Favoured holiday destination of Turkey’s film stars, singers and assorted jet-set luvvies, Datça offers a glamorous destination for your next break in this richly varied country. It’s the Turkish equivalent of jetting off to Nice, and like Nice it has plenty of things to see and enjoy when you tire of sipping martinis in yacht clubs or star-spotting down in the Marina.
Datça is where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean at one of Turkey’s most beautiful spots. Famous for its seafood restaurants, natural beauty, ancient ruins, magnificent white beaches and pristine air, the Datça Peninsula juts 70 kilometres into the sea. With Gökova Gulf on its northern side and Hisarönü gulf to the South, and with the whole stretch from Knidos at the tip to Bencik Cove designated an environmental protection zone, there’s a world of beauty to enjoy here. The air itself has the highest oxygen content in the whole of Turkey.
The typical Mediterranean climate guarantees hot and dry summers with average temperatures of 35°C, but the heat never becomes unbearable because of a continuous cool north wind blowing across the peninsula. The air’s high oxygen and low humidity is beneficial, especially if you suffer from asthma, cardiovascular disorders, rheumatism or high blood pressure.
In a country not short on historic drama, Datça’s is particularly rich. Although human settlement here dates back to 2000 BC, the most obvious remains are of Roman and Dorian temples at the tip of the peninsula, with Knidos being famous in the ancient world for its statue of Aphrodite. The temples later gave way to churches when the Roman Empire adopted Christianity as the official religion, and under the Byzantines the population reached 70 thousand. Abandoned due to pirate attacks and repeated earthquakes, Datça was incorporated into the Ottoman Empire in the 15th century.
Datça Old Town
The best place to find quality restaurants and bars in Datça is in the old Port area. The Reşadiye neighbourhood, 3km from the centre of town, is famous for its traditional masonry houses, and other points of interest include the Seljuk mosque in Hizirşah Village and the pottery workshops and windmills of Kızlan Village. The best beach here is Gebekum Beach, 4km from the centre and 7 kilometres long. The dunes move with the wind so the beach is constantly expanding and changing its character on an almost daily basis.
Boat Tours and hidden coves
Every morning boats depart from the Datça harbour jetty for full- or half-day tours of the coastline with its coves and bays. The ruins at Knidos are the usual destination for full-day tours, with several stops on the way for dining and swimming such as at the picturesquely named Kargı (Spear) Bay, Domüz (Swine) Cove, Kızıl (Crimson) Cove and Palamut (Acorn) Cove. If you prefer, you can instead catch a regular bus to Kargi Bay from the main bus station in Datça. The beach there is perfect for family swimming and has several quality restaurants to choose from.
Domuz Cove can only be reached by boat as there is no road access, and if you’re looking for a tranquil and secluded spot far from the hustle and bustle of the main tourist centres this will fit the bill perfectly. To get to the Kizil and Hayat Coves road, leave the Datça-Knidos main road by taking a left to the signposted village of Mesudiye and you’ll find the cove 2 kilometres further on.
These coves are all about 20 kilometres from Datça town centre and there are plenty of reasonably priced pensions nearby if you want to stay overnight. Palamut cove also has its own harbour with yachts and fishing boats moored, and a 2 kilometre beach that’s ideal for swimming and sunbathing. The small seafood restaurants behind the fishermen’s wharves are perfect for lunch or an evening meal.
If you’re just looking for a good local beach, the closest to the town centre are Kumluk, Azganlı, Taşlık and Hastanealtı, but farther away you’ll be able to enjoy a swim at any spot on the gorgeous coastline to Perili Köşk Beach, on the way to the major resort of Marmaris. This last beach is also famous for its choice of water sports, including canoeing, windsurfing and paragliding.
Turkey has a fabulously rich and varied cuisine, much of it regional, and in Datça you’ll be able to sample a great choice of traditional dishes in exquisite surroundings.
Keşkek is the most famous dish here. Traditionally served at wedding feasts, it consists of a paste made from boiled wheat mixed with seasoned boned lamb or chicken.
Yaprak sarma is a vine leaf roll stuffed with spicy rice and cooked in olive oil. This and kısır, which is a mix of herbs, cracked wheat and vegetables served cold, is usually prepared by the local women.
Datça is also renowned for its choice of refreshing herbal teas, including the distinctive ısırgan or nettle tea.
One dish that every visitor to Datça has to try at least once is bademli incir, which consists of baked dried figs stuffed with the renowned almonds for which the peninsula is famous.
Most dishes typical of the cuisine of Turkey are to be found in Datça but a few of them have a special twist here that you’ll find nowhere else. These include stuffed courgette flowers, karavilla which is a delicious escargot-based dish and sweet and sour tarhana which is a dried mix of flour, fermented yogurt, vegetables and herbs.
Two of the great local specialties are damat tatlısı – bridegroom’s dessert – or philo pastry stuffed with chopped almonds, and yağlı çörek, fried sweet brioche stuffed with sesame seeds.
Almonds, good for the heart and so much else, are a particular speciality of Datça, and people come here from across the country to enjoy them or take boxes of them back home with them. The tastiest and choicest varieties of this delicious and health-giving nut are grown right here. There are a number of different varieties grown in Datça, the most common one being nurlu which is used extensively in the Turkish confectionary industry.
The earliest seasonal green fruit of the tree is eaten for its flesh, and in May and June when the fruit ripens the kernel is separated off and sold on slabs of ice at local bars or on peddlers’ trays in the streets. The dry almond is the classic end product of the growth process, when the flesh completely dries out and splits under the sun’s heat. These dried almonds are often stuffed into a dried fig before it is baked, or mixed with honey and sold in jars as ballı badem.
The Datça Peninsula is a Special Environmental Protection Zone, with unspoilt natural habitat extending for 235 kilometres along the coastline, studded with 52 coves and populated by a rich variety of plants and animals. The sea around Datça is full of all kinds of colourful fish, and snorkelling is a popular sport here, along with yachting between the resorts of Bodrum and Fethiye. The Datça coves are perfect spots for windsurfing, and health tourism is on the rise here because of the low humidity and high oxygen levels.
Needle lace is Datça’s most valued handicraft, with the silkworms raised domestically and the filaments being meticulously spun out to the desired thickness. The yarn is then worked with needles to create a range of lace types, from borders for headscarves to large cloths to cover tables and beds.
The Saturday market in Datça is a good place to pick these exquisite and unique products up, but you can also get them directly from homes in the villages of the region.
Cottage industries are ubiquitous here, with women producing not only lace products – iğne oyası – but also weaving wool, linen, kilims and cotton fabrics on hand looms at home. Doors are usually open in the summer months and you’ll always be welcomed inside for a glass of tea and to sample the products.
With its quaint stone roads and handmade stone walls covered with bougainvillaea, its unspoilt coastline and incredibly fresh air, Datça has everything you need for the perfect healthy break in stunning surroundings.