“I came here with just half a kilo of silver,” he says. “Today, my shop carries 2,000 kilos. Fantastic!” Halit’s business ventures now range from his jewelry store, Just Silver, to the Mediterranean restaurant next door and a three-hectare farm in the hills near Saklıkent Gorge. During the tourist season, he rents out his 560-square-meter villa to guests; from November to April, when Kalkan goes into hibernation for the winter, Halit builds vacation properties (at last count, 77 of them).
I’m visiting in early October, and Kalkan, to judge from the vacant sun loungers on its small pebble beach, is already winding down. And that suits me just fine. After all, I didn’t come all the way to Turkey to hobnob with holidaying Brits in a town that one local quips is so un-Turkish, he sometimes feels he needs a passport. I did, however, come here to hang out with Kim, a British-born, Australia-raised, Hong Kong–based friend who stumbled upon Kalkan while on a Turkish holiday two years ago and fell in love with it. More precisely, she fell in love with Halit, and he with her, and now splits her time between frenetic Hong Kong and this low-key slice of the Mediterranean.
Romance aside, I can understand Kim’s attraction to the place. The setting is lovely—sun-drenched villas tumbling down a hillside to a big blue bay; narrow lanes framed by fig and pomegranate trees; limpid waters that mirror the sky’s soft pinks and purples at sunset. Yes, it’s entirely devoted to tourism, but Kalkan is not what you would call overdeveloped. The largest hotel has 136 rooms; every other place is boutique by comparison. There’s not a disco in sight. And, unlike at jaded mass-market resorts such as Bodrum, the people here seem genuinely hospitable. Or perhaps they’re all just in a good mood because the season’s almost over.
There is also much to be said for wandering aimlessly through Kalkan’s compact Old Town, with its riotous bowers of bougainvillea and sun-burnished Juliet balconies. Just watch your step—countless feet before yours have worn the cobblestones ice-slick in spots. Quiet lanes scented with sea salt and jasmine lead to quaint houses that date back a century or more, to when Kalkan was a predominantly Ottoman Greek trading port; many, like the old Custom House, which sports a fresh coat of salmon-pink paint, have been spruced up as vacation rentals. Waterfront cafés beckon. And at night, there’s no better roost than one of the neighborhood’s rooftop dining terraces. One of the most bewitching meals of my trip unfolds atop the candlelit Olive Garden restaurant, whose aptly named owner, Fatih, conjures plate after plate of Anatolian delights: sweet red peppers filled with spinach, hazelnuts, and aged feta; lightly battered shrimp with walnut sauce; cinnamon-scented goat stew; and pan-fried chicken livers in cherry sauce.
Kim, however, is eager to get out of town and show me the sights of the Lycian coast, which takes its name from the ancient civilization that once inhabited the region. Leaving Halit to mind his shop, we jump into my rented Fiat and head into the mountains behind Kalkan, where Kim promises me a taste of the real Turkey—or at least some really steep switchbacks.