On the way on one of the most beautiful long-distance hiking trails in the world

Anyone who undertakes a multi-day long-distance hike must suffer at first.

On the way on one of the most beautiful long-distance hiking trails in the world

Anyone who undertakes a multi-day long-distance hike must suffer at first. But it's worth persevering. Even if, after the euphoria of a new start, your shoulders hurt under the backpack, your knees tremble on the descent, when sweat streams down your forehead and no breather seems enough.

Then it helps to look forward to the following days, when the exertion becomes habituation and the backpack becomes a natural extension of your own body. Just like the shell of the tortoises, which hikers repeatedly encounter here on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey.

Then the view is free for the surrounding panorama - a Mediterranean play of colors without equal. Red earth underfoot, dark green macchie woods all around and white karst rocks that drop steeply to the coast. Below is the Mediterranean Sea, a choppy expanse of ultramarine blue that fades seamlessly into afternoon sunshine in the haze of a washed-out horizon.

Inland, the contours of distant mountains melt into a storm cloud. Somewhere in this landscape, discreetly and yet as a key detail, a few ancient ruins, polished boulders. Like in a classicism painting. Anyone who wanders along here understands why its ancient inhabitants baptized this country Lycia - the land of light.

Kate Clow, who moved to Turkey from grey, rainy London in 1989, fell in love with this landscape straight away. The Brit had come to sell computer systems but spent her free time exploring old trade routes. They once formed a dense network of roads between the numerous ancient cities.

Eventually, the computer geek turned her back on file paths for good and began connecting the old trade routes instead. A Herculean task. For years, the passionate hiker and volunteers searched for suitable routes, marked the entire route and finally opened Turkey's first long-distance hiking trail in 1999. Today it is considered one of the most beautiful in the world.

The Lycian Way stretches more than 500 kilometers along the coast between Fethiye and Antalya and sometimes leads steeply uphill to Olympic heights, sometimes downhill to deserted beaches with crystal clear water. You have to overcome around 30,000 meters in altitude on the Lycian Way - with only 26 stages. This makes the Lycian Way, although technically only of medium difficulty, at least as challenging as it is varied.

At the latest on the last stages, between Karaöz and Antalya, the wheat separates from the chaff, i.e. the walkers separate from the real long-distance hikers. Here, where the Lycian Way once again offers its visitors particularly spectacular sea views and ancient monuments, but also several thousand meters of altitude, die-hard trekking fans in the mood for a final sprint meet beginners from all over the world who carelessly chose this section because they start from Antalya is the easiest to reach.

Those who have taken on too much give up here for good. In the case of a Turkish group of hikers who have to turn back because of an exhausted Kurdish participant, this gives rise to malicious jokes: “Ferat, don't be so rude. We know that you Kurds are very fond of the victim attitude.”

World politics is a constant companion these days, even on the Lycian Way. In addition to some Germans, English and Italians, the numerically largest group is that of the Russian-speaking hikers. Hundreds of thousands of Russians have been vacationing in Lycia every year for a long time, which is also noticeable for western visitors. English? "No speak." Those who work in the hospitality industry here prefer to learn Russian in order to be able to receive the largest and most affluent group of tourists appropriately.

At least that's how it used to be. Because in 2022 there will be no Russian vacationers, instead Russians will come and stay. It is liberals and wealthy, dissidents and oligarchs who have turned their backs on Vladimir Putin's oppressive state. They particularly liked the area around Antalya.

"Turkey, for us, was a five-star holiday with direct access to the sea," says Viktor, who does not want to reveal his last name and who worked as a pilot for the state-owned company Aeroflot. “But you can live well here even with less luxury. It's cheap and the scenery is beautiful. And above all, we don't have to explain ourselves when our children ask us how we Russians behaved during these difficult times.” Viktor is now hoping for a job with a Turkish airline.

Far removed from these stories of the present are the ruined cities of antiquity that one encounters again and again along the entire Lycian Way. Some date back to around 500 BC when the Lycians lived here, a free and self-determined people with matriarchal social traits. It was only after the devastating Persian campaigns that the Lycians began to alternately siding with the Greek and Persian sides, before eventually becoming part of the Hellenistic empire of Alexander the Great.

The ancient place names here sound like they come from ancient Greek sagas: Xanthos, Phaselis, Olympos. They are impressive cities, real metropolises, with cobbled main streets, imposing amphitheaters and oversized tombs.

The fact that they are hardly known today compared to their counterparts in Italy and Greece is less due to their actual relevance than to the lack of museumisation. Most of the sites are overgrown by jungle-like vegetation. Its extent can therefore hardly be captured photographically and only becomes apparent when you embark on an archaeological discovery tour into the thicket. Which can be all the more suggestive - like Angkor Wat, but classically antique.

It is such time travel that inevitably raises the question of what will remain of our own civilization. Perhaps the megalomaniac resort hotels that are also commonly passed on the Lycian Way? Gigantic aqua parks instead of mausoleums, perfect luxury worlds that dig the water out of the small tourism businesses. The modern-hedonistic imitation of an old megalomania, with names like "Imperial Sunland", "Rox Royal" or "Queen's Park".

The Lycian Way is like the antithesis of this world, although the hikers too rely on the achievements of modern technology: ergonomic backpacks, weatherproof clothing, carbon fiber hiking poles. Products originating from the same civilization as the "Imperial Sunland".

But here, on the rugged rocky coasts of Lycia, this becomes irrelevant. After a hard day of hiking, with a campsite just behind a deserted beach, after a swim in the last sunlight and then dinner with fresh flatbread, tomatoes and olives, it is easy to forget where you come from and sometimes even from which time. Wonderful, these simple pleasures of life. They are unlikely to have changed much since antiquity.

How to get there: By plane to Antalya or Fethiye. You can reach the respective start or end point of the hiking trail by bus or taxi.

Entry and security: The Federal Foreign Office offers up-to-date information, auswaertiges-amt.de

Tips for the Lycian Way: Some stages lead through the wilderness, so make sure you have enough water with you. There is ample accommodation along the route, but it is advisable to book well in advance. If you want, you can also sleep in a tent, wild camping is legal in Turkey.

Further information on the individual stages is available from the organizer Asi Reisen, which also offers an eight-day hiking trip with luggage transport (from 650 euros per person), on asi-reisen.de or the travel guide "Lycian Way from Fethiye to Antalya" by Michael Hennemann, Conrad Stein Verlag, 14.90 euros, conrad-stein-verlag.de.

Best travel time: April, May and September, October. In summer it is too hot to hike.

Information: Embassy of the Republic of Turkey, berlin.be.mfa.gov.tr/Mission

Hiking has been experiencing a real boom for a number of years, including among younger people. But hiking can also be dangerous, especially if you want to climb the mountains with the wrong shoes. The right preparation is everything here, too.

Source: WELT/ Peter Haentjes

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