Olympos, Turkey

Extraordinary Vagobond Villages – Treehouses in Olympos, Turkey

treehouses in TurkeyOne of the things that first hooked me on traveling was the experience of coming to an incredible natural place and meeting with a wacky crew of international backpackers who came together as a sort of family – part of it was the travelers themselves, but as I’ve grown older and seen more, I’ve come to realize that a larger part of it is the location itself. Some places are simply magical.

Much to my delight, I’ve come once again to one of those places. To be honest, in recent years, I’d grown cynical about the possibility of such places but at this moment, I am confirmed in that the stars have aligned themselves, the timing is correct, and the place is exactly when and where it should be – as are my wife, child and I.

For several years, I’ve heard stories (both good and terrible) about Olympos, Turkey and it’s famous ‘treehouses’. The impression I’d gotten was a sort of “The Beach’ meets ‘Tom Sawyer’ meets Ko Phan Nan moonlight parties – and the result in my head was sometimes attractive and sometimes repellant – much like Ko Phan Nan itself.

Over the past decade, I’ve grown to enjoy drunk gap year travelers about as much as I enjoy smug baby boomer tourists – two sides of a stinky coin. The solution, it seems is to travel during the off season and thus avoid them both.

Yesterday, we left our luxurious accommodation in Antalya. I had debated whether to take the bus to Olympos but since we are traveling with Sophia and the weather threatened rain, I opted to rent a car for four days which was actually a very reasonable 240 Turkish Lira with no added fees. So, we were able to relax and enjoy the rugged mountain coastline from Antalya to Olympos. In fact, the rental car was a very good idea as Olympos is quite remote and later in the evening a traveler told us that he had waited 2 1/2 hours for a dolmus from the main road to the tree houses. That would have probably been terrible with a baby.

Olympos, TurkeyDriving down to Olympos, I began to get worried because what I saw was just about confirming my worst fears – run down ramshackle shacks and bar after bar after bar – this is the off season, so most places were still closed and we didn’t find drunk backpackers staggering down the road – but looking at the ‘pancake’ restaurants and roadside liquor stores, I could only imagine what this place was like when it was crowded.

We arrived at Bayram’s Treehouse Bungalows and were welcomed by Yusef, whose family was one of the first in the area to open bungalows or guest houses. This was more than 25 years ago – he said that his family noticed tourists coming and offered to host some and then when more kept coming they built additional cabins and bungalows and the result today is a magnificently sprawling village of bungalows, cabanas and ‘treehouses’ which is just 100 m from the entrance to the Olympos ruins and the gorgeous beach beyond them.

At this point, I should point out that I keep putting ‘treehouse’ in quotes because only with the loosest definition can any of the treehouses I’ve seen thus far in Olympos be described as treehouses – for the most part they are bungalos which are sometimes built around or using tress as support – or perhaps it is just that they are made from trees.

In any case, Yusef told us that at the moment he has around 50 guests and my guess is that his place is at a higher capacity (35%) than most of the others nearby, many of which are still closed. For us, it was perfect. We weren’t looking for a party. What we found was a happy mixture of intrepid American, Canadian, Aussie, Irish, and British backpackers.

Together we ate the fantastic chicken dinner (included in the price) and drank beers around the fire while sharing travel stories, getting to know one another and having a wonderful time.

And, in case you didn’t already get this – Olympos is one of the most beautiful places I’ve yet been to and I like to think that truly says something.