Southwest Turkey and Greece’s Dodecanese Islands offer a cross-cultural epicurean adventure of classic proportions.
With a glass of raki in hand, I extended my fork for another morsel of char-grilled baby octopus bathed in bright lemon juice and earthy olive oil. A vibrant array of meze signified the start to an unforgettable culinary escapade, the likes of which would repeat itself frequently during the week. Meze are small plates of outrageously delicious edibles that accompany the customary anise-flavored apéritifs favored in Greece (ouzo) and Turkey (raki). The only indication of the 52-knot gale howling across the decks of our yacht was the occasional hint of a roll, not so measurable as to jostle the wine. Such weather is rare on the southwest coast of Turkey, which, with several Greek Dodecanese islands, constituted our cruising itinerary.
After a day defined by whitecaps dashed my hopes of lazily tacking the Sunfish around a secluded cove, I needed no further proof that the stunning 141-foot (42.9-meter) gulet Clear Eyes was in a league of her own. Anchored off Kos Island, we lingered over dinner for hours, impervious to the storm. From sharp, silky watercress swathed in thick yogurt to tender, salt-encrusted red snapper, each bite offered insight into the chef’s diverse repertoire. Our chef, Hakan Karaoglu, is Turkish, but he masterfully intermingled global flavors. He is one of eight expert crew who pride themselves on customizing charter experiences. They often schedule live music and belly dancers and have accommodated requests for Cleopatra-esque bathing experiences, which naturally involve a milk-filled Jacuzzi. Diving is popular, as the clear waters of Turkey’s Aegean and Mediterranean coastlines offer a variety of wrecks, reefs and caves. The crew will schedule a professional dive boat to meet Clear Eyes in any renowned or off-the-beaten-track locale.
Just as magnificent above sea level, Turkey’s south and west coastlines coupled with the breezy Dodecanese offer some of the most magnificent sailing in the Mediterranean. I had daydreamed of exploring the region since age 6, when my parents ditched me with Grandma and headed off to bask in golden sunlight, explore ancient ruins and devour Turkish Delight for a month. I don’t believe there exists a more fitting mode of transport than a sailing vessel by which to hop from ancient city to sleepy fishing village to craggy cove. It is widely reported, in fact, that there are more well-preserved ancient Greek and Roman archaeological sites in Turkey than in Greece and Italy combined. I found particular charm in the absence of throngs of tourists. Strolling through Hippodamus of Miletus-designed Priene, the best-preserved ancient Greek city in the world, I was often blissfully alone to gaze over sun-specked Ionic columns, an experience I’d never achieve at the Temple of Athena in bustling Athens.
We wandered among the massive (6-foot-wide-by-62-foot-tall) columns of the Temple of Apollo at Didyma and drove the 12-mile Sacred Way to Miletus. Sipping fresh pomegranate juice, we soaked in the rich layers of history that are so gratifyingly apparent in each interaction, sight and taste. Such superlatives are the rule in Turkey: a land of cultural, climatic and culinary contrasts.
The scent of fresh bread wafted down the dock as we returned to the yacht for traditional Turkish döner (aka traditional Greek gyro). Aware of the stereotypical hostility between Turks and Greeks, I carefully framed questions to strategically draw out differences between the countries’ seemingly similar cookery, without causing offense. Surprisingly, our Turkish crew acknowledged that Turkish and Greek cuisine is the same, but that the two cultures just enjoy an excuse to argue. Of course, they still contend that the Greeks copied the Turks.
Perhaps the quintessential feature of both cuisines is freshness. In Greece the overlying theme is slightly more consistent among regions, while Turkish specialties contrast dramatically matching the strikingly varied landscape. We finished our sublime lunch with a seared almond-stuffed peach, and set sail.
Gliding toward Patmos, a glorious island in the Dodecanese chain (where St. John allegedly wrote the Book of Revelation), I observed gulets of all colors, sizes and levels of upkeep. They are ubiquitous in Turkish and Greek waters. Clear Eyes, however, seemed to be the only one utilizing sails. Within the laundry list of features placing her at the top of her class, perhaps the most striking is that her rigging is not merely for show. Gulets have masts, but few actually sail. In fact, some don’t even have sails bent on.
The sailing was indeed delightful. Traditional gulets are massive sculptural chunks of mahogany, and, though cruising the Med in a floating art piece is a romantic notion, the realities of chartering one are rumored to be considerably less endearing. Accounts of leaky cabins and bristly linens have long deterred luxury travelers from experiencing the magic of the Turkish coast. Clear Eyes, as part of a new breed of luxury gulets, represents a true departure from any negative cliché, yet she retains the customary beauty of the type and the use of mahogany (330 tons of it cover her steel hull and superstructure).
My reverie of voyaging in the footsteps of ancient history’s legends (Cleopatra and Julius Caesar, to name a few) had been upgraded significantly from historical gulet standards. I swapped the rat-infested facets of time-honored schooner voyages for plush accommodations, five-star cuisine and sailing prowess, yet savored traditions, including legendary Turkish hospitality, without the stereotypical hassles (still being reported as recently as a decade ago) of salty Greek customs agents or subpar charter management. The collaboration of Northrop & Johnson Worldwide Yacht Charters and Contact Turkey produced an impeccable trip. Perhaps it is no longer meze versus mezze, döner versus gyro, cacik versus tzatziki, Turkish versus Greek. The once-incongruous nature of attempting to integrate these proximal, yet pugnacious countries via yacht charter has been superseded. Seamlessly combining the two into one sumptuous epicurean adventure is now not only uncomplicated but an essential bucket-list experience.
For more information: 401 848 5540; njcharters.com; or any charter broker