What kind of traveler are you? Where exactly is your comfort zone? Is it when you know you are surrounded by other tourists in a resort that caters your preferred food from home? Or are you the kind of person that gets excited when ‘discovering’ a hidden gem? Stunning and unspoiled nature or a lovely charming local restaurant on a sandy beach? Or what about a spot oozing with a cultural and historical heritage you seem to be having all to yourself? Not just a few old stones scattered around, but the actual, visible remains of ancient civilizations? And what if you could have all that in one place? Just a short drive from some of Turkey’s main tourist attractions. It is almost impossible to believe these things exist, yet they do. One of those places is Bafa Gölü (or Lake Bafa) in Turkey. Get ready to be wowed!
Bafa Gölü: Where ancient civilizations meet Turkish village life
Bafa Gölü is a big lake, situated between Milas and Izmir. Besides being a historical site, Bafa is also a Natural Park (protected area) thanks to its unspoiled surroundings and the vast variety of wildlife and flowers. At Bafa Gölü, you are not just spending a day at the lake. The Beşparmak Mountains (5 finger Mountains are an impressive backdrop. It is hard to describe the atmosphere at Bafa, but the place has a unique vibe and energy which you should experience. And those mountains? Well, besides the fact that they seem to be an extensive collection of piled up boulders, they also hide old Greek monasteries and even pre-historical wall paintings in Mount Latmos. The lakeshore houses a perfect köfte place right on the beach, and the remains of the rock tombs of Herakleia. Bafa lake itself is home to several islands to which you can take a boat trip, visiting the remains of the monasteries that were built on them. In short, combining ruins with nature and boat trips to islands is dead easy at Bafa.
Rock tombs at Lake Bafa
The word that comes to mind the most is authenticity. Turkish village life in breathtaking scenery, what more can one wish for? The village you will most likely be staying at since it offers most of the accommodations around the lake is Kapıkırı. It is built on the remains of what used to be Herakleia and is a perfect base camp from which to explore the Bafa area. Chances are some local ladies that have a lucrative business selling handicrafts along the road will welcome you. Their merchant skills are excellent, and they are hard to bargain with. Three female musketeers on a quest for your money in a charming way… It’s all part of the experience!
Whiling away the day under the tree on the beach is also part of that experience, but do try and tear yourself away from the scenery to have a closer look at the rock tombs of Herakleia. After all, there is nothing wrong with a little culture and history from time to time, especially if it happens to be located in a spot of pristine natural beauty. The tombs are mystical. You reach them after passing the ruins of a castle, and they are spread all over the area. The shapes of the rock tombs, the simplicity of the concept and the silence that surrounds you are enough to suck you in completely. A perfect spot for a good book or just a moment of reflection and peace.
Yediler Monastery, a piece of the Carian Trail
Hiking around Lake Bafa is an excellent way to spend the day as it allows you to discover the beauty of the area in a very particular way. Also, it brings you to places that can only be reached by foot. Seriously narrowing down the risk of running into a busload of tourists to ZERO! Do consider to walk (or should we say climb) up to Yediler Monastery. The Monastery of the Seven Monks is dated back to the Byzantine period and used to have four churches on its lands high up Mount Latmos. Nowadays, most of its buildings have disappeared, but still, the ruin is a fascinating place to visit. Not in the least because the walk up (and also back down) is a beautiful hike. Nature there is stunning and – almost for the entire walk – you are treated with pretty spectacular views of Lake Bafa.
The trail is a climb of about 3km, starting in Gölyaka village. Sometimes there’s a good path, most of the time, the path consists of following the rocks that have been nicely sculptured by the water coming down from the mountains. The walk is nice when the weather is dry, but we have a feeling that it is at the least a challenge – if not impossible – to walk up there in wet weather.
Once at the Monastery, one can understand why the monks felt it was the right spot for a Monastery. First of all, it was well protected as it is tough to place from down the mountain. But also, the elevated position and the views that come with it must have had a stimulating effect on the spiritual state of mind. The cells of the Monastery are still intact. There are VERY small, but all with the same spectacular view. Near the Monastery, there is a rock formation with frescoes hidden underneath the overhang. The trail to and from the Monastery is divine, and the surroundings are breathtaking (a bit like the climb itself ). Do look for the frescoes and go hunting for the pre-historical wall paintings hidden in many of the caves of Mount Latmos. It is a bit like an archaeological scavenger hunt as there are about 170 paintings found to date. They date back to the 6th BC.
Spending a couple of days at Lake Bafa is the perfect antidote for a hectic life and will allow you a bite-size discovery of this magnificent piece of Turkey. Slow travel all the way!
Don’t just take our word for it. You’ll see that travelers on TripAdvisor are also very keen on this area. Check out their reviews and tips here.
If you need a hotel, make sure they are in the Kapıkırı area. You will find hotels on the other side of the lake as well. Those are situated along the main road and may offer a splendid view, but you will be isolated from anything else Bafa Lake has to offer.
These are our top picks:
The nearest airport is Bodrum Milas which has easy connections with Istanbul airports if required. You’ll find cheap flight options here. Or you can use the search widget on the side to quickly find the most affordable and best flights available.
All pictures © @Aegean.Images
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