“If you come to the top of this hill, you will see Bodrum. Don’t think that you will leave the same person as when you arrived. To all those who came before you, it happened that way: they lost their hearts in Bodrum.”
~ Cevat Şakir, the Fisherman of Halicarnassus
There’s a likely chance you may never have heard about a Blue Voyage before? A Blue Voyage, or Blue Cruise as it is also called, offers a truly unique and unusual recreational yacht charter adventure aboard a gulet which navigates along the ancient ruins-strewn coastlines of Greece’s beautiful Dodecanese islands and Turkey’s picturesque Turquoise Coast. The tourism phrase, Blue Voyage, has its origins in Turkish literature and is attributed to a writer, known as the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, who coined this phrase to express his love of the Southern Aegean’s vivid blue sea.
What’s a Gulet?
We had no idea what it was either until someone asked, “Have you ever been on a gulet?” Harkening back to an era when ancient wooden ships sailed across the Mediterranean and Aegean Seas, a Turkish gulet (pronounced: ɡuˈlet), are wooden sailing vessels that have been used for both fishing and merchant trading between ports of call for eons. Mostly built in the Turkish coastal towns of Bodrum and Marmaris, modern day gulets are luxuriously appointed traditionally built two, or three, masted wooden motorsailers designed to provide exceptional comfort to onboard guests of anywhere between four to 20 people on average. Gulets are ideally suited for pleasure motor sailing because of their broad beam, which allows for a large half-moon shaped stern dining and lounging area aft, with plenty of spacious cabins below deck. Built for comfort and not speed, Gulets primarily motor from place to place and will only travel under sail if the itinerary, wind and weather permit. Cruising time is usually no more than 3-4 hours, leaving the rest of the day free for other activities.
Life Aboard a Gulet
Apart from blissfully relaxing and gazing at the seemingly endless blue of the southern Aegean Sea, Blue Voyages allow guests to also visit picturesque towns with ancient harbors, go ashore to explore historic seaside Greco-Roman archeological sites, and partake in recreational activities such as sunbathing on deck, swimming in crystal clear waters, snorkelling, windsurfing, water-skiing and fishing. Or you can spend all of your time on board just reading a book if you like. The captain and crew are continuously at your service and cater to all your needs. The relative closeness of a small group of people on board fosters an atmosphere of relaxed camaraderie and spirit of sharing an adventure together.
Feast like Royals
We had long heard people proclaim Mediterranean cuisine was among the finest in the world. The cook pampered us throughout the entire voyage with mouth-watering Turkish and Greek cuisine, all of which we were blown away by. So much so, upon returning home, Kathryn, sought out the nearest authentic Greek and Turkish delis to source authentic ingredients to try and replicate several of the dishes we were served on board. Trust us, you will not go hungry on a Blue Voyage gulet. More to the point, you will savor some of the tastiest cuisine on this planet.
Greece sure, but is Turkey safe?
A reasonable question and one we both wanted answered long before we left Vancouver. Greece is generally considered to be safe. The Turkish Riviera, where the gulets visit, are a stretch of coastline boasting some of the finest beaches in Europe and also happen to be the most commonly visited region of Turkey by tourists. Any random act of terrorism in Istanbul is a long distance away from the coastal areas popular with tourists. There was nothing sketchy we experienced, nor was there a single moment where we felt unsafe during our entire trip. In fact, when clearing customs at the port in Bozburan, after stamping Jett’s passport, the customs officer offered him a piece of chocolate. Suffice to say, without hesitation we would return to this corner of the world in a heartbeat.
For any Blue Voyage, select one of the scheduled itineraries or ask the captain to create a new route in accordance with your schedule. Special custom routes are generally created when a private gulet is rented. All sailing plans are subject to change on the fly due to wind and weather conditions. For Greece and Turkey, the optimal Blue Voyage season starts at the beginning of April to the end of October with June, July and August being hottest months.
This video shows one view of the Datca Peninsula.
This video shows our two gulets motorsailing to Buzburun, Turkey.
Our Blue Voyage itinerary took us to the following ports of call.
Kos, one of Greece’s Dodecanese islands, is a harbor town known for its historic Greek and Roman ruins and abundant sandy beaches. Kos Harbor’s major attraction is the 15th-century Neratzia Castle, a sculpture-strewn medieval fortress which was built by the Byzantines. Just south of the castle are the ancient Agora ruins, with a temple, shrine and columns and the huge tree of Hippocrates (trunk diameter 37 feet). Another focal point in Kos town is to take a leisurely stroll along the harbor’s beautiful promenade and checking out the shops in the old town.
The video below was shot from Neratzia Castle and shows the waterfront in Kos.
This video shows a part of Neratzia Castle’s and interior
After an evening passage from Kos to the Turkish coast, we anchored in darkness to overnight in a protected bay near the 2,600-year-old archeological ruins of an ancient Carian city named, Knidos. Nicknamed “City by the Sea”, Knidos is situated on the Tekirburun tip of Turkey’s Datca Peninsula and is bordered by two ancient harbors, one military and one commercial, which date back to Roman times. Among the major archeological attractions here are the remains of two amphitheaters, an acropolis, and a temple which housed the famous statue of Aphrodite. The lower amphitheater had seating for 5,000, whereas the upper one could seat 20,000. It’s believed that Knidos was home to Eudoxus, a Greek astronomer, mathematician and student of Plato; Greek physician Euryphon; Greek architect and engineer Sostratos and Greek vase painter Polygnotos. The entire site is undergoing gradual restoration.
“God sent his beloved creatures to Datça for them to live longer” so said Strabo, an ancient Greek geographer, historian and philosopher. Datca is a quiet holiday resort town situated on a mountainous dagger of pure green terrain called the Datca Peninsula. Stretching for approximately 62 miles the unspoilt natural beauty of Datca Peninsula separates the Mediterranean and Aegean seas. There are a countless number of secluded aquamarine bays to explore. The port town of Datca was established by the Dorians who came during the 7th century BC. Today, Datca features old stone houses and a cobbled pedestrian walkway that fringes the town. The numerous restaurants here adorn the path with vibrantly coloured flowerpots that fill the air with an aromatic floral scent.
The video shows our two gulets waiting in Datca to be cleared by Turkish Customs Officials.
Selimiye is an established and charming fishing village named after Selimiye Cove. People will tell you this is the place to visit if you’re searching for the “real” Turkey. Indeed, the locals here were welcoming and our brief visit allowed for a pleasurable shore excursion in the small village square and the harbor’s vibrant marina. Selimiye has not sold its soul to tourism and exudes a laid-back family atmosphere embraced by positive vibrations of serenity. No hustle. No bustle.
At one time a center for the sponge fishing industry, Bozburun is a small seaside town and also a major shipbuilding hub for the tourist industry on the Bozburun Peninsula. Among the attractions here are waterfront bars, eateries, marina and a nice harbour walk. In Bozburun Bay we enjoyed some fabulous fun time at anchorage in an invitingly blue sea swimming, snorkelling, water skiing, canoeing, splashing about on paddleboards and jet skis. One particular sight-seeing highlight during our time on shore was we were taken to a shipbuilding yard just on the outskirts of town to see how gulets are actually constructed using traditional methods.
Entering the exquisite amphitheatre-like port of Symi, it’s impossible not to be stunned by the painterly-like beauty and the harmonious scene of neoclassical two and three-storey red tile roofed traditional stone houses, brushed in shades of indigo, lemon, ochre and terracotta. A place of infinite beauty, with tavernas by the sea and fine restaurants in the old central square set up the peculiarity of Symi. Or perhaps, we should just raise a glass to the Italians who ruled the island almost a century ago. For it was their Venetian influence that established the architectural design aesthetic that Symi has embraced ever since.
The video below shows a gulet preparing to dock in Symi, Greece.
Saint George Bay, Symi, Greece
Barricaded on three sides by massively steep 1,200-foot-high vertical cliffs, Saint George Bay’s sheltered beach is an extraordinarily beautiful and idyllic place to anchor and go for a swim or short pebbled beach walk. Despite being accessible only by sea, the unspoiled pebble beach front here is considered by many to be not only the best in Symi, but among one of the most impressive beaches in the world. There are no bistros or bars here, just a dose of wild solitude to sooth your soul.
The video shows some guests enjoying a little beach time.
Panormitis Monastery, Symi, Greece
Situated at the south end of Symi, the Holy Monastery of Archangel Michael Panormitis stands at the head of scenic Panormitis Bay. The monastery attracts many visitors during the summer months who can tour the monastery and its rather ornate chapel. While the exact construction date of this edifice is as yet unknown, according to an old manuscript, it’s believed this monastery existed in the 15th century and at the time. Some believe the monastery was built on the ruins of an ancient temple, but this has not yet been proven. Nearby, along with a nice beach, there are a few taverns and shops to serve all the day-trippers. A local tradition of throwing a bottle in the sea with a prayer scribbled on a piece of paper still persists.
The Old Town of Rhodes is an archeological treasure and the oldest inhabited medieval fortress in Europe. Beautifully preserved throughout the centuries, it was here we disembarked from our gulet on the largest of the Dodecanese islands. Designated a World Heritage City by UNESCO in 1988, this grandiose walled city has roughly over 200 winding, cobbled streets and lanes that are unnamed. Yes, this historic stronghold was literally designed for invading pirates to get lost. Among the best-preserved ancient relics are the 14th century Palace of the Grand Master (also known as Castello), Street of the Knights, the Museum of Rhodes which has an extensive array of exhibits, the 7th-century Roloi Clock Tower which provides a 360-degree view of the town, and there are plenty of local shops and restaurants in the old market sector.
A magical history tour if ever there was and by far one of the most relaxing and decadent exploratory adventures we have ever experienced. More importantly, the Turkish crew aboard our gulet treated us like family and the bond was sealed one evening after dinner when Captain Aytekin introduced us to is the Turkish national drink… Raki. Otherwise known as Lion’s Milk, this alcoholic beverage is made of twice-distilled grapes and flavored aniseed. Everywhere we roamed in Turkey and Greece, the locals were welcoming and friendly. Just as the Fisherman of Halicarnassus predicted, we did not leave as the same people we were when arrived. We stood at the top of the hill in ancient Knidos. Indeed, it happened this way. During our Blue Voyage of dreams, we lost our hearts to this corner of the world while on a gulet odyssey.
Until our next dispatch, dare to Explore…Dream…Discover.
A sincere thank you to Yazmin Melissa Mercan of Mirya Yachting International for the life-changing experience. Captain Aytekin and the crew of “Muhtesem A” gulet for their warm hospitality, friendship and introducing us to Raki! And also, Randi Winter of Passionate Travel for posing the question, “Have you ever been on a gulet?”