A small peaceful Mediterranean resort and fishing town on the beautiful Turquoise Coast of Turkey, Kalkan has not been touched by mass tourism. More sophisticated than the usual resort town,, Kalkan (according to the Sunday Times) attracts the kind of visitor who would also enjoy Tuscany or the Dordogne. The Guardian likens the town to "the Italian Riviera minus the poseurs."
Kalkan curls around a historic harbour sheltered at the foot of the Taurus Mountains. The town overlooks a bay in which islands float upon the sea. Narrow streets, lined with whitewashed villas with shuttered windows, and local specialty shops and restaurants, twist down to the sea. Overhead hang original carved Ottoman period Greek timber balconies with giant bougainvillea cascading to the streets below.
Kalkan’s main economy is tourism and its citizens put much pride and effort into the town’s historic preservation. Kalkan has protected its distinctive Ottoman Greek architecture. Very strict building codes keep the town small and architecturally blended with the historic heart of the town known as "Old Kalkan".
Many excellent restaurants contribute to the special atmosphere of Kalkan. In fact, Kalkan is said to have the highest number of restaurants and bars per inhabitant or square meter on the Turkish coast (over 100 of them!). Kalkan is especially known for its numerous roof terrace restaurants and bars. It’s also nice to sit at one of the many fine harbour-side restaurants and watch the pleasure boats and fishermen leave early in the morning as you eat your breakfast, or see the fishing boats return with the day’s catch in the evening.
There is lots to do during the day and nightlife is fun, but laid-back. You won’t find noisy, wild nightlife here, like in some other coastal resorts.
Turkish hospitality is the basis of life here, so don’t hesitate to accept one of the many tulip-shaped glasses of çay (tea) you will be offered while you amble along Kalkan’s winding streets. You will find a mixed population here, consisting of locals, some Istanbul Turks and Turks from other cities who have made Kalkan their home and own small businesses, as well as a small number of w foreigners who have settled in the town.
Kalkan does not seem to have been a place of settlement in antiquity (then known as Phoenicus), though it was the place of the only safe harbour between Kaş and Fethiye and would have offered safety to ships during rough weather. Indeed, a fierce battle was once fought in the bay after Roman and Rhodian ships, unable to attack the neighbouring Lycian port of Patara due to bad weather, found short-lived safety in Kalkan’s bay. Today’s ships still find safe harbour in Kalkan when the seas are rough.
The Lycian coast was famous for its piracy and Kalkan bay no doubt provided a convenient hiding place for pirates to suddenly pounce upon the many heavily-laden merchant ships sailing by.
Kalkan became an important port during the 19th century – even more so than Fethiye or Antalya, its two larger neighbors. It was settled 150 to 200 years ago by people of both Greek and Turkish origin subject to the Ottoman Empire and was known by its Greek name "Kalamaki." Camels brought goods to Kalkan from the nearby Xanthos valley and from as far away as the mountain highlands near Elmali. Cargo ships were then loaded in Kalkan’s harbour to sail for the far reaches of the Ottoman Empire carrying charcoal, silk (you can see many mulberry trees in Kalkan today), olive oil (still produced in Kalkan) and wine, as well as cotton, grain, sesame seed, flour, grapes, acorns used for dye, and lumber from the vast cedar and pine forests.
By the early 20th century Kalkan had become quite a sizeable village. At the turn of the century it had its own custom’s house and in 1915 there were reportedly seventeen restaurants, a goldsmith, a shoemaker and several tailors. The first local elections were held in 1928 and in 1937 the present elementary school was opened.
Following World War I, the exchange in population between the new Turkish Republic and Greece took place in 1923 after the Turkish War of Independence. Most of the Greek origin people then living in Kalkan left Turkey. Some went to the nearby Greek island of Meis, but most were resettled near Athens. They were resettled as a community (like most Greek immigrants from Turkey) and named their new town "Kalamaki", after Kalkan’s previous name.
Trading continued until it faded away in the 1950’s due to the improvement of the Turkish road system and the adoption of overland transport. With no more sea trade, the population of Kalkan trickled away as people moved to larger coastal cities to find work. Luckily, Kalkan was saved by the arrival of wealthy English yachtsmen in the 1960’s and tourism eventually became the main economy of Kalkan. Because of this, Kalkan has retained its historic charm. Strict building and preservation codes are enforced and many of Kalkan’s buildings are listed. Because of the determination to keep Kalkan beautiful, Kalkan has a specialness to it lacking in many other towns along the coast.
Despite the changes tourism has brought to the people of Kalkan, traditional life still continues for many of the local residents. Historically, many locals of Kalkan have owned land both in Kalkan and in the nearby mountain village of Bezirgan, set in a beautiful valley 17 km from Kalkan. Today many of these residents continue to follow the pattern of their ancestors, spending summers in the coolness of the mountains and winters near the warm coast.
Kalkan’s Ottoman Greek origin can still be seen in its distinctive architecture which is very similar to the architecture of the nearby Greek island of Meis (Castellorizo). There is also a Greek Orthodox church by Kalkan’s harbour which has been converted into a mosque.
As you walk about Old Kalkan you will notice much historic architecture. This architecture is very special, of the traditional ‘Kalkan Style’, and is well-preserved and protected.
Old Kalkan’s houses line narrow streets winding up from the harbour and are quite beautiful, often covered in bougainvillea. They are characteristically built of stone with small shuttered windows and timber balconies, whitewashed walls and contrasting woodwork. and often have courtyards and gardens. Narrow passages criss-cross between the houses. To combat the heat of summer, houses were built for coolness. Balconies, terraces and courtyards were constructed to create cool, comfortable areas, while small windows could be tightly shuttered from the hot noon sun. Windows and balconies of the upper floors face the sea to take advantage of any breezes.
Old Kalkan buildings are usually two stories high, unless the road is very steep. In this case there is sometimes a mezzanine. Behind the pediment (the hallmark of the traditional Kalkan house) is the red-tiled roof and chimneypot. Ground floors are usually used as shops or for storage while residents live on the floors above.
Decorative elements can be seen in the sills placed between the floor levels and the tops of windows and on the corners of buildings enhanced with pilasters and pseudo column capitals. Adorned pediments grace facades, and dentils and cornices decorate eves.
There are plenty of shops in Kalkan, all of which open early in the day and stay open until at least midnight. And unlike other resort towns, shopping in Kalkan is completely hassle-free. An evening spent strolling about the winding streets and alleys while window shopping can be very rewarding as there are so many things to see and buy in the many specialty shops.
You can find almost anything in Kalkan, from carpets to t-shirts and boxes of Turkish Delight and the traditional blue-coloured glass "evil eye" for warding off evil spirits. Gold and silver jewelry is a great buy in Turkey as it is sold by its weight. Lovely antiques, collected selectively from all over Turkey during the winter months, are very attractive as well. Other items include intricately-decorated ceramics, hand-blown glass, hand-carved Meerschaum pipes and backgammon sets inlaid with mother-of-pearl.
Enjoy shopping for excellent clothing. Several tailors are ready to make you made-to-measure clothing of excellent Turkish cloth. Affordable boutiques offer high fashion clothing, hand-knit articles and leather goods (for excellent prices). You can even buy that belly dancing costume you’ve always wanted.
Beautiful Turkish kilims (hand-woven rugs) and carpets (traditional knotted rugs) are very beautiful and will last well over a century. Take your time to find the one which fits you perfectly. There is a vast number of types which come from many regions of Turkey with different styles and stories which your salesperson can describe to you in detail. If you can’t afford a carpet or kilim this time, there are also shops which offer lovely high-quality articles made of kilims, such as cushion covers, bags, purses, wallets and slippers.
Prices in Kalkan are very affordable and shopkeepers are happy to accept your foreign currency.
Dining and Drinks
There are over forty restaurants in Kalkan offering everything from traditional Turkish meals to international cuisine. Most restaurants offer an open buffet with a large choice of meze (starters) which is followed by fish or grilled meat. The Turkish way of dining is to begin with a selection of three or four starters, followed by the main course, and ending with fruit or dessert plus the famous Turkish coffee. Meals can be lingered over for hours in the refreshingly cool evening air, often finishing close to midnight. All prices are displayed near the restaurant’s entrance except fish which can be subject to bargaining.
Kalkan also has all sorts of bars. You might choose to listen to a gypsy band while sipping your raki (the strong Turkish aniseed drink) and smoking a hooka while reclining Ottoman-style upon cushions (and maybe getting up for a belly dance or two). There are also jazz bars, other live-music bars, several popular small dancing bars with comfortable seating for non-dancers and two disco bars -one located outside of the center of Kalkan and another open to the public at Pirat Hotel. Because of Kalkan’s strict codes, a large amount of noise from the bars is avoided, ensuring a peaceful sleep.
Many Kalkan hotels hold special “Turkish nights” once a week. These are special events and you need not be a guest of the presenting hotel to attend. Turkish feasts are held on the rooftop terrace or regular terrace under the stars, often with a belly dancing show, live Turkish music and/or regional folk dancing by children’s groups.
Paragliding near Kas makes for spectacular viewing over the mountains and harbour. This activity can be booked from Kalkan tour agencies and includes a transfer to and from Kas. Or you can catch the dolmus to the Kas and find a tour agent there.