The tiny village of Simena, also known as Kaleköy or just Kale by the locals, is precariously perched on a steep hill overlooking the island of Kekova. Lapped by the beautiful turquoise waters of the Mediterranean, this is a Turkish gem that I don’t think will stay hidden for much longer.
The ancient city of Simena was once divided into two parts – an island and the coast part of the mainland. On the mainland the quaint fishing village still stands, a mishmash of ancient and medieval buildings, but across the bay you’ll be able to spot half-submerged ruins of the old residential area, which fell into the sea when earthquakes hit the region back in 2AD. This is now known as the Sunken City and is a popular tourist attraction.
A short drive from Turkey’s coastal road the D-400, and not far from the famous Lycian Way, getting to Simena is an adventure in itself. Although on the mainland, it lies at the edge of peninsula with no roads reaching it. Visitors travelling by foot have a very steep climb over a huge hill in order to reach the village, working their way around the ancient castle and through undulating fields of a Lycian necropolis.
This isn’t the most attractive option, and so most visitors – myself included, get picked up at a local jetty, and travel to their hotels by boat.
The first glimpse of Simena is jaw dropping. Weaving through tiny islands dotting the coast, you curve around a cove and begin to see a plethora of mismatched houses that look to be thrown against a steep cliff. It’s something truly unique and awe-inspiring.
Where to stay in Simena
Each hotel on the waterfront has its own jetty and once on land, guests face the steep climb up to their room. The views make it worth it though – we stayed at the Ankh Pansion, at the far end of the village, and I never got enough of gazing out from my balcony.
It’s a quirky old place; a higgledy-piggledy collection of buildings set across a maze of small, climbing pathways. The terraces were built around whatever was there at the time – even the ancient tombs, as we saw one of these sticking out of the foundations.
We had a few issues with our room – a lack of kettle (the norm in Turkey, I discovered) and a broken shower, but even with these bugbears, I’d stay there again in an instant.
Our room was right at the top, which caused some massive issues for my legs, but was huge and had its own private upstairs and downstairs patio spaces. It left us feeling like VIPs, and I adored my odd, rickety wooden balcony/room stuck on the outside wall of our room. I’m sure it was a health and safety disaster waiting to happen, but it was such a cool spot to sit and watch the world go by.
Meals are served in the hotel’s café area, which is also open to non-guests. The two tier area is right on the waterfront, allowing you to spot schools of anchovies whizz through the water at dusk, whilst watching the most amazing sunsets. If you’re lucky you might even get to spot a sea turtle – sadly I missed them, but fellow guests had seen a few come right up to the jetty!
Things to do in Simena
Although it’s a tiny place, there are quite a few cool little things to do in and around Semena/ Kaleköy, from sea kayaking through to exploring sunken cities.
Visit Simena Castle
The village’s biggest draw has to be Simena Castle. Dominating the village from its pinnacle, it’s a steep, togch climb to reach, but the pathway up is littered with shops and cafes where you can stop off for a breather. Along the way you’ll also find many locals, including children, perched on the steps trying to sell you gifts, food or drink.
Entry to the castle costs 10L and although there isn’t a huge amount to see, if you like history it’s definitely worth a visit. Although the region’s historical focus is on the ancient Lycian civilisation, this castle is actually Roman, but was built on Lycian foundations. It was also once an outpost for the Knights of Rhodes. Soldiers must have been stationed here for a while, because as well as being a secure watch tower, the castle even provided entertainment and you can still see the tiny amphitheatre within its walls that must have been able to seat no more than 30-50 people.
If you do make it to the castle, be sure to take the final climb up to the top as you get some amazing views of the area, including fields covered in clusters of sarcophagi and ancient olive trees.
Our hotel provided guest with free kayaks, so we just had to partake. The whole experience was both terrifying and hilarious (I’m not great on the water), but I absolutely loved every second of my wobbly paddle up and down the waterfront.
From the hotel jetty we went across to the tomb emerging out of the water at one of the village, to the secret hidden cover at the other end, which I spotted from the top of the castle. It was the perfect practice run for our upcoming trip to Koh Jum, Thailand, where we plan to kayak up the island from our hotel to the beachfront restaurants and bars further along the coast. Wish us luck!
Eat ice cream
My favourite spot however, was Café Mola 1, which is roughly half way up the walk to the castle. It’s a tiny, cute, family-run café, with the most amazing selection of freshly made ice-cream flavours from goats milk and mulberry through to lemon, chocolate and even prickly pear. The lady there was so friendly and welcoming, and was eager for us to taste each flavour to decide what we liked.
It was so delicious that I made the journey up several times during our stay. Each time she would always give us a free scoop of a new flavour to try, and on the last day of our trip, she invited us to join her for Turkish coffee and we have a lovely little chat before we said goodbye.
Prices are also very inviting – it was only 10L for three scoops, plus we could pick up a large bottle of water for the equivalent of just 50p.
Check out the Sunken City
Once upon a time, visitors were able to swim and boat around the Sunken City, but today the area is much more protected and you can only get close to the city via a chartered boat trip.
We got together with a small group of guests who’d also taken InnTravel’s Lycian Way holiday (although they actually walked in, when we cheated by going by car!) and rented one of the hotel’s boats. Guided by one of the hotel owner’s sons and his crew, we were taken out to see the ruins and then visit some of the island coves to go swimming.
I actually expected more from the Sunken City, but it was still beautiful to see, as you could make out staircases and the foundations of houses poking out of the water and along the rocky front of Kekova.
Snorkelling, swimming and boat trips from Simena
The highlight for me however, was going snorkelling in the surprisingly cold but oh so clear sea. Sadly you don’t get to see too many fish as these are frightened off during the day by the number of tour boats, but you can still swim around and climb on ruins from the earthquake, including an old church.
We stopped off at three different spots for a swim and exploration then headed back to the hotel jetty over a cup of tea and a biscuit or two. Our tour was a couple of hours long and cost 400L for five people – if it had been just the two of us the cost would have been 250L.
Our trip was the shortest option, but there are many boating day trips available, including some that take you to ruins further along the coast, although some do involve a 1km hike inland.
Tips for visiting Simena / Kaleköy
- If staying at Ankh Pension, I recommend booking the deluxe rooms 12 or 15. Both have amazing seafront rooms. Our lofty top spot was no 15, but if you want to be closer to the jetty, reception and café, room 12 is your best bet.
- If going off exploring, aim to go at the start or the end of the day. Tour boats full of day-trippers are becoming an ever more regular occurrence and you’ll find that you’ll be vying for snorkel space with big groups of tourists.
- If you’re making your way towards Semina/ Kaleköy drive through the coastal village of Üçağız to the parking jetty, right on the water. People will try and direct you into their own parking spaces in the village, where you may be charged or coerced to use their facilities. Instead pass all these until you reach the waterfront, where parking is free.
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