“Flaming rocks!” I gasp.
“Actual. Flaming. Rocks!”
My inner geography geek has been unleashed. We’re researching places for a last-minute September getaway with a just-turned four-year-old and, right now, the eternal flames of Mount Olympos have put the small Turkish resort of Çıralı top of the list.
That plus a tree-top restaurant and an outside chance of seeing turtles. Two weeks later we’re on a flight to Antalya and a little more than an hour south of the high-rise resort, we arrive at our home for the week; Azure Hotel in Çıralı (pronounced chee-rah-lee).
It’s a low-rise family-run pension, like most of the accommodation in this small village.
But mostly it’s a garden, dotted with small bungalows, many of them hidden from view. It’s hard to get an idea of the scale of the place, but we find the pool and the pathway to the beach; two trails through towering date palms, prickly pear and orange trees that will see good use over the next week.
The flaming rocks will have to wait.
Like our hotel, Çıralı is also well hidden. From the sand and pebble beach all you can see, save the strip of restaurants and their accompanying beach loungers, are the mountains behind. Jagged in places, smothered in a thick, dark green duvet in others.
There’s no through road and you can cover pretty much everything on foot, but you can also hire bicycles, with kids’ seats, to explore the farthest reaches of the village.
To get to the ruins of Olympos though, you’re better off walking – it’s a 12-mile round-trip by road. Just head to the southernmost point of the beach. There are cafes nearby and hawkers traipsing the sand, selling fresh bread and bags of mussels.
With little ones you could easily spend a week in this laid-back haven, worrying about beach or pool first, and which of the restaurants to try out next.
Our favourites included Hayriye, a fun, chilled-out beach-front cafe which specialises in gözleme (Turkish pancakes). The trees are strung with handmade baubles and streamers and wrapped in brightly-coloured crochet.
Karakus Restaurant, also on the seafront, is a bit more up-market and great for an evening meal – fish is the obvious choice, or prawns, or squid. Either simply grilled or served in a steaming, spitting, casserole from the oven.
Head away from the sea views for even better value for money. Yörük Cafe Restaurant in the village centre is great for Turkish kebabs and pide (a Turkish-style pizza). Don’t be put off by its size and garish menus; it’s a great place to people-watch.
A few days of beach / pool rotation had us itching to explore, plus we needed transport to get to the infamous treehouse restaurant. So we hired a car for the day.
Our first stop was Olympos Teleferik; a ten minute journey by cable car up to the 2,365 metre summit of Tahtali Mountain. The price is eye-watering (ask your hotel or a local tour operator to book ahead for a small saving), but the view is jaw-dropping.
From here we can see the whole of the Olympos National Park, which stretches over 30 miles along the coast. Behind us are the rugged sand-coloured peaks of the Taurus Mountains, and below us a plush green canopy that reaches out to the glittering Mediterranean sea.
We try to spot Phaselis, on the coast. We’re heading there next, to swim with ruins from 700 B.C.
After a beach fix, and a few scratches and scrapes from underwater archaeology, we head back up into the hills, to Riviera treetop restaurant. Or Rivera, depending on which signs you spot.
Up. And up. And up. On a single-track road through tiny hamlets, on switch-backs and steep inclines, dodging the goats, the sheep, and countless chickens.
Google says we’re here, but there’s a pile of rubble blocking the road. A bold man in a bomber jacket appears from nowhere, drinking tea from a glass.
“Hello my friends! Welcome!” he shouts, guiding us around the rubble to a tiny layby, where we park the car.
This, it turns out, is Ali. The man who has built a sprawling tree-house restaurant in his garden, with platforms clinging to 500 year-old Plane trees and linked by wooden walkways.
In the pools below swim freshwater fish, ready for the diners.
Everything is grown, produced and cooked right here; from the sheep cheese and butter to the wine. Ali makes his own red wine and we have a five year-old one, served in a coffee pot.
Head chef and waiter, Ali is assisted by his immediate family behind the scenes. There’s no menu, and everything is cooked in the wood-fired oven. It’s a simple choice of meat or fish, plus whatever else he is making that day.
We have fish; a salad of onion, tomato, cucumber, parsley and chillies; homemade lavash bread; roast potatoes and mushrooms, smothered in cheese. It’s by far the best meal we’ve eaten on our trip, possibly made all the better by the location, and the disappearing light.
On our final night we finally make the trip to the fire rocks. A short, bumpy, jeep ride through the village brings us to the entrance, and then it’s a 20-minute climb up to the Yanartaş (burning stone) or Chimera (fire-breathing monster).
These flames have been burning for thousands of years, thanks to natural gases escaping from the rocks. We toast marshmallows as the light disappears and chat about our week.
Çıralı has been chilled and enchanting. We were too late for the turtles, so we definitely have a reason to come back.
More info on our stay…
We stayed in a two-bedroom stone house at Azure Hotel for €125 / night on a bed and breakfast basis.
Find Riviera Restaurant on Instagram, or just follow the signs from the main road!
There are direct flights from Tel Aviv to Antalya with Pegasus Airways. The hotel can arrange transfers to and from the airport at an additional cost.