Butterfly Valley, or Kelebekler Vadisi in Turkish, lies to the south of Ölüdeniz on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast. It takes its name from the more than 100 species of Butterfly that have been identified there. The valley could perhaps best be described as a coastal, flat-bottomed canyon. From its wide sandy beach it reaches inland about 3 to 4 kms, around 2 miles, and is completely hemmed in by sheer cliffs some 350-400 m (1,150-1,300 ft) high. The only ways to get into the valley are by boat or by a steep and exposed trail down the rock face with no protection. The guidebook ominously mentions two fatalities in recent times.
So today, mindful of the signs of decrepitude in our ageing bodies, we decided to walk the rim of the valley which has a reputation for superb mountain and coastal views. Our friends “Tom & Barbara” – remember them, they live in rural Turkey surrounded by their chickens and ducks, fruit trees, a lively dog and two cats – had been on this walk before and offered to be our guides. This was an offer that we could not refuse. We knew the scenery would be amazing and the company very special, so we accepted at once.
There was, of course, a downside to the choice of route, we would not be walking amongst the butterflies. In fact we did see one butterfly – I do mean one – a fine example of a Red Admiral if my shaky knowledge of lepidoptery is anything to go by. It fluttered about for less than a minute then was gone. We’d have to content ourselves with the views.
We drove from Kalkan, our home on the Med, to Eşen to pick up our friends then continued to Fethiye. The route then took us over the hills and through the less than attractive town of Hisaronu. Apart from the lack of a beach, Hisaronu is doing its level best to compete with the English seaside town of Blackpool. Tat reigns supreme. They even have grocery stores with names like Azda (sic) and Saintsbury (sic) to help visitors feel at home(??). The route then descends steeply in a series of wide bends to Ölüdeniz with its fine beaches and lagoon. It’s a place that features in most holiday adverts for Turkey. On leaving the town to continue southwards, we follow the road as it narrows and starts to make a very steep climb up the side of the cliffs. We stopped at nearly every bend to take photos.
And then suddenly, having climbed around 400 m (1,300 ft), the road took a left turn and we were looking down sheer cliffs to the beach of Butterfly Valley. The sand was almost white and the sea was turquoise. The scene was deserted apart from a yacht anchored off-shore. We drove onwards along the cliff edge on a road with no crash barriers and tried to avoid looking downwards. At one point we stopped to take in the views and saw the “old” road running below us following a narrow, natural ledge. That must have been a hair-raising drive in the old days.
Looking upwards and inland the mass of Babadağ (Grandfather Mountain) came into view. It’s the highest peak in this region standing some 1,975 m (just under 6,500 ft). There is a road that leads most of the way to the top. We plan to go there next Spring and to use the car to gain some of the height but not all.
We parked the car at the entrance to the village of Feralya that overlooks the valley from its head. From here you get a better view of the valley floor. There are ten or so wooden cabins scattered around the area near to the beach. Apart from a couple of swimmers the valley appeared to be deserted. Perhaps not surprising as it was the 12th November, not exactly peak holiday time. Actually, for those of you who have not been to Turkey at this time of year, November can be a great month. The days are mostly sunny with temperatures in the mid 20’sC, although the nights can get a little chilly.
The route we were to follow has been signposted and waymarked by the Fethiye Yürüyüş Parkurları. This organisation has done a great job in establishing, marking and publicising the walks in the area. The route follows the cliff tops all the way to Kabak the next community along the coast.
The first kilometre or so was through farmlands on a road that was little more than a tractor track. The hedgerows were full of fruit-bearing trees including olives, pomegranate and sarsaparilla. At the last farm a group of ladies were extracting the juice from pomegranates. It’s always the ladies that do the hard graft in rural Turkey. The job involved cutting the fruits in half to extract the juicy seeds, putting the seeds into big muslin bags and then putting the bags into a large wooden trough for trampling in order to squeeze out the juice. The trough was a work of art having been carved from a single tree trunk. The work and effort was immense relative to the output but labour here is cheap. Also, the ladies were warm and friendly, happy to be visited at their work.
Looking around the farmyard we came across an ancient Czechoslovakian Jawa motor bike. It was probably 50-60 years old and was in remarkably good condition. We started to speculate as to its value on Ebay, maybe as much as £10,000. Did the farmer know this? Should we try to buy it?
Beyond the last farm the route turned off the dirt road and became a narrow path. It descended over slippery grass and rocks to a wide ledge in the cliff face. Foliage disguised the outer edge of the ledge but, when we looked back from the other side of the valley later, we could see that the path was precariously close to a sheer drop. Just as well we couldn’t take in the full situation.
At the end of the ledge the path turned into a narrow valley and started to climb. The ground was relatively easy until we crossed the riverbed to climb up the opposite side. The way got increasingly steep until we came to the first hazard of the route. This came in the form of a steep, wet, grassy and rocky slope with a length of rope hanging down from a tree trunk about 20-30 metres above us. The rope had knots in it every metre or so and the objective was to straddle the rope and pull up from one knot to the next. Although it was a little daunting to look at, it worked well, and soon all four of us were on the path above this little difficulty.
The next couple of hundred metres or so were just short of a serious rock climb. There were good handholds and footholds but some of the stretches were at the margins of our capabilities, especially for those who are height-challenged. Fortunately, although a slip could have resulted in a nasty fall, the exposure to big drops was minimal. Anyway, we gradually gained ground and came out at the top onto a small meadow. We had reached our goal of the seaward end of Butterfly Valley.
The views were magnificent in all directions. Straight ahead, roughly to the west, we were looking out over the blue Mediterranean and, to the north, were the coastal hills behind Fethiye. We had walked on those hills exactly a year ago when following part of the Lycian Way. Below the hills were the deserted sandy beaches of Ölüdeniz recently cleared of all the sunbeds and umbrellas, as the 2014 holiday season has officially ended. Down below we could now see more of Butterfly Valley. The beach area was a little busier with two power boats and the original yacht, a couple of people swimming and a few more wandering along the beach. Only part of the valley bottom was visible but we could see the dramatic cliffs that define the north wall in all their glory.
Perched on the top of these cliffs was the road we had used to get to the start of the walk. It was perilously close to the cliff edge. And even more precariously perched was the “old” road which clung to a narrow ledge some way down the cliffs. How was it built? How many lives were lost during construction? How many donkey-drawn carts plunged over the edge? Only the goats would be safe on this terrain.
Finally, there was a superb view of Babadağ. This mountain forms the highpoint of the massif that runs from Fethiye south and eastwards to the 18km Patara Beach and separated from the main Taurus Mountains by the valley of the Eşen River. The summit looked as though it was covered in snow although this was an illusion. The brilliance of the sun was highlighting the gleaming white of the bare limestone.
And so it was time to reverse our steps. We now knew the dangers and difficulties of the path so it was with some trepidation that we set out. Our fears turned out to be unwarranted. Although the drops were more visible, judicious use of walking poles, and our bottoms, soon got us down to the knotted rope. Gripping the rope and swinging off the path required a bit of a leap of faith but, in reality, it was a lot easier than feared.
A little further down we stopped to look back at the beach and saw a most distressing sight. The beach was now deserted. The power boats had left and the yacht had lifted its anchor and was moving out under motor power through the turquoise water. Or so it should have been, except that the crew had decided that now was the time to empty the boat’s bilge tanks, flush out the toilet and throw their rubbish overboard. It was a disgusting sight. Grey, foamy streaks stretched out across the bay and white plastic bags bobbed in the boat’s wake. Don’t these people have any idea of the ecological and visual damage that they are doing?
Trying not to be too depressed, we walked back through the farmland and the small trees laden with fruit. Although the people here have some of the trappings of the 21st century – electricity, TV’s, cars, tractors – they are still leading a fairly hand-to-mouth, self-sufficient existence that is common in rural Turkey. There’s a lot of hard, manual labour required but at least it’s in a warm climate with idyllic scenery. But we have heard that often only lip-service is paid to education and that children are taken out of school to work at very early ages.
As we got back to the car and were changing out of our boots and packing up, another car pulled into the layby. Out stepped three young (under 20) English boys. They asked us if we knew the route down to the valley and we said yes but then started to issue the warnings of steepness and exposure. Our age gap of around 40 to 50 years showed up as they thanked us for the advice but set off anyway. Oh to be young again.
As we drove back along the cliff tops, in full knowledge of the steepness of the drops into the valley, we took one last stop. Looking across the valley we could see the line of the route we had taken. It became clear, if it wasn’t already, that we had been walking along the edges of unseen precipices. Maybe we do still have some of the spirit of youth even though the flesh is protesting.