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Comfortable, peaceful and a perfect vacation intertwined in the history in Olympos ...

With a bed for a night costing as little as £9, the Saban guesthouse on Turkey's Lycian coast is a real steal. Add in great food, stunning scenery and fascinating historical sights, and it's impossible to resist

I must have made a mistake. This is my first thought when the price of my booking at the Saban guesthouse in Olympos, Turkey, appears on my screen. I re-enter the details: two people, nine nights' half-board accommodation. The price flashes up again: £99 per person. Admittedly, I am not travelling in the peak season (although it's only slightly more in the summer months) and the price is for "treehouse"-style accommodation, which from the photo looks like a shed on stilts, but I've stayed in shabbier looking dormitories that cost more. Plus the dormitories didn't come with two meals a day and what local guidebooks describe as some of the best food in Turkey. I check the reviews on TripAdvisor. All good. I check the weather report: guaranteed sunshine 300 days a year. A quick search on Skyscanner for flights to Antalya and I'm good to go.

The ancient city of Olympos is an original Lycian settlement dating from 300BC that stretches along the southern Turkish coast. Protected by conservation laws that ban the use of concrete, Olympos is devoid of large-scale development and mass tourism. Over the last 20 or so years a village of around 20 wooden pansiyons (treehouse lodges) offering backpacker-style accommodation has sprung up.

In contrast to its noisier neighbouring lodges, such as the Turkman and Bayrams, whose young guests can often be heard partying into the early hours, the Saban is known for its calmer, family atmosphere and quality food. The Saban opened 22 years ago when there were only three other pansiyons in the village. It has grown too – from three treehouses and a camping area to more than 20 treehouses, a 12-bed dormitory and several ensuite bungalows.

We are met by Meral, whose parents opened the Saban when she was 12. Now in her thirties and with four generations of her family living on site, Meral runs the show with her two brothers Ali and Mustapha.

"I love my job," says Meral. "I've only left Olympos twice in my life. Why do I need to go anywhere else? I have everything I need here. The sun, the food, the sea. I prefer to let the people come to me."

A hard day's chilling at Saban
When Meral shows us to our accommodation, we realise there has been a mistake. A mix-up with our booking means we have been upgraded from a treehouse to a bungalow equipped with three single beds, air-con and ensuite shower-room (so small that one's top-to-toe cleaning routine can be executed while sitting on the toilet). But given what we were expecting, it feels like we've been upgraded to the honeymoon suite at the Hilton.

Meral takes us for a stroll through Saban's gardens, along a pathway lined with dill, mint, rosemary, bay leaves and basil. There are pomegranates, lemons, oranges, grapes, mulberries, nectarines and plums. Meral picks some mulberries for us to try and a handful of mint for a guest who likes it added to his evening G&T. By the time we arrive at the bar, we're so heady with the heat and aromas that it only takes one shot of raki to send us spinning back to our bungalow so we can wake in time for breakfast.

The next day, we head to the beach with some fellow guests. Getting to the beach, recognised as one of the best in Turkey, is an adventure in itself. We follow a dusty road to the end of the pansiyons where an ancient winding path begins, leading to the sea. A river shaded by oleander and fig trees runs alongside. On the way we pass the ruins that line both banks of the stream, including two Lycian tombs with epigraphs translated for visitors.

The pebble beach has hardly any shade to escape the blistering heat, so it's a relief to slip into the sea.

If breakfast at Saban can be repetitive – watermelon, feta, tomatoes, cucumber, olives, along with an omelette cooked to your requirements by Saffi the smiling chef – dinner more than compensates: spicy clay-pot chicken casseroles, baked aubergines and peppers stuffed with lemon and mint couscous, meat böreks (rich-filled pastries), Turkish ravioli, grilled vegetables bathed in yoghurt and house favourites: courgette and dill frittatas, and cheese-filled pastry "cigarettes". Fresh bread, salad and homemade soup, accompany every meal. Most of the fruit and veg is grown at the property, which is also home to free range chickens. The rest, along with all the meat and fish, is sourced from the nearby town of Kumluca.

We return to the beach late that night to swim among the phosphorescence. As we move about stimulating the plankton, stars shoot from our bodies. While we create miniature galaxies beneath the sea's surface, above us real shooting stars splice through a dramatic Milky Way.

The highlight of our holiday is a trip to the Chimaera, a series of eternal flames issuing from the hillsides of the Tahtali Dag (Mount Olympos). Burning for thousands of years, these inextinguishable natural gas flames are named after a mythological fire-breathing creature, which inhabited the mountains.

One of the Chimaera on Mount Olympos. Photograph: Alamy
We forgo Saban's organised nocturnal minibus trip to the Chimaera in favour of walking. Setting off at dusk allows us to take in the sights of the neighbouring agricultural village of Çirali. Quieter but more developed than Olympos, Çirali tends to attract an older crowd and families. About an hour's stroll on from Çirali we reach the foothills of the Tahtali Dag and begin a 20-minute climb through forest up a well-trodden but steep and tricky path.

As flames leap and dance from the glowing rocks, it's easy to imagine how they once conjured the legend of a fire-breathing monster. We find an unattended flame to huddle around, and admire our surroundings. At a nearby flame a family are preparing their evening meal, using the fire as a barbeque. Below us, a group of teenagers try to reignite a gas source with burning sticks, shrieking as the flame catches and billows towards them. From our high position the view across the valley and out to sea is made even more spectacular by a setting sun, as red as the Chimaera themselves. We stay well after darkness falls and it takes great effort to drag ourselves away.

We return to the Saban guided by a full moon and the sound of chirruping insects.

Website: The Guardian

  • The beach at Olympos, Turkey. Photograph: Alamy
  • A hard day's chilling at Saban
  • One of the Chimaera on Mount Olympos. Photograph: Alamy
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