We recently found an old Sunday Times newspaper at the back of a cupboard, with an article about the first ever cruise in Turkey on the gulet Almira, led by Peter back in 1997! Here’s a shortened version of the piece by renowned travel writer & Turkey specialist Jeremy Seal, author of a number of acclaimed travel books including A Fez of the Heart: Travels Around Turkey in Search of a Hat, and Santa: A Life.
The Sunday Times
“Essential Turkey” by Jeremy Seal
15 February 1998
From the canopied deck of the Almira, we watched a small caique approach across Fethiye Bay. Perched precariously across its stern was a large freezer, which the boatman opened up with a flourish to display an impressive selection of ice creams. “Golly” somebody observed with grudging admiration, “military coups 17 years ago; now Magnums delivered direct to your boat.”
I joined the Almira at Göcek, a burgeoning marina village west of Fethiye. Gulet holidays have been a Turkish staple for years now, but the boatyards at Bozburun and Bodrum, where the Almira had just been completed, have never been busier. This handsome 80ft gulet, which gleamed through every porthole, had clearly come a long way from her working origins. Geographically halfway houses between the Thames barge and the Arabian dhow, gulets once transported southern Turkey’s renowned mandarins and lemons to Izmir. Decades ago, when the ruthless citrus pashas dumped the gulets in favour of lorries, these boats successfully reinvented themselves as fetchingly comfy small-group coastal cruisers.
Equipped? The Almira had sunbeds, snorkelling and fishing gear, windsurfers, a music system and board games. She was fitted with double cabins, lavatories and hot water showers, without a confusing stopcock in sight and even boasted air conditioning. All of which was welcome but peripheral to the essential business of guleting. Where the gulet holiday genuinely scores is by reintroducing clients to the timeless, simple pleasures of the Turkish coast. We had not come for the air con, but for the empty bays where we whiled away afternoons at anchor, the simple shacks offering freshly caught, flame-grilled barbunya (red mullet) at the water’s edge; the tumble of unexcavated Roman ruins to explore; the ritual exchanges of addresses with a passing goat herd; and, as a peerless backdrop, the mazy coastline wafting the contents of the spice cupboard and the bathroom – thyme, oregano and pine resin – from its endless coves and islets.
Our party were archaeological buffs, cutting the standard gulet experience with a higher than usual does of ancient Lycia’s ruins and turning the Almira, on her maiden voyage, into a waterborne tour bus for ruin nuts, complete with a knowledgeable and enthusiastic archaeologist guide, Peter Sommer. We spent much of the first afternoon digesting a lunch that was so good we even turned down the Magnum man, and amusing ourselves by watching one of the party wrestle manfully with an unruly windsurfer in Fethiye Bay. By the cool of early evening, we beached in a deserted cove, and Peter led us up an ancient track that cut through a tangle of pines, olive trees and oleanders to the valley-scattered ruins of Lydae on the west side of Fethiye Bay. The group fell upon fallen columns and lintels, pointing out stone-carved acanthus leaves and inscriptions among the rubble. Their enthusiasm was infectious, even bell-ringing goats joined us for a look.
The nights were warm. The meltem, the summer wind that blows from the Black Sea to the Levant during the day, tends to die down at night. Which makes it the friend of the sailor and al fresco diner alike – it if does few favours to the rookie windsurfer. We sat on the rear deck, oozing bonhomie and eating meze starters such as biber dolma (stuffed peppers) and borek (savoury pastries), salads, kebabs, and even freshly caught levrek (sea bass). Under the stars, a perfectly quaffable Turkish red wine called Villa Doluca turned to nectar.
In the days that followed, the Almira headed east. There were visits to ancient sites such as Phaselis, to the magnificent amphitheatre at Aspendos and, a favourite of many among us, the superb mountain ruins at Arycanda. There were also visits to the barber, where some were subjected to cutthroat shaves and had their ear hairs scorched away by small, flaming torches in the traditional manner. We snorkelled over the ancient ruins at Aperlae and, a few miles round the corner, went ashore at Üçagiz, a slumbering village with a few shoreside restaurants and a scattering of ancient Lycian stone sarcophagi. We even managed to get the Almira’s sails up. Most Turks would prefer a start button to a fair wind any day. Belatedly, the sailing message is getting through to the gulet industry. Impress upon your crew that you like sailing. They may fall off their seats to hear you say it, but their natural desire to please should overcome their love affair with the diesel engine.