountain in the Taurus range. Alexander the Great found it to be impenetrable and thankfully its steep hills and strenuous walks keep buses of modern tourists out, too. Set aside a good few hours to take the city in – and bring water and quality hiking sandals or boots. There’s a lot of uphill walking. But it’s all worth it. The mountains are beautiful and green and without the hoards of tourists from buses, it’s peaceful and you often feel that you have the whole city to yourself. There are scores of beautifully-carved tombs, but my favorite part was the theater. It’s quite ruined, but the setting is nothing short of spectacular, perched on the side of the mountain with endless views of nearby peaks and valleys. It’s hard to do it justice with words and one of those things you just have to see.

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the theater in Termessos

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more Lycian tombs carved into the mountainside at Termessos

[see more pics from around Antalya here]

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The Lycian Way, Turkey

First, let me drop some do & don’t nuggets of wisdom on you about this trek:

Don’t fool yourself into thinking you can get away with wearing hiking sandals. I tried; you can’t. I loathe hiking boots, but you need very sturdy ones that offer fantastic ankle support. I learnt this within about one hour.

Do prepare to be amazed at the amount of ancient ruins you’ll stumble across (sometimes literally) while walking. It’s truly astonishing.

Don’t even bother to attempt this trek in September, no matter what you read. We tried the first two weeks of September and it. was. grueling. More on that to come. Were I to go again (and I may well do) I will go in or close to April.

Do get in and out of Tekirova as quickly as you can. It’s just awful, I’m sorry.

Don’t expect a gentle stroll through pastoral fields with plentiful shade. Unless your idea of pastoral fields are narrow rock-strewn walking paths between and over boulders, lined with sharp plants, more sharp rocks and minimal shade. Then yes, there are loads of pastoral fields.

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Kas’ seaside cafes and lounging decks

It’s worth bearing in mind that I only attempted the Kas-Phaselis portion of the trek, which is most of the eastern half of it. There’s another 250km or more west of Kas that I can’t comment on as a 500km trek was more than we could bite off by far in a two week time period (although one set of trekkers told me it was also very rocky and strenuous).

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ancient temple ruins in the middle of Kas, taken over by archaeologist cats

KAS-UFAKDIR
Arriving in Kas at the literal crack of dawn, we spent the first day picking up camping supplies and exploring the seaside town’s little street of coffee shops, restaurants (try excellent Ikbal for great manti, and apparently a great slow-cooked leg of lamb – which, sadly, was sold out by the time I arrived for dinner) and thinking, “hm… it certainly is a bit hotter than we were expecting”. Despite it’s Mediterranean location, don’t arrive here expecting sprawling beaches though; hotels have stone beach terraces lining the cliffside with loungers and a platform to enter the water from. There was one small beach, and when I say small, I mean it – it was about 15 feet long. The sunset is predictably great, and my favorite spot to watch it from with a sundowner was a small rooftop cafe (not far from Ikbal) with a name I’ve forgotten, but whose signage features Le Chat Noir, which is easy enough to find.

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where we entered the path, which was misleadingly gentle and clear

We set out for the first leg of the walk early the next morning, hoping to get about 14km in that day, ending atop a mountain near a village called Bogazcik. We had no idea how high our hopes were.

Within about an hour so, I realized sandals were not an option. I wasn’t pleased to have to put on my hiking boots, but as they were large and heavy, it was a relief to remove them from my rucksack. In that space of time, we also realized, “damn, it is really, really hot”. Moving on anyway. With the heavy sacks the heat got consistently worse. We made very poor time, scrambling over bounders and very narrow, rocky paths lined with thorny things, up and down hills, with the sun blazing down on you almost all of the time – the Med’s low scrubs don’t offer much in the way of shade – and it wasn’t long before the realization set in that there was no way we were going to make it as far as we had intended that day. After struggling to arrive at a small beach with a guest house and camp site in Ufakdir, a mere 7km from Kas, seven hours after we had set out, it was clear the trek wasn’t going to go as planned. Not in this heat with those heavy rucksacks.

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Lycian tombs on the trekking path carved into the cliff just outside of Kas – the rope was necessary to cling to due to the extremely narrow path along sheer cliffside

On the bright side, Ufakdir was lovely (as was the walk’s scenery – particularly clinging to a cliffside with a rope only to find an incredible Lycian tomb carved right into the the cliff wall around the corner from the path). The brothers running the guesthouse and restaurant were fantastic company and cooked up an incredibly fresh fish dinner. The bay was cool and hugely refreshing on the feet after the walking and we even glimpsed some sea turtles lolling about in the water. If you have the chance to get there – it’s accessible from a small dirt road and boats were arriving with people on day trips – I’d recommend it.

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the campsite at Ufakdir

UFAKDIR-SOME BEACH AT FOOT OF MOUNTAIN-KAS
We decided to spend the night in our tent instead of a room in the guesthouse. It was miserable. The heat was unbearable, as the waterproof tent didn’t have great ventilation, we were bombarded by mosquitoes when we tried to open a vent to get a breeze in, and woke up in a layer of sweat and bug bites. By this time, we had admitted that it was entirely likely that we weren’t going to be able to continue on the trek in our intended format. But we were giving it one more try anyway.

where we ended the trek, at some beach at the foot of some mountain

where we ended the trek, at some beach at the foot of some mountain

It didn’t last long. We left very early in the morning, but it wasn’t long before the sun reached the top of the dirt road we were walking up, blazing down on us is all its intensity directly in front of our faces. Knowing this would likely be the easiest part of the day’s walk (midday heat was still long off, we were on a dirt road instead of a boulder- and thorn-strewn path) I sort of lost it briefly. Pulling myself together, we continued on, shortly making it to the proper path, which was, as predicted, covered in boulders in and thorny bushes. And no shade. After struggling for a bit we decided we just couldn’t go on, and a couple hours later made it to a very relaxing beach – near the base of the mountain we had hoped to make it up the day before – where we had the chance to cool down before having a taxi collect us and bring us back to Kas (the beach had a surprise and very welcome new dirt road that we weren’t expecting but quickly made use of). We briefly considered relaxing there for the rest of the day and camping overnight on the beach, but after the previous night’s rather unpleasant tent experience, it was probably best to not.

UCAGIZ/KEKOVA

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steps to a carpet shop in Ucagiz

After spending an air conditioned night in Kas, we decided to change the format of the trek and base ourselves out of various towns along the route, taking on day treks along the Lycian Way where we could leave our heavy bags behind in pansiyons. Hopping into a taxi, we made our way to the much smaller seaside village of Ucagiz, where we should have arrived at the end of our second day of walking. But clearly didn’t. This ended up being one of our favorite stops of the trip thanks to its tranquillity, friendly residents and the plethora of activities which were available from the town. There are also some great shops filled with beautiful Turkish carpets (both modern and antique), where we picked up a great woven and embroidered kilim rug in warm tones for the living room.

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Kalekoy/Simena, with the castle ruins on the upper right

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view from Kalekoy’s castle, with little Ucagiz in the background

On the first day, a boat was arranged to take us a short way away to the neighboring town of Simena/Kalekoy, where we could grab some lunch, explore some castle ruins (“Kalekoy” means “castle’s village” in Turkish) and then stroll back onto the Lycian Way for a short walk back to Ucagiz. Simena was very picturesque with its pansiyons and restaurants clinging to the hillside, which was topped by a fantastic little castle, and some sunken tombs just offshore which you could swim around (and I did). I didn’t think people were as friendly there as Ucagiz and it attracts a lot of tour boats dropping visitors off for lunch during their Kekova day trips, but it’s definitely worth checking out, if even briefly. The walk back to Ucagiz was only a few kilometers, but without our full rucksacks, we made it in just about an hour – much better than the kilometer-per-hour time we were making the previous two days.

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Kekova’s sunken city

This area is best known for Kekova, an island just offshore from Ucagiz and Simena whose city sunk into the Mediterranean in the 2nd century AD after a series of earthquakes – you can still see the sunken ruins in the clear water from any number of boat trips that can be booked from the nearby towns. It’s easy to spend a day doing this, pulling into little bays with coral, fish and ruins and diving off the back of your gulet (a traditional Turkish boat) to explore it all.

sunrise at Ucagiz, heading towards Aperlae

sunrise over Ucagiz’s marina, on the start towards Aperlae

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tomb and building ruins at Aperlae

Ready to spend a day on the trail again, we revisited the Lycian Way to hike to the ruins of Aperlae and back again, about 15km all told. Carrying only a small rucksack filled with water, lunch and a few other necessities, the walking was significantly easier even though the route was just about as strenuous as it had been when we first set out. One of my favorite walks of the trip, the trail followed the coastline before heading inland and up a hill to large pastures with shaggy goats and cows, before making its way back down to the coast where another brief walk along the shore soon brought us to Aperlae’s ruins. This site of yet another ancient coastal city that partially sunk into the sea after earthquakes is remarkable in that it’s not yet been excavated (and there’s no plan to, because it’s only accessible by foot or boat, and Turkey has too many other sites to focus on) but structures are still fairly clear to identify. Bits of pottery are scattered all over the terraced hillside, when taking a dip in the water you step over a sunken harbour and warehouse that held shellfish which were used to create dyes, which were exported, and directly on the waterline you’ll walk through old bathhouses (if you’re following the Lycian Way path, it goes right through the building, which is incredible). So, as one does, we set up for the afternoon right in this ancient bathhouse to picnic, rest and dip into the water from.

the Lycian Way path goes directly through Aperlae's bathhouse ruins

the Lycian Way path goes directly through Aperlae’s bathhouse ruins

On our final day in Ucagiz, we made our way to the small city of Demre to check out the old harbor of Andriake (but failed, as it seemed to us, after much walking around, simply inaccessible); the fairly impressive hillside tombs and remarkably in-tact amphitheater of Myra, which lies on the Lycian Way route; and the Byzantine Saint Nicholas Church (yes, the real Santa Claus was the bishop of Myra and probably never saw reindeer or Arctic winter weather), which was packed with tourists purchasing icons and slapping them again the protective wall between themselves and St Nic’s tomb, I suppose to bless them? I don’t know. I did find it fairly fascinating, though (I had no idea people took St Nicholas so seriously) and the church itself was beautiful.

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tombs of Myra, carved into the hillside

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frescoes in the Church of Saint Nicholas

CIRALI/OLYMPOS
If we were walking, it would have taken us three days of mountain trekking, without coming across any other villages or towns, before we would have made it to Cirali. But we weren’t walking anymore, so it was only about two hours on a small bus. I really liked Cirali – it was tranquil, a bit rustic and had a touch of the feel of beach towns in Asia with a number of no fuss guesthouses and open-air bars and restaurants on the beach.

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beach at Cirali and a bit of Mount Olympos

From here, it was an easy walk (well, actually, not so easy for me, as I had just eaten a massive Turkish pita with about five pounds of cheese and sausage on it) to the flaming site of Mount Chimaera (Yanartas). On a hillside just above the beach town is, according to legend, the spot where Bellerophon and Pegasus slew the fire-breathing Chimaera and buried it in the ground. Once buried, the beast’s body continued to emanate flames, which now eternally burn above ground. It’s pretty remarkable, to be fair, but the flames are due less to a mythical beast than they are to hydrogen and methane gas emissions.

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s’more-makers at Chimaera/Yanartas

The main event for our Cirali stay was to head back onto the Lycian Way and hike across Mount Olympos, and into yet another cache of ruins. Arranging a car at dawn, we got dropped off at the far side of the mountain and set off walking the 15km back over it to Cirali. Not at all as tough as I was worried the mountain hike would be, it was a pleasant respite from all of the other walking we had done in the region so far: the path was free of boulders and thorny things, there were plenty of tall, leafy trees providing shade and it was all nice and verdant. We were hoping to have lunch at the summit, but we reached it much more quickly than anticipated and actually made it all the way back down again before lunch time.

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natural tunnel before heading uphill on the path

At the base of the mountain on the Cirali side you’ll find the fairly expansive ruins of Olympos running along the beach and up the base of the mountain a bit. There’s a nice little amphitheatre, a promenade and, of course tombs – the Lycian Way is absolutely littered with tombs. You can continue on the Lycian Way and through more ruins to get the rest of the way back to Cirali, or walk along the beach, where you’ll still see even more ruins, and possibly some sea turtle nests (so tread carefully).

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on of Olympos’ roads, running parallel along an inlet towards the sea

TEKIROVA
Our next stop was Tekirova. The walk from Cirali to Tekirova was possible, but we would have had to both carry our full rucksacks, something I still wasn’t keen to do, especially seeing that this section of the walk had a bunch of up and down and was back to scrub landscape. So, I went with most of our supplies on a taxi to Tekirova, while the boyfriend trekked the 18km or whatever is was from point A to B.

On the one hand, I’m glad I didn’t do the walk. It apparently veered off course much further than our GPS and maps had said it would, and on top of that it downpoured off and on throughout the morning and afternoon.

On the other hand, Tekirova was a dump that I loathed pretty much the moment I got dropped off in it and I wanted to be anywhere but there. It’s basically a Russian resort town (everything was in Russian, and a shop owner told me that Turks kept a wide berth from the place) and filled with fur boutiques, knock-off designer clothes and a line of 3-4 star all-inclusive resorts pumping out crap dance music that you could hear from a mile away (barely an exaggeration).

I have no photos from Tekirova because I want it purged from my memory.

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in the morning, the shores of Phaselis are peaceful

From here, the Lycian Way continues on for a handful of kilometers to the ancient city Phaselis. It’s a pretty easy walk, although before you get fully out of Tekirova you’re subject to walking through mudfields filled with trash apparently dumped there by the resorts, so that’s nice. Shortly before making it to Phaselis, you’ll walk through a farm/retreat called Sundance Camp and I would highly recommend staying there rather than Tekirova, if you need to stay in the area and can. I didn’t have the chance to stay there, but it looked nice and peaceful.

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Roman aqueduct in Phaselis

Phaselis is yet another city of ruins – great aqueduct, amphitheater, impressive ancient main road leading through the city. I mean, I just don’t know what to say any more about all of these sites. They’re all amazing and well-worth seeing, but to write about (without going into a 10,000 word epic) they’re all a bit same-y. I would recommend visiting Phaselis as early in the day as possible. We arrived there around midmorning from our walk, and thought it was a really tranquil respite from Tekirova. By the time we left, the dozen or so party boats (some with huge, gaudy skulls on them in an attempt to make them look like tacky pirate ships) that had loudly moored in the bay to drop of tourists on day-trips from Tekirova, Antalya and Kemer had broken the peace with more no-so-great dance and pop music playing far too loudly.

by late morning, a steady stream of day-trip party boats pollute Phaselis' bay with blasting garbage music

by late morning, a steady stream of day-trip party boats pollute Phaselis’ bay with blasting garbage music

Phaseslis was where we had always intended to end the trek (it does continue a bit further inland towards Antalya, however, before it officially ends), figuring it would take us about nine days to walk it all. Though we didn’t properly trek it as intended, all this still took us about nine days.

And next? Off to explore Antalya for a few days.

[ see more pics from the Lycian Way trekking route here ]

[ see more pics from towns and ancient sites around Lycia here ]

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An utterly lazy weekend at Six Senses Zighy Bay

I recently had the pleasure of (finally) staying at Six Senses Zighy Bay. And by pleasure I mean my six-year anniversary with the boyfriend was approaching and I said, “what shall we do?” and he said, “don’t worry, I’ll think of something” and I replied, “sure, sounds good”. Then probably less than 30 minutes later, I said, “Nevermind, I’ll sort it” because internally I had already made the decision to stay at Zighy Bay days before.

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The resort preps for your pampering before you even arrive, asking you to fill out a guest profile, which lets them know all kinds of details, including what sort of pillows you would like (even bath pillows), how you’d like your pillow to smell (I chose chamomile), how you’d like your villa to smell (frankincense, please) and if you’re celebrating a special occasion during your stay. Once you arrive, you’re assigned a “GEM” (guest experience manager), who is there to help you with any whim that may come to mind.

The drive from Dubai is pretty easy, taking around two hours, and the entrance to the resort is only about 20 minutes from the Dibba border crossing (which UAE residents can only cross if they have a hotel booking; nationals and those on tourist visas can cross freely). Don’t wash your car before you go – the last bit of the drive is on a dusty track and your car will become filthy pretty fast. From the entry at the base of the mountain, you can decide to either leave your car in the (very cramped) parking lot or drive over the mountain to the beach on the other side yourself. For the latter you will require a SUV that’s fairly high off the ground. We almost drove ourselves but decided why not accept a hotel SUV? The drive up and over the mountain is really steep with a lot of hairpin turns and we were glad we decided against driving after getting on the road. Alternatively, you can arrive by paragliding from the mountaintop, or on a speedboat from a nearby port.

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The resort’s main pool (there is also a saltwater pool, which was being renovated during my visit). The bar is on the right, and the summer house restaurant is on the left.

Six Senses is known for its sustainable luxury resorts that compliment and blend into the local environment and community. The natural materials used to create the grounds and accommodation are locally sourced and result in a destination that is the very definition of “rustic luxe”. In Zighy Bay’s case, the all-villa resort resembles a traditional Omani village, each villa made of stone and wood, with private sand gardens shaded by date palms. 

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a sheltered majlis area in the villa’s garden

Even the “standard” accommodation is far from modest. A spacious villa is roughly separated into three spaces: a living room, bedroom and bathroom. A sound system is wired throughout and there’s even an outdoor shower in addition to your indoor one. The just-the-right-amount-of-plush bed was quite possibly the most comfortable one that I’ve ever slept in. But it’s the outdoor area that really impresses: a spacious terrace with plush sun loungers and a dining table leads to your private infinity plunge pool. Ours was L-shaped, with the shorter side being more shallow with a sloped end, perfect for lounging. The pool itself was nicely chilled, a plus considering it was around 105-degrees the weekend we were there. That being said, it was much less humid than Dubai, and the evening was surprisingly comfortable – we ate outside. Beyond the pool there’s a cushy seating area with a ceiling fan as well as an enclosed sort of outdoor majlis that was very cosy. All this is surrounded by tall walls made of wood and cobblestone for total privacy (if you’ve got a beachfront villa, one length of wooden walls opens up directly to the sea). Whimsical little touches were found around the villas, like a sliding “do not disturb” sign, a message jug at the front gate, ceramic pots with spoons to wash your feet at the front door and pool, and a doorbell (literally a bell) on a drawstring that ran from the front gate to inside the villa.

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villa interior

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outdoor shower

For the most part (okay, the entire part) the weekend was spent faffing about in the pool and lounging with a book. The Six Senses spas are some of the best, but I decided against any spa treatments this time around (I will be back, though, and will look forward to checking out the spa then). As it was Ramadan, the signature restaurant located atop the mountain, Sense On The Edge, was closed, which would have been nice to try – but then again I wasn’t hugely interested in getting out of my bathing suit and into real clothes (the bar area by the main pool was also closed due to the holy month). The in-villa dining was fantastic: an Arabic mixed grill of perfectly-cooked meats was a standout dish. Breakfast in Spice Market was pretty impressive, too. A selection of fresh, organic fruits, yogurts, juices and Arabic mezze was available along with an à la carte menu of breakfast items, like sautéed mushrooms and eggs on muffins. It was almost certainly the best hotel breakfast I’ve ever had.

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the “do not disturb” sign

As we dined, the villa received its evening turndown service, which included (I think because I had mentioned we were celebrating our anniversary on the guest profile?) lighting candles around the pool. It’s a really lovely way to spend an evening.

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Given the name of the resort, yes, there is a beach as well. It’s a nice little stretch of soft (albeit crab-inhabited) sand with the rocky peninsula’s walls on either end. To be honest, we didn’t really bother with the beach much. Between the fact we had a private pool and it was 100+ degrees (so that ruled out sea activities like kayaking, which we would have loved to do) we simply took an evening stroll down the stretch to see what it was like.

In the end, it was both one of the least active, but most enjoyable resort getaways I’ve ever done. I went in with high expectations that were completely exceeded. If I had to complain about anything it’s that they have photos of goats on their website, but I didn’t see any on the property except in the parking areas, and that was kind of disappointing. I was also hoping to see some cute cats, as I think I recall seeing, maybe on their social media feeds, that they try to find homes for the local strays (although, I guess it’s nice if the local strays have been homed)? All I saw were (lots) of crabs. Six Senses Zighy Bay is a total treat and one that pulls off incredible luxury in a sophisticated and surprisingly understated manner. The ostentatious luxury seen around much of the rest of the GCC could certainly take a tip or two from Six Senses, but I suppose the brand’s careful taste is what also makes it stand out as so excellent.

It’s going to be a stark contrast to the tent I’ll be setting up in during my trek in Turkey in a month’s time.

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the beach at Zighy Bay dotted with little hills of sand built by the burrowing crabs

On a completely unrelated note, the boyfriend is currently playing Assassin’s Creed IV: Black Flag and the coat the main character wears is incredible. If any costumer feels like taking up the task of making that coat for me, that would be amazing, thanks. I promise, I would wear the shit out of that coat. Even in 115-degree heat.

For the full photo album, click here.

A rare update

I find myself with as little time to update as usual, but thought since I don’t really have the opportunity to share any travel excursions here any more, I may as well share some of the material I’ve had published. Most recently, I found myself back in Greece – Athens and Mykonos. After last year, I was determined to return to Mykonos again this summer for a bit of carousing, and imagine my delight when the opportunity presented itself through work. So, perhaps less on the carousing end of things, but still a very welcome return. And if you find yourself in Athens and want to treat yourself, there’s no better way than booking a room in the Hotel Grande Bretagne – while a bit too traditional for my personal taste, that didn’t make it any less impeccable in terms of service, decor and atmosphere. For incredible modern Greek food set within a restaurant that is one of the most visually interesting that I’ve ever encountered, book a table at Aleria and eat everything you can.

short break mykonos JUL14

Prior to that I took a detox and spa break in Kuwait, at the Jumeirah Messilah, where I learned that maybe a five-hour marathon of spa treatments is not really for me (but I also can’t really complain, can I, as I’m being exfoliated with diamond dust from head to toe).

short break kuwait MAY14

CNT ME – and more of my babbling – is also available in Apple’s App Store (search for “conde nast traveller middle east”) as a monthly digital download. And I think it’s free right now. It’s a rare moment when anyone can do something to make me happy that doesn’t involve spending obscene – or any, in this case – amounts of money. You’re welcome.

It’s full-on summer here in Dubai (110 degrees, humid and Ramadan, t’boot) but I’m soon off to finally give Six Senses Zighy Bay a go in Oman’s Musandam Peninsula. I’ve been eyeing it up for many a year and look forward to finally making it there.

A trip to Turkey’s southern coast is also under consideration for a late summer getaway. Much like Zighy Bay, the Lycian Way trek has been on my mind for some time, although I won’t be taking on the full month-long, 500+ kilometre journey. I imagine after two days of shoving as many Iskander kebaps down my throat as humanly possible, I’ll no longer have to walk, though, and can simply let the boyfriend roll me. Maybe prod me along with a blunt stick or something. I would also love to try to fit in a visit to the Pamukkale hot springs. Before I get fat on Turkish kebaps, obviously.