Akyaka, on Turkey’s southern Aegean coast, is a real jewel of a town. We stumbled across it years ago, intending to visit for the day but ending up camping overnight in a rented tent on the forest campsite. Since then, we’d been full of good intentions to return. It took until the summer of 2018 to follow up that intention. A heatwave hit the Fethiye area and we needed some fresher breezes. A few nights booked at Villa Yonca and we made our escape to Akyaka…
A Little About Akyaka
The draw of Akyaka is purely its charm. If you follow this blog a lot, you’ll know we’re big advocates of slow travel – a slower way of life, in general, actually. Akyaka suits us – it’s one of 14 Turkish towns that have been awarded Cittaslow status and the town has carefully guarded this slower way of life since it took up membership in 2011.
According to this 2014 Guardian article, it was the then mayor, Ahmet Çalça, who joined the Cittaslow movement so that he could help preserve the town’s features and way of life. A great legacy for Ahmet Çalça.
It’s quite ironic, then, that with Cittaslow membership, a large increase in tourism has come. In the summer months, Akyaka is packed to the rafters, mainly with domestic tourists. All that should be slow and quiet and peaceful becomes a long queue of cars, snaking down Sakartepe and into the town.
BUT, we did say Akyaka carefully guards its slower way of life. And it does so amazingly well. Even on the super crowded summer weekend we were there, there was still a feeling of calm. And that’s what all of us there had come to experience.
So, if you’re into parties and clubbing and international restaurants and, dare we say, a daily full English breakfast fix, read no further. If, however, you’re craving a few days in a quiet Turkish town (albeit with a few thousand other Turkish tourists in the summer months), then you’re gonna love Akyaka as much as we do.
Things To Do In Akyaka
The town of Akyaka sits in the Gulf of Gökova and, if you arrive by dolmuş from the east – as we did – you get dropped off on the main road above the town. Literally, right on the main D400 as it starts to climb Sakartepe towards Muğla. You’ll need to climb over the barriers of the central reservation to get to the turn off!
But, all part of the little adventures of travel and all that. If you want, when you see this view over the valley and down to Akyaka, you can wait for the dolmuş to come down from Muğla and pick you up to take you into town. But it’s all downhill from here and the walk will only take you about 15 minutes. We’re happy trudgers – more often than not – so we took ourselves off down the pathway.
And now, once you’ve found your accommodation, you can go off to explore what Akyaka has to offer. It won’t take you long to find your accommodation, by the way. Akyaka might be growing but it is far from being a sprawling town.
Spend A Day On Akyaka Beach
Akyaka Beach is where most holidaymakers in the town spend their day. It’s a public beach so it’s free to enter. Blue flag, compact sand, a calm sea that stays shallow for a good few metres, beds and umbrellas, pedaloes, kayaks. And the pathway that runs along the beach is lined with bars, cafes and restaurants.
We’re not massively ‘beachy,’ so this photo was taken early morning just as we were passing but you can see the attraction for sun worshippers and those with kids.
Turkish families are camped out here for most of the day. And, if you’re like us and not very beachy, that’s great – it means the rest of Akyaka is rather quiet and peaceful and you can revel in ‘slow city living.’ So, leave those summer crowds exactly where they are and let’s explore a bit more of Akyaka…
Wander The Akyaka Architecture
Because Akyaka’s architecture is what makes the town so famous…and so achingly pretty! Old Ottoman style dwellings were restored in the 1970s by Nail Çakırhan and more were built, besides.
Although concrete, rather than timber, is used in many new buildings in Akyaka, today, the style of the buildings mirrors those restored and built by Nail Çakırhan. He wanted buildings that were in harmony with the environment and cultural background of Turkey.
Part of Akyaka’s Cittaslow mission statement is about keeping buildings to this style and not allowing the type of high rise apartment blocks that are so common in Turkey. Of course, there are exceptions around town where the odd out-of-style building seems to have sneaked in – but wandering the streets of Akyaka is just a complete joy.
Narrow, cobbled roads walled on either side. Vibrant magenta bougainvillea and orange trumpet vine climbs and sprawls along the walls. And behind them, through arched wooden doorways, are courtyards leading to traditional villas with ornate timber ceilings and balconies. Take your camera!
Take A Forest Walk
If you follow the beach path to the end, it’ll lead you straight to the forest. The forest is actually Akyaka’s ginormous campsite but we’re doing a separate article on this as it’s a sight to behold.
A forest walk will get you away from any crowds that might be present, it’s shaded and you will also get some height. This means pleasing vistas across the bay of Akyaka and out across the open Aegean Sea. Oh, and there’s a terraced cafe, too.
Escape To The Bays
If you want to take to the waters of the Gulf of Gökova, in the summer months, you can do daily boat trips from Akyaka. The boats leave from the small harbour next to the beach.
We didn’t get time to do a boat trip while we were there – too busy exploring on foot – but they look like a great way to see some of the local well-known islands and bays. Stops typically include Sedir Adası – also known as Cleopatra Island. Antony and Cleopatra have certainly left their mark on Turkish history, also featuring in the stories of Hierapolis and in our very own Fethiye. 12 Island Boat Trips often make a stop where Cleopatra is said to have bathed.
Another well known stop on an Akyaka boat trip is Akbük Koyu. Many people who summer in Akyaka will drive to Akbük to spend a quiet day in the bay but the boat trips go here, too. Other bays that are visited by the boat trips include Lacivert Koy, Zeytinli Koy, Yunus Koyu, Incekum, Kandilli Koyu, Ziraatçiler Koyu and Su Altı Mağaraları.
Whilst Akbük Koyu is a favourite amongst some of our friends who know the Akyaka area well, there’s another nearby bay where you can also spend the day; Çınar Beach Club. We’re saving a visit to here for another time – early or late season – as it’s possible to walk from Akyaka. Cooler weather will definitely be preferable, and, also, this beach seems to be very popular in the height of summer. We prefer a quieter beach where possible.
Take In Azmak Nehri
Ahh, and this is where beautiful Akyaka really comes into its own. The Azmak River, know locally as Azmak Nehri or Kadın Azmağı, is a shaded green paradise with crystal clear icy cold waters. If you’re any thing like us, you’ll spend a lot of time around here. Let us show you why…
Strolling along the Azmak River is so pleasant. This is where Akyaka’s ‘slow’ credentials are really in evidence. A meandering river, the shade of the trees, a riverside path passing riverside restaurants and picnic spots. No huge metal bins for people to put their rubbish in. This is pretty Akyaka, remember. Wicker baskets are the way forward here.
It doesn’t need us to tell you that litter can blight many a beauty spot. Signs galore remind picnickers to use the wicker baskets for their rubbish, and, by and large, Azmak Nehri is nature at its best.
For just a few lira you can take a riverboat from Akyaka Beach area and chug along the Azmak Nehri. You can see in the photo above how clear the waters are. The reeds lining the river create a scene similar to the view on a Dalyan river trip but the Azmak River is more sheltered and accessible.
The Azmak Nehri is famed for its ducks and geese. And, while strolling along the river banks, well how could we not stop off for lunch at one of the riverside restaurants? You don’t need to spend a fortune to do this. There are more expensive places specialising in seafood dishes but there are also cafes, too. We stopped to enjoy gözleme and balık ekmek and washed it all down with an icy cold ayran.
Another time, we had lunch in one of the bigger seafood restaurants – a place where you could sit with your feet in the freezing water. As we’d just finished a long walk, this seemed really inviting. The reality, however is that the waters of the Azmak Nehri are a tad too cold to have your feet paddling about in there for too long. We soon removed them!
Tip: If you want to dine along the Azmak River at night, enjoying meze and seafood, make sure you reserve a table. The restaurants get very busy.
Did we just say the waters of Azmak Nehri were too cold to sit with your feet in for any length of time? Hmm, well lots of visitors to Akyaka will disagree with us, there.
Despite signs warning people not to swim in the river…well, there’s always going to be someone who wants to swim in the river. Mostly, though, people were sitting on the riverbanks and paddling their feet. And that wasn’t enough for some. Lots of Turkish families enjoy their lazy summer days on the river by placing their deckchairs in the water and sitting right in the river. If there’s a heatwave, it’s not a bad way to cool down, is it?
Watch The Kitesurfers
Kitesurf Beach is actually right in the mouth of the Gulf of Gökova and is not in Akyaka but Akçapınar. Just like at Surf Cafe in Çalış, if you’re not content with watching the kitesurfers and you fancy a go yourself, you can book a bank of lessons in town or arrange some online before you arrive in Akyaka.
We did walk to Akçapınar to spend some time watching the kitesurfers – that’s for another article – but you can watch acrobatic proceedings from Akyaka, too. Get yourself up into that forest to get the views over to the beach and the surfers.
Dine and Drink In The Akyaka Restaurants & Bars
Because Akyaka is a haunt of mainly Turkish visitors, most menus and signs are written in Turkish and staff will happily blabber away to you in Turkish. Great for us – we get to practice our Turkish – but if you don’t know Turkish, we found staff to be young and friendly and many were doing their best to help out the few foreign visitors in town.
We’re telling you this because some of the bars – we enjoyed Poison Pub – have offers on their boards outside. We’ve seen online reviews from British tourists complaining that the bars are a bit pricey. And yeah, they’re not cheap. But, keep an eye on those boards. Special offers like ‘3 for 2’ at certain times of day can help keep your spends reasonable.
As for restaurants in Akyaka, some will concentrate on local produce. Akyaka is a slow city, remember. A lot of the eateries in the centre of town are small, locally owned cafes, snack bars or restaurants. No big chains around here. Think pide, kebabs, seafood and traditional Turkish kitchen.
After not being able to find a table along the Azmak River for dinner one night, we ended up in a fantastic little place called Selonik that had just opened along one of the side streets (Karanfil Sokak). One young woman cooking in the kitchen and another one serving the food. A few tables. That was it.
“I hand-write the menu every day,” she said, proudly, handing us a decorative notebook with the day’s food choices.
A lovely meal of traditional dishes from the Turkish kitchen. Good for them.
Other local culinary purchases that can be made in Akyaka are olive oil and other condiments. A sister restaurant to West Cafe in Göcek, the Akyaka branch is on the site of Olive Farm along the Azmak River. From here, Göcek, Datça and Bodrum, you can buy locally produced jams, oils, spreads and also beauty products. A celebration of slow products, not just of Akyaka but of the Muğla Province.
And that’s the town of Akyaka. Despite the summer crowds, Cittaslow membership keeps things low key and relaxed and the town is still packed with charm. If we were to go again – we probably will do one day – we’ll admit to wanting a more relaxed atmosphere, still. If that would be the case for you, too, then spring and autumn are the times to visit. But, even if you find yourself here in the height of summer, you’re still gonna fall in love with the quaint architecture and the unspoiled scenery. And if people watching is your favourite pastime, there is ample opportunity for that!
Akyaka – Useful Information
- We went to Akyaka from Fethiye otogar by dolmuş. Take the Muğla dolmuş (air-conditioned minibus) and tell the driver you want to get off at Akyaka. Journey time is just over 2 hours and there is a bus every 30 minutes.
- If you are travelling from Muğla otogar (bus station) there are regular buses that will take you right into the town centre.
- Akyaka is very popular with Turkish tourists and weekend day trippers from the city of Muğla. If you want to avoid the crowds, we’d suggest a springtime/autumn visit and in the week, rather than the weekend.
- Whilst there are now a handful of larger hotels with facilities such as spa or gym in Akyaka, we prefer to stay in the smaller pensions or apartments with traditional timber features. It’s part of the Akyaka experience. You can find a good selection on Booking.com.
- Akyaka is one of 14 places in Turkey with Cittaslow membership. The Cittaslow movement was founded in Italy and we’ve been lucky enough to visit an Italian town that is also part of the movement, Sperlonga.