Explore Turkey's captivating coastline on a traditional gulet cruise, says Katie McGonagle
Dhonis, dhows and dory boats – take to the water aboard a traditional vessel and you have to learn a whole new set of vocabulary.
Turkish gulet cruises are simpler to sell than they sound. The two and three-masted wooden boats are a common sight along Turkey’s fascinating and photogenic coastline, sneaking in and out of coves that larger vessels can only sail past, and dropping anchor overnight in secluded bays so passengers can wake up surrounded by sparkling seas.
They are growing in popularity too, particularly with those who want a fresh perspective on their typical sun-and-sea break, or want to pair it up with a stay on land. Ilios Travel has just introduced a range of gulet cruises and other operators have added new vessels this year, with options from budget-friendly cabins to lavish private charters.
Crew costs and the relatively small number of passengers mean gulet cruises will never be the cheapest way to enjoy the Turkish coast, but with more operators comes more competitive pricing. Cruises are usually full-board, so there are no hidden extras to shell out for – except perhaps the ice creams delivered by speedboat straight to the sundeck each day.
Olympic Holidays offers two eight-day itineraries departing from Bodrum or Marmaris for less than £550 in May and October, which can be combined with a land stay for added value. In June, a seven-night cruise from Bodrum to the Gulf of Gokova and back, plus a week all-inclusive at the Isil Club Bodrum, starts at £999 with flights from Gatwick. Thomson has seen its budget-friendly Dalaman cruise between Marmaris and Fethiye prove especially popular this year, with prices from just £368 for a seven-night cruise plus flights in May.
Cosmos recommends passengers make the most of the many opportunities to go snorkelling, fishing and canoeing, and get back on land where possible to explore charming fishing villages and historical sites within reach of the coast. Its vessels can carry between eight and 30 passengers, leading in at £535 for a seven-night Turquoise cruise based on flights from Birmingham in May.
Travellers with more modest means can set their own course: Just Sunshine’s gulet cruises depart from Marmaris but don’t follow a fixed route, although popular stop-offs include Ekincik, Tersane Island and Fethiye. Seven nights with flights from Gatwick to Dalaman starts at £451.
With a choice of six routes and five vessels chartered this year, specialist Turkey operator Anatolian Sky Holidays has options in various price ranges, including the Seyhan Jan gulet, where a week starts at £569 with flights from Manchester in May.
Travellers can cruise on a budget, but gulets are also the perfect opportunity to push the boat out – metaphorically, at least – with a more luxurious vessel, smaller number of passengers for added privacy, or by securing exclusive use for a private party.
Ilios Travel mostly sells to groups of friends or larger families, although it has one smaller boat, Artemis, suitable for a couple or small family (from £4,700 in total per week), and a six-person vessel, Haydi, from £1,300 per person. Each gulet has a full-time cook and clients are consulted beforehand on preferred menus and favourite wines.
Anatolian Sky’s bestselling gulet is the luxurious nine-cabin Semercioglu IV, which operates between Marmaris and Datça or from Fethiye to Marmaris. It has also added a new deluxe vessel, the Cankaya II, this summer, taking up to 20 guests from Fethiye to Kas and calling at Kalkan and the sunken ruins of Kekova.
Peter Sommer Travels also combines a luxury cruise with on-shore activities: an October itinerary stops at various points along the famed Lycian Way for five or six-mile walks with an archaeologist. Highlights include the 2,500-year-old ruins of Sidyma, the ghost town of Kaya, and the grounds of an Ottoman castle (from £2,065, not including flights).
Exclusive hire is the best way to make a client feel really special with crew members on hand to see to their every need – and the price tag isn’t as eye-watering as you might imagine. Mosaic Holidays has private charters on vessels for eight to 16 passengers, and stopping-off points can be tailored to each group. A seven-night cruise starts at £1,479 per person at full capacity (16 people) including flights in July.
SHORT AND SWEET
Gulet cruises lend themselves to twin-centre breaks, and none more so than the new breed of mini-cruises that mean travellers can skim the waves and still have time for a city break in Istanbul or a beachfront escape – all in a week.
Exclusive Escapes has a new range of cruises lasting one to four days, which can then be combined with a stay in one of the specialist operator’s luxury properties.
Aleyna can take three and four-night mini cruises around Kas, Kekova, Kalkan, Fethiye or Göcek, from £650, but team it with four nights’ bed-and-breakfast at the Kalkan Regency for £1,282 including flights from the private terminal at Stansted to Dalaman.
Alternatively, book the entire Faralya gulet for a two-night trip departing Selimiye from £1,100, and look out for porpoises, dolphins and loggerhead turtles on the way. Three nights is the minimum for Direct Traveller, with prices starting at £135 and often booked alongside a beachside hotel or a stay in Istanbul.
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