People have lived in this town on a natural harbour in the Turkish Riviera for as long as 5,000 years.
Fethiye was once Telmessos, part of ancient Lycia, a confederation of independent city-states.
The Lycians were known for their unique burial habits, and have left behind 2,500-year-old sarcophagi in the streets of Fethiye, and marvellous rock tombs in the cliffs outside the town.
Fethiye is a holiday resort today, and a convenient entry point for the remote ruins of other Lycian cities, the 18-kilometre Saklıkent Canyon and the extraordinary beach and lagoon at Ölüdeniz,. But there’s much to love about the resort itself, from its authentic weekly market to its first-rate museum and the cool, shaded alleys of its old town.
1. Ölüdeniz Beach
Around the headland, a mere ten kilometres south of Fethiye’s old town is a scene of rare beauty.
The Blue Flag Ölüdeniz Beach is a crescent of white pebbles, with clear waters a mesmerising shade of turquoise that glows in the sunlight.
Lots of things combine to make this place so special.
One of these is the sky-scraping mountainscape on its margins: The peak of Babadağ, a mountain just shy of 2,000 metres, rises only five kilometres in from the coast and faces off against the 1,400-metre Karatepe.
Behind the north end of the beach is a lagoon, a darker shade of blue but just as clear, and protected as a nature reserve.
There are beach clubs on the lagoon’s shores, with sun loungers where you can just slip into the warm, shallow water or rent a pedal boat for a little voyage.
2. Tomb of Amyntas
You can see captivating traces of ancient Telmessos in the high limestone cliffs that form Fethiye’s southern boundary.
There you can follow a steep footpath up along the base of the bluffs to get a better look at the Lycian tombs.
These were fashioned from the rock face and can be remarkably grand, with friezes, pediments and Ionic columns.
The finest of all is at the highest point, and commands exhilarating views back on Fethieye and its gulf.
This is the Tomb of Amyntas, carved around 350 BCE, which has a scale unmatched in this ensemble and has a sort of narthex in front of its tomb chamber.
An inscription on the side reads “Amyntou tou Ermagiou”, (Amyntas, son of Hermagios).
3. Lycian Sarcophagi
A quirk of Lycian culture is that, unlike in Ancient Greece, the dead were buried all across the town, rather than in one necropolis.
This was the case in Fethiye, and what’s exciting is that these monuments, built from local limestone, were left standing as the modern city grew up around them.
So you can turn down a side street in Fethiye and come face-to-face with a tomb dating back some 1,300 years.
These can be richly decorated with reliefs, and rise to three storeys.
The most ornate can be found in the garden of the town hall (Belediye), designed like a two-storey house and sporting reliefs on its walls, including a depiction of soldiers carrying shields on its roof.
4. Fethiye Museum
Given Fethiye’s archaeological wealth, a visit to the town’s museum is something that needs to be done.
You can cast your eye over a massive hoard of artefacts, from the Bronze Age through the Archaic, Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods.
There are coins minted across hundreds of years, as well as pieces of jewellery, amphorae, busts, grave stelae, figurines, amulets, pottery, altars and architectural fragments like column capitals and plinths.
You can see a whole tomb, brought here from the ruins at Tlos, but maybe the most important find on show is the “Trilingual Stele”. This has identical inscriptions in Lycian, Greek and Aramaic.
This one piece has been the key tool to help scholars decipher the Lycian language.
5. Saklıkent National Park
Deep into Fethiye’s rocky hinterland you can journey to the Saklıkent Canyon, some 40 kilometres east of the resort, in a national park created in 1996. The statistics for this natural wonder are mind-boggling: The canyon is 18 kilometres long, up to 300 metres deep, and narrows to just two metres across.
This was all carved out by the, Karaçay a branch of the Eşen River, and which can be violent between November and March.
The rest of the year you can walk about four kilometres of the gorge, traversing wooden walkways attached to the wall and exploring waterfalls and a series of caves.
The canyon gets almost no sunlight and is fed by cold springs from the Bey Mountains, so this is a prime spot to flee the summer heat.
Bring water shoes if you’ve got them, to navigate the slippery rocks and be ready to get wet up to your waist if you want the full experience.
6. Tlos Ruins
Something to combine with a day-trip to the Saklıkent Gorge is this ruined Lycian city resting on a rocky plateau.
Tlos first took shape as early as 4,000 years ago, and is unusual for Lycian settlements as it was inhabited Romans, Byzantines and then Ottoman Turks, right up to the 19th century.
Part of the fun of adventuring through Tlos is working out which ruins are from which era.
For instance, the decaying fortress at the top is Ottoman, but with walls that have Lycian and Roman stonework.
There Lycian rock tombs, the grandest of which is the temple-like Tomb of Bellerophon, with a relief on the porch showing the namesake hero riding Pegasus, and a carving of a lion or leopard within.
There’s a theatre from the Roman period with carved garland details, as well as a stadium, market hall and an early-Christian basilica.
7. Fethiye Market
On Tuesdays a giant bazaar sets up just east of the old town opposite the minibus station, where Atatürk Caddesi merges with İnönü Boulevard.
Something great about the market is that it’s favoured by people who live in Fethiye, as well as surrounding communities like Ölüdeniz and Çalis.
So this is a great chance to take the pulse of daily life and pick up some local specialities and typical ingredients like nuts, pickled and smoked olives, dried fruit, a wide variety of grains, lentils, all kinds of spices and cheeses.
If it’s your thing, there’s also tons of up-to-date fakes, from clothes and accessories, to bags to belts, shoes, football shirts, watches and sunglasses.
Don’t forget, haggling is part of the fun!
8. Fethiye Old Town
Directly east of the marina is Fethiye’s old town, or Paspatur.
You can duck into this mesh of tight, walkable alleys, and mill around shops selling souvenirs, Turkish carpets, tea sets and the like.
The scent of spices floats on the air, and even when the sun is beating down Paspatur stays dark under a mantle of vines on pergolas, or large awnings covering the width of the alleys.
In this dim and cool environment there are plentiful cafes and restaurants with terraces.
Look out for the 18th-century minaret of Eski Cami (Old Mosque), and for a snapshot of local life the fish market is nearby.
Head west, and above the marina you’ll come to the Hellenistic theatre of Telmessos, raised in the 2nd century BCE and heavily restored, although it’s not hard to discern the ancient stones from the modern ones.
9. Çalis Beach
North of Fethiye’s natural harbour, the coasts opens out onto a long bay.
This is Çalis Beach, which goes on for kilometres and has a mixture of dusky sand and pebbles, lapped by low-to-moderate surf.
The resort continues on a promenade behind, and you’ll never have to travel far for a bite to eat or supplies for a blissful afternoon in the sun.
The length of the beach means there’s space for everyone to relax, which suits the older, more laid-back crowd that comes here.
And as you’d expect from Fethiye, the views are a joy, especially when the sun goes down and the gulf and sky take on a gold tone.
Eight kilometres south of Fethiye is a ghost village, formerly inhabited by a majority Greek Orthodox Christian community but abandoned in the turbulent first decades of the 20th century.
Ottoman Greeks had lived within the empire in relative peace for hundreds of years, but that changed after WWI, with the Greco-Turkish War of 1919-1922 followed by a population exchange.
Kayaköy (Livissi) had a population of 6,000 at the time it was abandoned, and has a history going back at least as far as the 7th century when it was a Christian Bishopric.
There are Lycian-style tombs here, but most of the houses, school buildings and churches are from the 18th and 19th centuries.
Some of this architecture has been restored but most has been left as an open museum.
Allow as long as possible to scramble around the steep, winding alleys, and seek out the 17th-century fountain in the heart of the town.
11. Fethiye Harbour
The waterfront in Fethiye is open to the public, with a promenade that lines the bay for hundreds of metres, as far as the marina on the south side.
All along, the views are special, out over the Gulf of Fethiye or west to the little wood-cloaked peninsula that protects the harbour.
As you go south you’ll see boats moored at the quayside, from traditional gulets (schooners) to opulent modern yachts.
There’s shade from palms and pine trees, lots of restaurants and cafes and a designated path for cyclists.
Just by the marina you can catch a water taxi up to Çalis Beach, soaking up the scenery on the way.
12. Butterfly Valley
South of Ölüdeniz there’s a beach that is practically inaccessible by land as it sits at the end of a canyon with rocky walls that tower to 350 metres.
Butterfly Valley, so called because of the many species (more than 80) that dwell in this habitat, is a popular day trip by boat from Ölüdeniz.
You’ll be dropped off at the pristine sandy cove with crystalline waters, all dwarfed by those soaring walls of rock.
There’s a little cafe on the beach , and you can decide if you want to journey up the valley.
Be aware that the butterflies are naturally seasonal and peak in numbers between June and September, but there’s also a pair of waterfalls flowing year-round and that are also worth the hike.
13. Blue Lagoon Ölüdeniz Tandem Paragliding from Fethiye
For a lifelong memory, you can take to the air from the summit of Babadağ on a flight over Ölüdeniz and its beach and lagoon.
Offered through GetYourGuide.com, this is a tandem flight so you won’t need any prior experience.
You’ll be strapped onto your experienced pilot, so you can just take it easy, savour the views and take as many photos as you can.
The flight takes just over half an hour, as you’re lifted on the thermal currents, swooping to a gentle touchdown on the beach.
Hotel pick-up and drop-off are included.
If you still have an appetite for ancient Lycian history you can venture to the ruins of Kadyanda, close to the town of Üzümlü around 25 kilometres from Fethiye.
Kadyanda, roosting on a hilltop, was inhabited from around 5000 years ago until the 7th century CE.
This was a prominent city, as the extent of the ruins show: There’s an agora, a stadium, theatre, baths, impressive tombs, a defensive wall and the remnants of several temples.
Hiding in pine forest, Kadyanda is well off many tourists’ radars, and there’s a chance you may have this enchanting ancient city to yourself when you come.
15. Lycian Way
Ölüdeniz is the western trailhead for an epic footpath that weaves through South Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean regions to Geyikbayırı, not far from Antalya.
The trail is around 540 kilometres long and is waymarked with red and white stripes, delivering you to ruined cities, tombs and far flung villages.
Snaking over some brutal but uncommonly beautiful mountainscapes, the route follows ancient footpaths and mule trails, and is best tackled in spring.
Even though walkers spend long spells under the cover of pine trees this is obviously not a challenge for the fainthearted or unprepared, and is the route for a multi-day ultramarathon at the end of May.
The good news is that the Fethiye end is mostly on a coastal ledge and has some of the lightest and most rewarding stretches.
If you’re feeling fit you could hike down to the Butterfly Valley from the resort, making the spellbinding descent to Faralya.