50 Shades of Turquoise – Boutique Sailing on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast

(This post may contain affiliate links. Find more info in my disclaimer)

Turkey’s Turquoise Coast is made for exploring by boat with its raggedy limestone coast that plunges into the sea, scalloped with small bays, many of which are inaccessible by road. My first experience on board a traditional wooden Turkish sailing boat known as a gulet – backpacker-style, aged 19 – had marked the beginning of a lifelong love affair with sailing (one that has since seen me sail around the Med on various vessels including tall ship and ancient ships).

But the memories of gulet sailing in Turkey stayed with me for their incomparable combination of turquoise seas, incredible food, and sense and being close to nature. I think this is because gulet trips tend to be slow and leisurely coastal cruises with plenty of swimming, and nights that are warm enough to sleep on deck and watch the stars.

Somehow, 15 years have passed since that first gulet trip. With many more sea miles under my belt, would I still love it (and Turkey) as much on my long-overdue return?

Let’s face it, revisiting beloved destinations is always a risk. But the Turquoise Coast was calling my name.

Gulet cruises in Turkey are ridiculously good value. That was true in 2004 and is still true today. The trips aimed at backpackers are the cheapest way to experience life at sea in the Mediterranean – if you want more information on these then check out my previous post ‘Gulet Sailing for Backpackers‘.

This time around though, I wanted to treat myself to something a little bit more luxurious.


Turkish evil eye charm

on board a wooden gulet boat

foredeck of gulet boat

I tend to go on sailing trips where you get stuck in crewing, but last year I had various aches and pains at the time (getting old!) and fancied a proper vacation rather than a hands-on sail. I’d come across SCIC Sailing – a Dutch/English company with a small fleet of boats – on the travel blog Hey! Dip Your Toes In and was instantly smitten by the words ‘champagne and goat’s cheese’ in their brochure. SCIC is by no means the only company in this region of Turkey offering this type of gulet trip, but the little touches in their brochure stood out.

And their price was very competitive. Because the other big draw for me was the lack of single supplement – catnip to a solo traveller. As with hotels, cabin charters are often priced on the assumption they will be filled by a couple. This makes SCIC’s prices very appealing for a solo sailor – particularly when you factor in the inclusive food and drink. Unsurprisingly up to 50% of their passengers are solo travellers which ensures a sociable vibe.

(note: this was not a sponsored trip, I paid my own way)

SCIC calls itself a boutique sailing company. It’s not ultra-luxury, for that look at superyachts, but if you’re used to backpacking then it certainly feels luxurious. You could describe their aim as ‘ultra-relaxation’.

So what does paying extra for a nearly-luxury sailing trip get you, compared to the budget version?

  • A certain level of comfort and service. The boat was roomy with lots of padded seats and spaces suitable for ultra-relaxation. The sails are not just for decoration, they are put to use – whenever the wind is actually blowing. And there is AC, although you can only use it when the generator is on (not unusual for boats) and don’t expect it to be refrigerator-cold.
  • Food. It gets you a lot of food. Life on board feels like a continual banquet of delicious Turkish mezze. The food is insanely good, better than anything I had ashore, and mealtimes are a highlight. See also: cold beers/chilled rosé wine to hand at any time.
  • A different clientele. Whilst the backpacker cruises are teeming with tanned Aussies in their early 20s, on this boat I was the youngest by a few decades. There were only 7 of us, including one couple and several returnees. I’m sure there was just as much alcohol consumed on board as on the backpacker cruises – though maybe we were in bed a little earlier.


Wheel and aft seating area on the gulet

Inside the cabin in the gulet

Ensuite bathroom on board the gulet

I sailed on Notus, a 24m long 6m wide traditional wooden Turkish boat. Cabins are ensuite with a double bed and a flushing toilet (I tell you, this is a true luxury after you’ve sailed on a replica ancient Phoenician ship with no toilet…). It even has a window that looked straight out onto the sea, which always seems to be a startling shade of turquoise. There was a crew of 3 including the cook, who somehow churns out endless meals from his galley. The anchor is dropped for mealtimes which are taken at the back (aft) of the boat. Comfy padded seating areas are found at both the front and back of the boat, as well as mattresses for sunbathing.

A note about air-conditioning: there is AC on the boat but it only runs when the generator is on. You can’t have it on all night. This is typical on sailboats.


Sunrise near Oludeniz

Map of Turkish coastline in shadow

Breakfast platter on board the gulet

Turkish style potatoes on board

Fruit bowl

At the start of the voyage, a rough itinerary is decided by the passengers and skipper. Our group was all in favour of sailing and swimming rather than seeing the sights ashore. I’ve been to this part of Turkey (I sailed on the Göcek-Göcek route) a few times so that was fine by me. 

Our daily routine looked a bit like this: wake up and jump into the sea. Breakfast. Refreshing post-breakfast swim. Sail to another bay. Sunbathe. Jump in the water to cool off. Eat lunch. Swimming. Try not to sink from the volume of food you’ve just consumed. More sailing. Afternoon tea (yes). Swim. Take the paddleboard or kayak out if you’re feeling energetic, or swim to a cave. Drinks and nibbles. Maybe another swim before dinner. Try to find some room for dinner. Food coma. Perhaps a skinny dip once it’s dark if you’re feeling perky. Roll down to bed.

My highlight was the sunset stop one evening at Gemiler Island near Ölüdeniz, a tiny uninhabited island with impressive ruins, where we raced up to the top to watch the sun go down (with some cold beers of course).

Turquoise bay and ruins on Gemiler Island

Ancient ruins on Gemiler Island

Looking through ruins to anchored boats

Gulet anchored near Gemiler Island

Abandoned church on Gemiler Island

And the time I saw a shoal of seven squid, ethereal and purple, whilst snorkelling.

And swimming each morning in a different bay of endless emeralds and teal.

I have to say that this ultra-relaxing style of trip was maybe a little too relaxing for me, and I didn’t think such a thing was even possible. By the end of the week, I was longing to stretch my legs and do some exploring (how did I even manage a year at sea? it’s a mystery to me now). However, if you are stressed and in need of hardcore relaxation then I can imagine this is just the ticket. 


gulet sail hoisted

another turquoise bay

So what do I think of gulet sailing, 15 years on?

It’s still exceptional value, particularly since the Turkish Lira hit a rocky patch in 2018. It’s significantly cheaper than what you would pay for a similar trip over the water in Greece, and you get much more space (and food) to boot.

There’s a lot to recommend about exploring the Turkish coast by gulet sailing. One thing that I wasn’t so keen on was the amount of waste generated by the very generous – but bordering on slightly ridiculous – amount of food. It struck a strange note in these waste-conscious times.

It was also a little on the formal side for me. I’m used to crewing on boats so it felt a bit odd to be waited on and to dine separately from the crew. But this might not be a problem for your travel style.

The coastline is still just as spectacular, although it certainly feels busier – with lots of swanky Russian megayachts prowling the coast, as well as hundreds of other gulets. Don’t expect to have many bays completely to yourself, at least around Fethiye. If this is important to you then route options should be discussed before booking. Same goes if you’d rather focus on actual sailing.

But I reckon the best way to do this is to bring enough friends or family to fill the boat and charter the whole thing privately. That way you can tailor the activity levels, food, and formality to your liking – and it makes it easier to adapt to changing needs (and whims!).

What an excellent way to spend a week though.


Read more:

Turkey’s Turquoise Coast – 10 Local Secrets

10 Most Beautiful Beaches in Turkey

10 Best Places in Turkey for Solo Travel

A Backpacker’s Guide to Gulet Sailing in Turkey

Found this post useful? Click to save to Pinterest:

All images © The Mediterranean Traveller