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Kizkalesi – A Mediterranean Paradise!
One of our favorite places in Turkey is a small Mediterranean town called Kizkalesi. We have been several times, in summer and fall, and we’re always amazed with the weather. In the summer it isn’t too hot and in the fall it isn’t too cool. The water temperature always feels perfect!
The town is situated about 140km from the airport in Adana, and Ankara is about a six hour drive. Luckily they have improved much of the road so traveling is a bit easier than in many other parts of Anatolia.
In Kizkalesi there are not one, but two castles. On the coast is the Korikos castle, built by the King of Cyprus about 197 BC. It is extremely easy to stroll down there from the main part of the town. From the outside, it is pretty impressive, but once inside, there isn’t much left except the walls. As in many structures that have survived this long, the castle has been attacked and rebuilt a number of times, and there is definitely evidence of the Ottomans rebuilding part of it, with columns and other unrelated pieces ending up someplace much different than where they were intended.
The other castle is perched about 200 meters from shore on a very small island. It’s called the maiden castle because legend has it that one of the king’s built it to protect his daughter after a fortune teller foretold her doom. He had been told she would die from snakebite. Well, he succeeded in protecting her for some time, but as luck would have it, someone was bringing her a basket of fruit and in it was the tragic snake! His daughter died after the snake bit her and the king was lonely from then on. It may be a sad story, but it’s a great place to spend the afternoon.
The castle is purportedly only 200 meters from shore. All I know is that 200 meters, in waves, is a long way to swim. We swam, or rather floated and doggie paddled, out to the island with water shoes on so that we could traipse around the castle to see the mosaics and the ancient olive press. We also circumnavigated the entire castle wall which meant straddling, jumping, and doing all kinds of maneuvers to get around the craggy shore. Too much fun! By the time we got back to our beach, though, I was completely wiped out. We spent the rest of the afternoon relaxing in and out of the shade and lunched outside in a breezy beach side cafe.
You could easily spend a few days here just enjoying the beach and the two castles, going out for dinner in one of the beachfront restaurants, dancing in the clubs at night (in the summer only), swimming in the ocean, or just soaking up some much needed vitamin D. However, Kizkalesi is also a good base for exploring the surrounding countryside. There are Roman ruins all over this coastline and you can’t go too far without tripping over an ancient church, temple, aqueduct, tomb, or mosaic. There are chartered boat trips to take, caves to explore, and museums to enlighten you. There’s just so much to do along this part of the Mediterranean coast; you’ll never get bored!
Practical Information for Kizkalesi:
Where to stay – We like to stay right on the beach and there are a few options in Kizkalesi. We always try to stay at Baytan Otel. It’s a comfortable and clean two star hotel with air conditioning and a good breakfast. It has a decent restaurant, too, that also sells beer. The beach just in front of the hotel has umbrellas and beach chairs.
Address: 33940 Silifke/Mersin Province, Turkey
Phone:+90 324 523 2004 You have to call for reservations, don’t worry English is spoken.
Where/What to eat – Fresh seafood right on the water! Walk down the beach towards the point, go around the corner and you’ll find two or three small restaurants with tables right over the water. The sunsets are beautiful from here and the food is fresh and tasty at each of them. Try the shrimp guvec, a grilled sea bass (levrek), or some tasty kalamari.
Getting there – Fly into Adana airport, rent a car and self drive. Rental cars are cheap and driving is safe. It’s about a two hour drive to Kizkalesi along a toll highway. Ask the rental car company for current toll info. You can also take a bus to Kizkalesi. Take a taxi to the Adana Otogar (bus station) and inquire for buses to Silifke. They leave very regularly and can drop you off in Kizkalesi.
A Day Trip from Kizkalesi to Uzuncaburç and Olba
While exploring the coastal areas of the Mediterranean you can’t help but to trip over ancient ruins from all sorts of civilizations that came through Turkey at one time or another. One such site is Uzunburç, about 27km north of Silifke. It was built as a Hellinistic worship site, but later the Romans came along and built a fantastic little theater and a huge Temple to Zeus. It is amazing to wander down to the center of these amphitheaters and test the acoustics. No microphones were needed. All you have to do is talk in a natural voice and you could hear every word, every inflection from any seat in the house.
We’ve been there a few times and it’s always such a laid back tourist site. All the people get to know you after only one or two visits. The village ladies all come running with their hand-embroidered scarves and knitting when they see a car pulling in. You can also find whatever produce is in season, and spices too. One man had a bucketful of grapes that were ripe and sweet along with some dried green berries that you are supposed to eat with some fruit (like dried grapes) that would supposedly help you stave off a cold. I believe it too. How convenient that you harvest the berries in the fall, when the weather is just starting to change and everyone comes down with colds. We tasted them, and they weren’t too bitter, but I couldn’t see myself chomping on them for a snack, so we passed.
One of the wonderful things about this site is that there is a village that surrounds it, and the people have lived there for centuries. We had just entered Zeus’ temple, which is very impressive with its granite columns, and in wanders an old lady (she had to be about 80 years old) and her herd of goats. We watched as they scrambled among and over the ruins, playing and butting each other as again as they’ve done for centuries.
Further down the path, we were looking at one of the old buildings and right there was some apple trees that had recently been picked with wooden crates full to the brim, and a lady hanging her washing down the hill. After that we stopped at one of the city gates, and leaning against the wall were some buckets of grapes waiting to be processed in a more modern grape press (although not much different at all from the style of the ancient olive press we saw at Kizkalesi the day before).
This trip to Uzunburç, just like the first time, was a wonderful mix of history, culture and just being outside to enjoy the weather. As we continued down the road to the old aqueduct, we passed through rich fields of tomatoes, gourds, pumpkins, and other fall veggies. We saw donkeys, children, and old men out enjoying the end of the day. It’s a beautiful and peaceful four kilometers, and even before you get to the aqueduct there are scatterings of ruins and sarcophagi so you know you are on the right track.
The aqueduct itself lies in a narrow valley with a small creek or river that runs through it. The valley walls are littered on both sides with carved out tombs, rooms, and sarcophagi. Some are more ornate than others but all have been either pillaged or salvaged and have been shipped off to museums. Here we are in a whole valley of tombs, and I photograph a horse’s skeleton. Pretty cool stuff!
As we drove north out of Silifke, we stopped at every tomb on the way. It took us much longer than we expected, and before we knew it, it was time for lunch. Last time we didn’t eat and we were forced (through hunger and desperation) to buy some gozleme from the local ladies out in the middle of nowhere–not the best in Turkey. So, I really wanted to find something. Jim was driving at a respectable speed through the winding mountain roads as we saw a banner for a restaurant, “Uzuncaburç. Perfect. We’re expecting it to be in one of the tiny villages, on a cement platform, so we were pleasantly surprised to find it was in the middle of a gorgeous pine forest, where they also had a campground.
The restaurant was in a beautiful round wooden building with a porch all around it. It had a mangal (grill) on one side and the kitchen was around back. There were plenty of tables inside, but it was such perfect “harvest” summer weather, that we ate outside. Not long after we sat down, the wife came out and gave me a hug and kiss, then proceeded to kiss everyone around the table. It seemed like she knew me. I didn’t think that I knew her. We’d just stopped because of their advertising. Of course, we pulled up and the place looked rather deserted. Out came a man, though, and I asked if the restaurant was open; it was. There was no menu so we asked what was available. The menu was quite extensive. We ordered esme, haydari (the best yogurt spread I”ve had anywhere), Sac Kavurma (lamb stew), tavuk sis (chicken shish), and some gozleme.
Right away a man comes out with the chicken and proceeds to chop it up and pound it flat on a tree trunk right by the grill. Then the woman who kissed us came out with a gas pan set up to make the gozleme. Next, she brought out the dough and then shaped it into small balls. The balls were then rolled out with a yufka rolling pin (a long thin wooden cylinder) and filled with cheese. At this point she put one on the pan (it looks like an inverted wok almost), folded it in half, let it cook a few minutes, and turned it over to do the same on the other side. Apparently, an order of gozleme is about four pieces because she kept on making them. I’m not a big gozleme fan, but almost everyone thought these ones were better than most. The rest of our food came out and it was a feast!
Every inch of the table was covered and the sac kavurma, as always, looked splendid in the pan it was cooked in, and tasted even better. It had tiny slices of green pepper cooked in with it that gave it just the right taste. The chicken was also delectable. We’ve got to figure out what the grilling spices are that they put on it.
Another man arrived and came right up to me. In Turkish he asked me if I had been to Uzuncaburc before. I said I had and he said he remembered me. Then I realized I’d remembered him as well. Last year I had met he and his wife, and she was sick. So, now I understood why she was so happy to see me. I took quite a few pics of her making the gozleme, the butcher (his brother), and their daughter. I asked them if they had an email so I could send them copies, but instead he said, no problem he could wait until next year when I came again…Inshallallah! That, that right there, is why I love it here. Yes, I will go back next year, if for no other reason than just to visit them and take them their photos and have lunch at their fabulous restaurant. I suggest that if you happen to be visiting Uzuncaburc, look for the sign and eat there; it was wonderful!
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