A castle with a king who tried to save his daughter from an early death, Kizkalesi is a true gem of the Meditteranean.
You know there are those places that you go back to over and over again? Like the Alsace region of France, the Grand Canyon, or the Oktoberfest in Munich? 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!
Kizkalesi – A Secret Mediterranean Paradise!
How To Get To Kizkalesi
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.
If you 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.
The Two Castles of Kizkalesi
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 Korikos, 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.
Maiden Castle of Kizkalesi
The second castle, called Maiden Castle, is perched about 200 meters from shore on a very small island. Legend has it that the king built it to protect his daughter after a fortune teller foretold her doom. He had been told she would die from snakebite.
After keeping her secluded for some time to protect her, he may have extended her life. But as luck would have it, a castle visitor 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.
Swimming To The Castle
Remember that this amazing castle is a mere 200 meters from shore, so many people swim to the castle and back. Jim and I had to do it. What a bucket list item, right?
Let me tell you, though, 200 meters in waves is a pretty 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. The rocks around the castle are very jagged and shoes are a must.
We also circumnavigated the entire castle wall which meant straddling, jumping, and doing all kinds of maneuvers to get around the craggy shore. We loved exploring the small island, seeing the old olive press, climbing up and down, all in our bathing suits.
After about an hour or so, we had to turn around and swim to shore. By the time we got back to our beach, 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.
Pro Tip: Swimming is super easy in this part of the Mediterranean, however if you plan to swim to the castle, you will want to wear water shoes, because the rocks can be quite hard on bare feet. It’s also easier for exploring inside the castle walls as well.
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, checking out the best family resorts, 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 And 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. Wash it all down with an Efes beer or even some raki.
Where To Stay
We like to stay right on the beach and there are a few options in Kizkalesi, and there are a few to choose from. There are plenty of restaurants and things to do right by the beach, so you can’t really go wrong.
Other Things To Do Near Kizkalesi
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 Uzuncaburç, about 27 km north of Silifke. You will need your own car or to hire a taxi to visit. 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 of the wonderful things about this site is that Uzuncaburç’s residents have lived there for generations, and they are all so welcoming. 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).
Olba Roman Acqueduct
Continuing down the road you eventually reach an old aqueduct. On the road 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.
Many people like to go on a beach holiday on the Mediterranean, but almost no one knows about Kizkalesi. With two castles, one which you can swim to, and gorgeous food and beaches, it’s a true hidden gem.
Author Bio: Corinne Vail is a travel photographer, food lover, and a perpetual traveler who has been travel writing for over 14 years. For many years she lived overseas in Germany, Japan, Turkey, South Korea, and the Netherlands teaching the children of the US. military. She’s visited over 90 countries, and she’s not stopping anytime soon.