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Cirali is One of Southern Turkey’s Best Kept Secrets

If you’re looking for a family-friendly off-the-beaten-path hidden gem of a destination in Turkey, Cirali may just fit your bill perfectly. This beautiful garden oasis is situated 1.5 hours south by car from Antalya on the Mediterranean, nestled in a quiet valley on the sea surrounded by mountains. Cirali is unlike any place I’ve visited in my life; it’s got the quiet charm of Waipio Valley on the Big Island of Hawaii, the crystal clear water with pebbled beaches of Crete, and the pine forests of the Pacific Northwest, but Cirali is its own very special place. This rural village is tucked away from any main highways, requiring a drive down a winding road into the valley, about 20 minutes from the main road. If you’re expecting big buildings and well established infrastructure with a main street and nightlife, this is most definitely not the place for that. Cirali is for the laid back traveler in search of the ultimate relaxation in a no-frills lush natural setting. 

I’ll be honest; when we first arrived in Cirali, I was weary and jetlagged (we had come all the way from Seattle over three days of travel with a nine-month old baby!) and my first impression was not very positive because of how rugged and rustic it looked. However, it immediately grew on me the very first time I walked to the sea, and it continued to grow on me over the two weeks that we stayed. It was easy to fall into a natural routine, following the rhythm of the sea, the sunrise and sunset. One of my favorite things to do, was just walk through the village with my baby in the pram. This reminded me to follow my own advice of never judging a new place when you arrive; always give it at least two days, and merely observe rather than judge. You can find more tips on how to live the digital nomad lifestyle abroad in this article: 25 Practical and Useful Tips for Digital Nomads Living and Working Around The World.

6:00 – 8:00 PM was my favorite time to take a stroll through the village. I love that there is so much to explore, with quaint lovely vistas delighting the senses around every corner. My favorite shot that caught my eye was the mosque in between the greenhouse with the towering Mt. Olympos in the background, standing at nearly 2,000 meters (6,000 feet), the blue minaret glowing as the sun shone through it, appearing as though it was lit up from below.

PRO TIP: Download MapsMe when you arrive, as it will work offline and it will show all the tiny roads that are not listed on GoogleMaps.

I was amazed at how much grows in Cirali; the flora is diverse, ranging from bougainvillia to roses, palm trees to pines, azaleas to cacti, and many hot houses growing rows and rows of tomatoes. The villa we stayed in is situated in a private garden surrounded by orange trees and pomegranate trees. In the evening we fell asleep to the sound of crickets and frogs, and in the mornings we were awoken by the call to prayer from the one and only mosque in the entire valley, along with roosters crowing and pecking in the front yard, the light swaying of the wind, beautiful birds singing all around, and cats and kittens roaming the premises freely.

The main clientele in Cirali are Russians and local Turks from other parts of the country on holiday. There were a few Brits, but we saw very few Americans. You will not find any large hotels, nor any chains. Cirali is the absolute opposite of corporate, and that’s what makes it so charming. All establishments seem to be local or family-owned restaurants and cafes.

Accommodation here is called pansiyon, and there are myriad options to choose from, ranging from camping in tents on a dirt lot, to garden bungalows, to mid-luxury villas. The grounds for some of these accommodations are beautifully designed and aesthetically pleasing; well manicured and lush; orange tree gardens with hammocks, birds nest swinging chairs and natural elements. I imagine that Cirali is perhaps what Tulum in Mexico used to look like, before it became overrun with Instagrammers and partiers.

Daily life in the village consists of waking up with a leisurely breakfast in the garden, a morning swim in the calm sea, swaying in a hammock with a book, sun bathing, and lounging beneath a shaded umbrella. The main mode of transportation throughout the village is by bicycle or car. You won’t find any electric bikes or scooters here (though I’m sure that will come in the near future!), but there are many different places to rent a bike for a day or for your entire visit. Some accommodations even provide bikes that come included in the cost of your stay. If you plan on renting a car, you should do so upon your arrival, which will most likely be in Antalya. Having a rental car is helpful, as it can be upwards of a 30-minute walk from some accommodations to restaurants or the sea, and a rental car is a must if you’d like to explore surrounding areas on day trips (continue reading below for day trips from Cirali.) There are many dirt roads and cobblestone streets that all connect throughout the valley, along with a main paved road that goes along the sea and is lined with restaurants. All restaurants have ample outdoor seating and the classic Turkish booths where you can recline barefoot and enjoy a tea.

There are even some restaurants along the river further up the village road with booths in the water! Talk about a unique dining experience igniting all the senses!

My husband and I based ourselves in Istanbul for about a month during our Digital Nomad Journey in Europe last year, but now we are new parents, so traveling abroad looks different for us than it used to when we were just a single couple traipsing around Europe! (If you’ll be visiting Istanbul, check out my Complete Travel Guide to Istanbul) Cirali is a very family-friendly destination; we were quite welcomed here with our 9-month-old baby boy, as the entire village is filled with multi-generational families and many young infants and toddlers. The locals were all friendly and waved at our baby, rubbed his head and touched his cheeks. Every restaurant had a high chair (they call it “baby chair”), and what saved us were all the Turkish booths! We have a very active crawling, cruising baby who doesn’t like to sit still in a high chair, so whilst we waited for our food, we let him crawl and climb in the booths, which he loved.

We stayed in Cirali for two weeks during the month of June, and it didn’t get busy until the end of the month. When we first arrived in early June, the weather was very pleasant and even a bit chilly at night, but as July approached, temperatures climbed into the mid 30’s (over 90 F) during the daytime. It is also quite humid, which makes it feel hotter, especially since Cirali is in a valley. The saving grace is the breeze from being on the sea. It gets busier in July and August, but because of how many restaurants there are, I can’t imagine it ever getting so busy that you have to wait too long for a seat. If you’re traveling with kiddos, the best time to visit the beach is in the early morning and late evening when the sun isn’t as strong. The markets also sell cheap umbrellas.

The food in Cirali is delicious and fresh; local veggies during summer consist of tomatoes, peppers and onions, and fresh fruits include oranges, pomegranates, strawberries, apricots, peaches and delicious sweet cherries, all of which you can purchase in the local markets. There are several markets, all of which are small but carry a few meats such as chicken and frozen manti (Turkish dumplings), yogurt, milk, cheese and sausage, but other than that, the markets sell mostly dry foods such as Turkish delight, chocolates, chips, etc. There is no large grocery store to speak of, so cooking at home is relatively limited unless you have spices and don’t mind eating chicken every day. The main seafood served here is seabass, red snapper and sea bream, and they come at very affordable prices and are charged by weight.

6 THINGS TO DO IN CIRALI:

  1. Walk to the Ancient Ruins of Olympos
  2. Hike to Chimera – permanent gas vents, like multiple eternal flames
  3. Rent a cruiser bicycle and explore the valley; I recommend downloading MapsMe, which works offline and shows all the smaller dirt trails and side roads
  4. Visit the Tuesday bazaar
  5. Try donduram ice cream 
  6. Hike part of the Lycian Trail (520 kilometers (320 miles) and stretches from the area of Fethiye to Antalya – part of the route goes through Cirali)

FUN FACT: Cirali Beach is home to the Caretta caretta turtles, which lay their eggs on the beach. If you see these markers up, please do not disturb the area, as this is where the eggs have been laid. Activists and volunteers help to mark these areas to help protect the species from going extinct.

Ancient Ruins of Olympos

From Cirali, the ruins are actually walking distance at the Southernmost end of the beach, but it’s best to park near Ikiz Restaurant and walk along the beach from there. There is a small entry fee, but if you go prior to 8AM, there is usually no guard there, so it is possible to get in for free. If you go early in the morning, you will have the ruins to yourself, as later in the day several tour buses come from Antalya.

These ruins belonged to the Lycian empire, and are particularly unique because of their location in a dense forest and alongside the cliffs. I recommend to take a look at MapsMe before you go, because the ruins are quite scattered. After visiting, we realized that we hadn’t even seen half of it! The ruins include an impressive castle built into the cliffside overlooking the sea, and an amphitheater.

Hike To Chimera Gas Vents

Just a five minute drive (or you can walk) from the village, lies an easy hiking trail to Chimera to see an interesting phenomenon of perpetually burning fires. Here methane and other gases emerge and burn from the rocks below, causing multiple eternal flames. Many people visit at night to see the fire aglow, but it is rocky and slippery, so I recommend wearing shoes with good grip and bringing a flashlight or headlamp if you hike at night. There is a minimal entrance fee.

Visit the Tuesday Bazar

Each Tuesday local vendors set up at a local market along the river in the main part of the village; here you will find all kinds of local produce, honey, olives and a plethora of Turkish Delights, tea and spices. There are also several clothing vendors selling locally made muslin cotton shorts, tops and dresses. Most of the clothing vendors do not accept credit card or Apple Pay, so be sure to bring some cash.

Try Donduram Ice Cream

This is the local Turkish ice cream with the thick consistency of Italian gelato.

DAY TRIPS FROM CIRALI:

  1. Antalya (1.5 hours North)
  2. Church of Saint Nicholas and Myra Ancient City Ruins (1.75 hour drive)
  3. Olympos Sea To Sky Teleferico (45 minute drive): 1,900 meters (5,700’) – if you’re into adrenaline sports, you can even paraglide down! (We gave this excursion a miss because it was $40 USD per person and we did something very similar (with the same name, actually) in Vancouver, Canada)

Antalya

Most people choose to stay in Antalya or Alanya for their Southern Turkey holiday, as both are larger cities. We flew into Antalya from Dublin and stayed one night there just to explore the old town before heading into Cirali. We took a taxi from Antalya to Cirali, which was $65 USD one-way.

Church of Saint Nicholas and Myra Ancient City Ruins

Located in the town of Demre about 1 hour and 45 minutes drive from Cirali, is the Church of Saint Nicholas, who is the inspirational legend for Santa Claus! In the 4th century he was appointed as a Saint due to his giving and caring nature (he was said to have left coins in the stockings of girls who did not have a dowry to get married – this started the tradition of putting gifts in stockings during Christmas!) The church is now a museum that holds the remains of Saint Nicholas. Over time it was flooded and filled with silt, which actually helped to preserve the beautiful tile floor. The frescoes are also sharp and well preserved.

Just a ten-minute drive further, are the Ancient Ruins of Myra, which are remarkable and look like something straight out of a Sci-Fi movie with graves built into the side of the rock wall! Myra was said to be one of the six leading cities in Lycia. Due to its location along the Lycian Way Hiking Trail, it is frequented by over 1,000 visitors per day.

On the way back to Cirali, to break up the trip (since we have a baby, we try to stop every hour or so for the shorter trips so that he’s not in his car seat for too long), we stopped at a restaurant on the water called Kaya; the atmosphere was lovely, the food was good, and the swing over the water off the dock was really fun!

Cost of Staying in Cirali

Turkey is one of the most inexpensive countries we have ever visited during our world travels. Here are some examples of what things cost in Cirali:

  • Dinner for two people (includes 4 entrees, water, dessert, and tip (bread and dips come free): $30 USD
  • Massage: $35 USD per hour
  • Scoop of ice cream: $1 USD
  • Muslin cotton shorts or top: $15 USD
  • Accommodation has a huge range based on what you’re looking for; it can be as low as $10 USD per night for a tent, to over $200 USD per night for a luxury villa

WHAT TO KNOW BEFORE VISITING CIRALI:

  1. It’s wise to always have some Lira with you, as tipping is preferred in cash, and some vendors do not accept card. Otherwise the markets and restaurants accept credit card and Apple Pay from your phone. If you run out of cash, the closest ATM is in the nearest town, which is at least half an hour away by car
  2. Essentials such as diapers, wipes and toilet paper are sold at the market, but in very small quantities, so if you have children, you may want to bring as many supplies from home as possible to last you through your trip, depending on how long you stay
  3. For many of the accommodations (pansiyon) in the valley, you can reserve through Booking.com and then negotiate a lower rate once you arrive in person if you pay with cash. Many establishments accept Euro or USD, so long as the USD is in mint condition
  4. There is one beach that stretches the entirety of the village, so there is plenty of space and doesn’t get too crowded. The beaches are part sand and part pebbles, which can hurt your feet when you walk, so it’s best to bring water shoes or slippers
  5. There are umbrellas and lounge chairs for rent all along the beach, and the markets also sell inexpensive umbrellas. The best time to swim is in the morning and evening when the sun is not so hot (during summer season)
  6. Even though Turkey is a Muslim country, it is acceptable to wear swim attire, however, bathing topless would be inappropriate 
  7. If you are traveling with a pram, be sure that the wheels can roll on cobblestone streets, dirt roads, sand and rough rocky pavements 

In conclusion, Cirali is a place that I could easily see having a family reunion every year as an annual tradition, and if you have the opportunity to visit, you will see why Cirali is such a magical and charming destination on Planet Earth.

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