Fethiye – Muğla – Turkey
GPS : 36°39’05.2″N 29°06’09.4″E / 36.651440, 29.102621
Şövalye Island is a part of the 12 Islands chain, but unlike most of the other islands it’s still inhabited. It is the only one of the islands to be located in Fethiye’s inner bay. This has a happy consequence: being the closest to the harbour, the major tour-boat operators ignore it, because they have their sights set on longer trips . Yet by water taxi it’s only 20 minutes at most between Fethiye town and Şövalye. So should the tranquillity of island life begin to pall, you have easy access to the buzzy nightlife on the mainland. But for most visitors, the very attraction of Sovalye is its quietness.
Every tone of blue and green can be seen in the Gulf of Fethiye, where the encircling mainland seems to draw the sea into the embrace of its vegetation. The trees grow right down to the water’s edge, their branches and leaves reaching out as if unaware of the Mediterranean’s salinity. The tiny islands scattered over the gulf which in antiquity was known as the Gulf of Glaukos after the famous Lycian general who fought in the Trojan wars, resemble pearls strung around the neck of a young bride. So we invite you to join us on a tour of this beautiful place.
Boarding a boat in Fethiye harbour and heading out of the bay, across whose mouth lies Şövalye Island, leaving only two channels at the east and west extremities. The island behind the gulf is Kızıl Ada or Red Island, with its shores. There is no trace of an ancient settlement on this island, where the only inhabitants today are the lighthouse keeper and his family.
The narrow eastern channel is too shallow for large boats and ships, which have to use the western channel. In many cases the same advantages which attracted the people of antiquity to a particular spot are still valid today, which is why contemporary towns and cities in Turkey are so often built on or near ancient cities. This is the case with Şövalye Island, whose many summer villas share the island with the ruins of late Roman walls, cisterns and churches.
The name Şövalye, meaning cavalier or knight, derives from the fact that in the Middle knights turned pirate made their base here at various times. Some early writers also referred to the island as Megri Island, after the ancient name for Fethiye.
Turkey’s lovely Lycian coast is no longer quite the secret it once was, but there are still some wonderful discoveries to be made. The “12 islands” chain in the Gulf of Fethiye is one such revelation – admittedly a little over-visited by excursion boats in the high season, but a fascinating scattering of ancient settlements nonetheless. Densely wooded in shades of deepest green and with their Roman and Byzantine ruins baking almost to colourlessness under the Mediterranean sun, the islands seem to float on the water like pieces of a jigsaw.
Şövalye is a part of that chain, but unlike most of the other islands it’s still inhabited. It is the only one of the islands to be located in Fethiye’s inner bay. This has a happy consequence: being the closest to the harbour, the major tour-boat operators ignore it, because they have their sights set on longer trips (and higher earnings). Yet by water taxi it’s only 20 minutes at most between Fethiye town and Sovalye. So should the tranquillity of island life begin to pall, you have easy access to the buzzy nightlife on the mainland. But for most visitors, the very attraction of Sovalye is its quietness.
Şövalye is an island straight out of Swallows and Amazons – for pedestrians only and with shady walkways through scented pine forests. No traffic means no roads: you cross the land by tracks, beaten or otherwise. A leisurely walk from end to end takes 45 minutes or so, along a coastline dotted with sand and shingle coves. In the crystal-clear water you can make out the ruins of earlier settlements. These date back to late Roman times, but each has slid into the sea after the numerous earthquakes that have shaken this coastline; the last catastrophic quake to hit the Gulf of Fethiye struck back in 1958.
Inland, hidden amid the pines and the carob trees, are the remains of a crusader castle, built by the Knights of St John after they crossed over from nearby Rhodes. Legend has it that the island became a base in the Middle Ages for renegade knights-turned-pirates.
You can circumnavigate Sovalye by canoe in about an hour, paddling over submerged houses, an old city wall, churches and a Roman cistern that was converted to a chapel during the Byzantine period. Its roof finally collapsed only last year, following a period of heavy rain. Elsewhere, old olive-oil pots and amphorae can be seen scattered across the seabed.
There is nothing quite like license to sail around your own island to release the inner child: the unlikeliest of our handful of fellow guests went gleefully into full-on Boy’s Own mode. The less energetic among us spent the time playing cards with Handan’s father on the terrace, raiding the honesty bar for more bottles of beer every time the game took an interesting turn.
Besides Ece (which provides seven self-catering apartments) and a couple of small rental villas, there’s only one – slightly shabby – hotel on Şövalye, which seems to be from another age. A bored cat and a dog snoring under a pomegranate tree were the only life-forms we could find when crossing the courtyard to investigate. Otherwise, the houses on Şövalye are privately owned – most, but not all, as holiday homes. Local planners have restricted the number of new structures to 70, a total that has almost been reached.
Accordingly, peace and quiet reign supreme. Away from the water, the only noticeable noise comes from the island’s wildlife – birds in their hundreds, and a non-stop cacophony of cicadas. And the stillness in the air is made tangible by the headiness of the scents with which Şövalye is awash. During our visit in early August, the jasmine was overpowering. Just as the peacefulness of Sovalye makes it a favourite retreat for writers, so the quality of light has a special lure for artists: keen; clear; shimmering.
Bus : Fethiye – Antalya, Muğla, Burdur, Dalaman
Ferryboat : Fethiye – Rhodos (Greece)
Airport : Dalaman International Airport