Travelling in Turkey

Springtime In Nif

Photographs by Mike Vickers

Feature photo above: Nif’s speciality – beautiful cherry trees in full snowy blossom

Double alarms awoke us at 2am for our early morning flight to Dalaman from Bristol. Jan and I don’t really like double alarms unless they’re absolutely necessary, but we were happy to make an exception on this occasion. With easy on-site parking, efficient transfer buses and e-booking-in, I’m pleased to report they’ve really got their act together down there at the former Lulsgate Bottom Airport. I can see why management changed the name to plain old Bristol Airport – no-one really wants the word “Bottom” in their title!

After an always to be desired totally uneventful flight, we landed at Dalaman late morning, picked up our hire car from the airport, drove straight to Çalış market for a gözleme lunch, bought staples for breakfast, then journeyed on up to Nif.

Also known as Arpacik. Nif is a rural village nestling in the hills beneath Çal Dağ, the bald pointy mountain peak that can be seen to the north of Fethiye. The valley is famed throughout Turkey for its cherries, and we were lucky enough to visit in early May when the orchards were in full blossom, an absolutely glorious sight. Why visit Japan when you can go to Nif.

Sakli Bahçe, the Highland Retreat.

We finally arrived at Sakli Bahçe Cottage, our self-catering accommodation for the week. The cottage is located in the grounds of The Highland Retreat. Owned by Nicky and Doğan, our long-time friends from the early days way back in the noughties, they used to own Mosaic Bahçe in Fethiye and Motif restaurant in Çalış before moving to their dream mountain home. We actually visited this place in the first year of our extended stay back in 2020 when it was still up for sale and both agreed that had we been fifteen years younger, or even ten, we would have bought it on the spot.

The main house is a really lovely ranch style two storey house set in grounds extending to five donum. A donum is 1000 square metres, so we’re talking about a substantial plot, surrounded on three sides by pine forest and with stunning views of nearby Çal mountain on the fourth side. Half the house is their personal home while the other half is set up as a holiday let self-contained two-bedroom traditional Turkish farmhouse. Outside, adjacent to the main house, we were staying in a single bedroom cottage conversion, with kitchen, bathroom and covered rear terrace. I have to say it really was very nice indeed.

Our cottage home for the week.
Spacious, comfortable and blissfully quiet...
…with a super kitchen…
…and a shady verandah, perfect for shelter during high summer.

Having sold their busy restaurant, Doğan and Nicky have now fully embraced rural life. He’s very much at home in wellies looking after the livestock while she bakes wonderful biscuits and tends her impressive vegetable plot. We met their little family of goats, sheep, chickens and an entertaining pair of geese. The early evening sunshine bathed the place in a warm glow, but it soon got cold the moment the sun went down. We went to bed tired after a very long day and drifted off to the deafening sound of utter mountain silence.

We slept long and deep in a very comfy bed and were woken by distant call to prayer just before the sun came up, along with all the local birds, who let rip with a glorious dawn chorus. Peering out of the kitchen window as I brewed up, I saw a fluffy red squirrel scamper past the house.

We weren’t alone.
The curious locals were very friendly.
Well, most of them were. Ever been charged by a goose? I’ve got to say it’s really not as bad as being charged by a rhinoceros. Let me introduce you to Psycho Sue! More on her later.

Jan and I drove to Fethiye after breakfast to tackle the one essential task of this holiday, and the actual reason we had returned to Turkey. We needed to close down our old Vodaphone mobile accounts.

This should have been a straightforward task, but it wasn’t. The staff just would not accept our instructions to close our accounts, but after an awkward twenty minutes or so we think we finally got through to them that we were not going to renew, we will never pay them any more money and that we were permanently leaving the country, never to return, but even then they seemed to be under the impression we still needed a phone account. Very frustrating, but it was not the staff’s fault, their system is designed to make leaving a long and difficult task. Not exactly great customer service, to put it mildly, and we sincerely hope we’ve finally kicked them into touch, although even then we still had lingering doubts as we walked out of the shop.

Jan commemorated dumping Vodaphone at long last with the purchase of some new socks.

The remainder of the day was spent in various practical ways. We had lunch and drove up to Hisarönü. I dropped Jan off for a manicure and pedicure and spent the next few hours cruising around our old stomping grounds to see if there had been any changes. There had. Lots of change, and very little of it was for the better. The Kaya valley was crowded with many more villas than I remembered from last year, for instance.

Later, after the inevitable souvenir shopping, we left Fethiye and stopped for supper at the Cadianda in Üzümlü, one of our favourite restaurants, offering a winning combination of traditional Turkish cuisine at very reasonable prices. The food was delicious, simple and hearty. I had meatball casserole and Jan had chicken with salad and garlic bread. There was enough left over for a three-container doggy bag. That’s tomorrow’s supper sorted! We drove back up mountain to Nif in the gloaming and got home just as the light failed after a very full and busy day. At least we’d managed to close our Vodaphone accounts. Well, we think we did. Maybe. We’re not completely sure, only time will tell…

Jan taking it easy, with Çal mountain in the background.

Waking once more to the sound of birds on a gloriously sunny spring morning, we stepped out of the front door to enjoy that fantastic view of nearby soaring Çal, its bald summit coming in at just over 7000 feet, making it 2500 feet higher than Ben Nevis. Not short of a decent mountain or two, is Turkey. As I’ve said before on a number of occasions, we like our landscape crumpled.

After breakfast, I went for a walk along the forest track behind the house and came upon a broad yayla, or cultivated flat upland valley, surrounded by wooded hills and sprinkled with beautiful spring flowers. There was not a house nor a person in sight. I can see why Nicky and Doğan like their home so much, especially as they now have room for an extensive vegetable garden, which I took an interest in as I’m planning my own foray into the heady world of vegetable growing back home in Gloucester.

The upland spring flowers were really something special.

Late morning saw us on the way to Elmalı village. We call it Little Elmalı to differentiate between it and the much larger town of Elmalı, the subject of its own article on this website. We were in search of breakfast with Doğan and Nicky, as well as Gökhan, Doğan’s teenage nephew, who was staying for a while having been plucked away from the earthquake-ravaged east of Turkey.

The miller’s home…
…offering a carefree childhood, but just watch out for the goats leaping out at you from the woodstore.

We stopped on the way as Nicky wanted to buy some flour from a traditional water-powered village mill. The miller made us very welcome, his rural home alive with chickens and their baby chicks, His goats were engagingly cute as well. The mill was grinding in the old-fashioned way, with grain trickling in to the centre of the rotating top stone from a wooden hopper and emerging as raw white flour at the bottom, the whole process accompanied by the constant rush of water. Very pastoral, very Turkish, and the family typically warm and hospitable.

On to Elmalı, and we stopped at the Alpin Garden Restaurant, a place we’ve been to before with a number of friends when we lived in Fethiye. Breakfast was a sumptuous and delicious traditional village affair comprising a whole host of dishes, but always including fresh baked bread, eggs, tomatoes, cucumber, jams, various cheeses, honey, butter, pekmez (grape molasses), tahini, olives and endless glasses of tea. To those basic dishes can be added anything you like, in this case chips, baked tomatoes, cheesy sigara borek, hot salci pepper paste and baked mushrooms topped with even more cheese.

Yeah, it took a lot of dedication and a steady few hours to get through that lot…

Breakfast at the Alpin. You’re gonna need a bigger table!

On our way home we diverted off the main road and took a track down through the forests on the flank of Çal with truly spectacular views over the Nif valley and away across forested ridges and distant mountains. Some of the higher peaks were still capped with snow. We stopped at a series of picnic kosks, raised wooden eating platforms built for the benefit of local villagers and located adjacent to nearby newly-constructed gushing springs for a clean water supply straight off the mountain. The views were magnificent and we were high enough to breathe properly clean mountain air. It was a gloriously wonderful, unspoiled spot. I had a pee behind a pine tree.

Arpacik Valley, with its irrigation dam.
Jan and Doğan enjoying the splendid view.
Jan and Nicky chewing the fat with Gökhan absorbed by something earthy in the background.

Once back at Sakli Bahçe, I walked up the lane looking for things to photograph. Even on that short stroll, I found plenty of interest, from cherry orchards dripping in white blossom to wild flower-covered verges, swifts skimming over a water tank for a drink, ramshackle rural barns, and even a friendly shepherd who gave me a cheerful wave as he guided his flock home for the evening. A lovely end to a great day.

One of many cherry orchards in Nif. The trees in full blossom were spectacular.
It’s a friendly place, that’s for sure.

The following morning, we dropped down into Fethiye again for a full-on chatty seafront lunch at Cayli Cafe with our good friends and former quiz partners, Michelle, Chris and Steve. Jan and I had our favourite crispy chicken. We finally finished mid-afternoon, then took one of our very favourite drives up beyond Ölüdeniz, through Kirme and over the top to the very rural villages of Karaağaç and Boğaziçi to Esen. Passing through endless forests with spectacular panoramas of the rugged coastline, past verges and fields alive with new crops and brightly-coloured wild flowers, it is a stunning route. You can read more in the article, Three Mountain Passes.

Heading back up the D400 (how I’ve missed you, my old friend!) towards Fethiye, we pulled into a garage to top up with fuel. Our Renault Symbol was a diesel, I pulled up to a petrol pump, unsure if it also had a diesel nozzle, like most of the pumps back in the UK. It didn’t. I asked for benzin, thinking it was diesel. It wasn’t. The attendant then started filling our diesel tank with unleaded before realising his mistake and stopping the pump. We now had a problem. They were very apologetic and asked us to vacate the car, so we sat and had a cup of tea. Jan called Umit, our long-time car guy, and explained the situation, he then spoke to the attendant, who turned out to be his friend.

Here’s the Symbol being flushed out after the attendant put petrol in our diesel tank. We weren’t worried and sat having a glass of tea while a mechanic got on with it, giving me a chance to take a few photos in a place I never would have otherwise stopped, such as…
…one of this lady irrigating her field…
…and one of this man sat on a petrol pump having a contemplative smoke. Health and Safety? Nah, not a chance.

Assured this was actually not a problem, the garage guy arrived thirty minutes later, took out the back seat of the Symbol, removed the bung at the top of the tank and pumped out the contaminated fuel before replacing everything. He then pushed the car to the correct pump and filled us up with diesel. An hour later, we were on our way again, a faint whiff of diesel and a few unexpected photos of poppy fields at the rear of the garage the only evidence of the incident.

We took the Ortaköy road, drove up through the forests back to Üzümlü before returning to Nif and joined Doğan and Nicky for a late evening drink. Or at least it was late for us! We sat around their washing machine drum brazier – exactly the same as we have at home – for a very convivial drink until it began to spit with rain – exactly as it frequently does back at home.

Over the next few days, we visited a few favourite haunts, some for practical reasons, such as dropping in on our long-time dentist for a check-up and clean – a simple task that is now virtually impossible to do in the UK – some purely for pleasure. Experienced readers will not be surprised to discover the pleasure predominantly centred around searching out and eating some pretty top notch food!

Jan and I enjoying one of our very favourite meals, Iskender kebap, followed by…
…kunefe. Heart attack on a plate, but my word, utterly divine. Check it out online and you’ll see what I mean. We were joined by lovely Bernadette. She also likes kunefe, as you can see. These are two very happy women.

Our evenings were very quiet. I liked to wander around the estate just as it was getting dark and chanced on Doğan putting the chickens to bed. This proximity to the pond was too much for Psycho Sue, their short-fused, permanently on-the-edge, spectacularly deranged goose, resulting in multiple charges and more threatening hissing than an Icelandic geyser, while Can’t-Be-Arsed Colin, their other goose, watched on with totally bored goosey disinterest. Talk about a pastoral paradise.

Jan and I do like to explore the more remote roads. It’s one of our favourite pastimes, so we were delighted to discover a cracking route leading to Göcek via the tiny villages of Dariyeri, Çöğmen and Gökçeovacık. This narrow twisting lane had it all – rugged hills, mountain backdrops, deep ravines, tiny remote villages and beautiful fresh green fields covered in wild flowers. It was yet another spectacular rural road in a country not short of a backwater route or two, and a real delight to drive.

We’ve always liked Göcek. It’s a classy place, laid-back and very pretty. It’s also full of surprises. We were sat enjoying a coffee when I spotted Ibo, one of our waiters from Yakamoz. Now working as a delivery driver, he was dropping off parcels in the nearby shops. It was genuinely lovely to see him and he joined us for a coffee. All is well, and we asked to be remembered to Bayram and all the other Yakamoz staff, many of whom, incidentally, still live in Arpacik.

Ibo on his nimble electric scooter. It was an unexpected but very welcome encounter.

After Ibo returned to his duties, we strolled around town and inevitably bought some tablecloths, adding to our extensive collection, before returning to back to Nif via the same route as we came. Fortunately the few important junctions were signposted so we retraced our steps without any errors in our navigation. It was a wonderful drive through some delightfully traditional Turkish pastoral landscapes.

Rural road up in the hills. The fields were carpeted with wild flowers.
A distant Göcek.

By now, the weather had more or less broken and became much cooler, with intermittent rain. This didn’t bother us very much as we weren’t planning to sit on a beach anyway, but we did have to modify our plans somewhat and spent more time at the cottage. It was also raining on Coronation Day, so we snuggled up in our mountain valley retreat to watch Charles and Camilla get crowned, two Brits in a rainswept distant land connected to the world by the power of an Amazon Fire Stick.

It wasn’t all sunshine, especially on Coronation Day.

We went over to the main house in the evening for supper with Nicky and Doğan in their huge all-in-one kitchen, dining room and lounge, the entire room warmed by a wood-burning soba hotter than the surface of the sun, with a large iron pot of steaming water perched on top to humidify the air. We worked our way through meatballs with aubergines, peppers and potatoes, plus roasted carrots, garlic and parsnips, broccoli with almonds, Turkish rice with chickpeas and warm bread, followed by a delicious cherry caramel dessert, appropriate considering Nif is famous throughout Turkey for its cherries.

Gökhan, as you would expect from any respectable teenager, ate his own body weight in food!

Doğan and Gökhan.

The following day, our last, after a traditional breakfast with friends (yes, I know, you’re right in thinking that’s all we seem to do) we finished packing, tidied the cottage and bade a very fond farewell to Doğan & Nicky and their very sweet but extremely gobby cat. Taking our new favourite back road again through grey and misty hills to Göcek, we stopped for an early dinner and final seafront coffee before driving on to Dalaman.

Waiting for coffee and a San Sebastian cheesecake in Göcek before heading back to the airport.
This is the satisfied look of a man who may – or possibly may not – have closed down his Vodaphone mobile account.

The airport was surprisingly busy for so early in the season. We queued for security search, queued for passport control, and queued for another security check. I had to remove my belt so many times there was an imminent danger my trousers would end up around my ankles as I shuffled through the arch. I think I’ll take special travelling strides from now on with an elasticated waistband.

The busy departure lounge has a specific design feature – there are no seats anywhere except those in the concessions. This is not exactly subtle, but we thought we’d rest our legs for a while and sat down, whereupon we were immediately approached by a waiter who wanted us to order. We asked the price of a coffee. At 190 lira per cup, they were having more than a laugh, so we left. FYI, that’s about £8 and four times the price we’d just paid for a very decent cup in Gocek, itself a notably pricey location.

That said, we did meet some very nice people – a lovely family with two small girls who had colourful plaits in their hair and whose dad had to lift them up to face the ID camera, a charming group of wonderfully polite Indian men returning to Luton after an apparently enjoyable stag week, and a Liverpudlian couple who were in catatonic shock having just paid 450 lira for two small beers. For future reference when I look at this journal in years to come, that was an extortionate price. Again, apply a multiplying factor of four!

Airports really are just the best for introducing disparate groups of people to each other.

Then it was through the departure gate, onto the plane, along the runway and into the air for a tedious red-eye back to Bristol International, aka, Lulsgate Bottom.

D’you know, except for bloody Vodaphone, we had an absolutely wonderful time, and it was a genuine delight to be back in Turkey once again. We weren’t entirely sure how we would feel about returning, having resolved to now spend our time exploring new destinations, but for us, there’s always been something very special about this particular country that has in the past, and now it seems, will continue to call to our hearts – and you’ve got to listen to your heart.

We’ve already booked to return to Nif next year.

Nick and Doğan can be contacted at: [email protected]

Airbnb cottage – sleeps 2:

Airbnb farmhouse – sleeps 4:

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