Winter of content by the sea in Turkey

 

Go Turkey:Most of us would love to escape the Irish winter to somewhere sunny, beautiful, culturally different and still not too far from home. Kas in southern Turkey ticks all those boxes, writes KATE FENNELL

SPENDING THE winter months in a Mediterranean town on the Turkish coast feels like having snuck backstage for a wander in an open air theatre at the end of a successful run: battered parasols lie strewn across cracked decking; collapsed loungers lean against wind-swept palm trees; stray cats clamber across idle fishing boats, and rusted bars from diving pads dangle over a sparkling, turquoise sea.

The turquoise sea is what I was staring dreamily into the other day, when a wave of joy mixed with relief swept over me as I realised I had finally found the perfect place to escape the Irish winter. How many times at home in the rain and freezing cold had I – as have most of us – wished to be somewhere sunny, beautiful, culturally different and still not too far from home? Tick all of those and more for Kas (pronouced Kash).

Situated on a lush peninsula and surrounded by imposing mountains, Kas’s winter climate is like a sweet spoilt child who throws sporadic tantrums: sunny and warm or raging a tremendous storm which can sink boats. The storms are thankfully few and last only a night or two; the following day the sun always shines.

With a population of 7,000 and located roughly three hours from both Antalya and Dalaman airports, Kas is not a “Turkish resort” in the same way that Bodrum or Marmaris are. It has no Red Lion pubs or steak-and-chips houses. It has Greek-style houses bedecked with purple bougainvillea on narrow cobbled streets, an attractive harbour, friendly locals with a quick wit, and tree-lined tea gardens where the winter hours are pleasantly whiled away playing backgammon, chatting and imbibing endless glasses of tea.

One of the added attractions of spending the winter, or longer, here is that living costs are lower than at home, which makes it possible, with some planning, to make the move. So how does one manage to survive here? As my English friend here, Julie, surmised: “Either you have money behind you to live in Kas or you live carefully and get by on your pension, savings or any income you earn here or from outside.”

After recently totting up the monthly cost of living for herself and her husband, which is mostly funded by her teacher’s pension, she said it came to between €800 to €1,000. Not including eating out or rent but including everything from food to petrol to broadband. Also including his €300 beer spend and the cost of running their boat. She actually wonders if she’s not overspending.

I think I may be even living on just half of that, but to my chagrin, I’ve noticed that it’s easier to fritter away money here than one may think. Expats concur and say that the cost of living here has risen in the past few years. However, my monthly rent of €250 for a cosy, brightly-lit, two-bedroom apartment with a sea view strikes me like a very good deal.

Similarly, a Scottish couple, who spend every other month here, were clearly thrilled with their purchase of an equally lovely two-bed apartment recently for €150,000. Two-bed apartments start selling at around €100,000 in and around Kas, rent is slightly higher in summer and weekly holiday lets are €350 to €400. In winter time there are plenty of rental options but in summer they tend to get snapped up fast.

During Christmas, which we celebrated with a swim in the sun, all the main restaurants served Christmas fare for €20 a head and on a normal night out with friends that will get you a delicious meal plus wine. When I first arrived I was eating breakfast and lunch out for anything from €1.50 to €6, that is from a toasted sandwich to a full Turkish breakfast to a grilled chicken kebab with salad and rice. Now that I’m cooking at home, I buy all my fruit and veg for the week at the weekly village market and, amazingly, walk away with change from the equivalent of €20 in my pocket.

Travelling to many of the interesting and scenic places near Kas is made easy by the efficient network of buses that criss-cross the country, as well as minibuses which connect to villages and smaller towns. We could easily take a leaf from their public transport notebook – it’s cheap, comfortable and runs on time. For example, it costs about €1 on your average half-hour minibus ride and €18 for a return journey to Antalya, which is four hours away.

When I need my big-city fix it’s reassuring to know that Istanbul is only a one-hour plane ride from Antalya or Dalaman airports and tickets can be bought for anything from €30 to €100 depending on how long in advance it’s booked.

Many foreigners, including many nautical types who have boats in the bay, have fallen for this charming lifestyle in southern Turkey and made a home here but there hasn’t been an inundation by any means. Just enough to make a Saturday night in Evy’s, the restaurant-cum-bar run by a French lady, a lively social affair with a healthy mix of locals and blow-ins. With a pint of beer costing €3, a glass of wine or raki €4, expats have been known to indulge a little too much in the nectar of the gods. Especially when supermarket prices are half that. But c’est la vieand one thing everyone feels when the sun is on their back and the sky is a bright blue, is that they are lucky to be living in Kas.

The weekends are punctuated with live Turkish and Western music in several of the bars and often on Sundays there is a trip organised to one of the many Lycian, Greek, Persian or Roman ruins dotted along the coast.

And it’s possible to be in Europe in half an hour: across the bay on a Greek island called Kastellorizo which has 400 or so inhabitants. Yes, it can be surprising to find a Greek island only a stone’s throw away and without a hint of animosity apparent between the two populations. “They are our Mediterranean cousins,” exclaims Yusuf, explaining the friendly attitude of the Kashians towards the islanders. A day-trip to there to eat calamari, drink Mythos beer and chat with the Greek locals is like going on a foreign holiday.

All the Greek citizens had to leave Kas in 1923, at the founding of the Turkish Republic, as part of a population exchange programme, and were replaced by Turks who had been resident in Greece. To prove that the hatchet is truly buried though, the Greeks bring their music and dance to Kas every June as part of the Kas Lykian Festival.

In the coming months Kas’s maritime world will expand with the completion of the new marina in a spectacular location at the edge of town. It is expected to bring yachters from far and wide and only time will tell how this will transform the idyllic town. For now, as I sip my tea amid the sounds and sights of workers hammering, drilling, welding and painting in premises up and down the cobbled streets, it seems time to brush down the set, shake off the winter and prepare once more to for summertime in Kas.

Get there:Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com) flies Dublin to Istanbul, and from Istanbul to Antalya or Dalaman airports. It also flies from London Gatwick to Antalya and Dalaman airports direct. Take Havas bus from Dalaman/Antalya airports to Kas. Buses go regularly and take three to four hours.

Kas where to . . .

Stay

Hotel Villa(hotelvillakas.com): it is near the sea and has beautiful rooms with balconies offering spectacular views of the bay and Kastellorizo. Doubles from €15pps in winter and €20pps in summer with breakfast.

Ates Pension(atespension.com): the Ates pension is on the other side of town and has comforatble rooms and splendid seaviews. Doubles from €12.50pps in winter with breakfast, and from €15 to €20pps in summer months.

Hera Hotel(herahotel.com): if you want some luxury this is where to go. With a classical façade and abundant hallway it can feel like being in an Agatha Christie set. Doubles in winter from €45pps and €75pps in summer.

Eat

Mercan(mercankas.net): one of the oldest and best fish restaurants in Kas. Portions are copious and prices are keen. Full meal with wine €20 in winter, €25 or more in summer.

Evy: the steak here is to die for. In winter it’s necessary to make a reservation in advance but in summertime you can arrive unannounced. Make sure to arrive hungry though because the portions are generous. Around €25 to €30 per head.

Lola: this is an amiable mid-priced restaurant popular with the locals and located in front of the harbour. Around €15 to €20 a head in winter, €20 in summer.