At first, I think it’s my imagination—after all, how can the water just glow like that? Sitting on a pirate ship under an almost-full moon, the Aegean below the starboard side seems to sparkle, each ripple producing a new, tiny burst of blue-green wonder.
There’s a scientific explanation, I realize, a phenomenon they call, somewhat clinically, and a little poetically, bioluminescence. But for the moment, it’s just magic. A few of my shipmates let the moment take them all the way down to the water, each stroke of their impromptu swim traced with more of that lovely light.
Take a Gulet Cruise
Built right in the town of Bodrum, these two-and-three-masted beauties, which look a lot like cartoon pirate ships, sail to nearby islands in both Turkey and Greece. Don’t expect buffets or nightly shows—a gulet (pronounced “goo-let”) voyage provides simpler pleasures and flexible itineraries. If your trip over to Santorini is foiled by high winds, you can just explore smaller islands, where the captain often knows everyone. Eat breakfast in the open air on the stern. Jump into the clear, blue water for a swim. Venture into tiny ports along the way, finding a little restaurant (or “meyhane,” like a Greek taverna), for dinner.
Enjoy the Blue LagoonAn icon of the Turquoise Coast, aerial images of this super-blue spot near the town of Ölüdeniz have become the de-facto symbol of the region. And with good reason. With white sand running around the lagoon and along three sides of a peninsula, it’s the perfect place to relax—grab a beach chair, an Efes Pilsen, and soak up the sun. But if you feel like getting the blood pumping, you’ve got options, too. Sea kayak across the crystal blue waters or, even better, paraglide from the top of nearby 6,234-foot Babadag Mountain, soaring over its green flanks and the sparkle of the sea, far below.
Discover KnidosA double harbor linked by a causeway that dates back to the 4th century B.C., Knidos, once a major port, is a place of great treasures—many of which now reside in the British Museum. (The Lion of Knidos is one notable example.) But there’s still plenty to discover here. Digs have uncovered the agora, temples, a theater, and more, and the harbors are literally littered with artifacts, including amphorae once used to transport olive oil and wine across the ancient world. It’s a unique opportunity to snorkel over history.
Explore AntalyaWith 1 million people, Antalya is home to broad beaches, high-rise hotels, and big-city pleasures. Explore the old town (called Kaleiçi), strolling through narrow streets along one of the best-preserved Hellenistic walls in the world, to the three perfect archways of Hadrian’s Gate. Haggle hard for jewelry and crafts at the city’s bustling bazaar (beware: Turkish sellers drive a very hard bargain). Then reward yourself for your efforts with a nice seafood dinner at the Old City Marina—the food, including super-fresh octopus, is good, the views of small wooden boats and gulets, even better.
From Kusadasi to Corinth
Climbing from the water into the hills, the tightly packed town of Kusadasi (population: 70,000) forms a spectacular curl of white buildings, hotels, apartments, shops, and restaurants, all of them facing the sea. It’s a favorite for those seeking the sun and a good beach, but when you tire of days spent on the sand, you’ll find a few fascinating sites here as well. Including the namesake Pigeon Island (Kusadasi literally means “bird island”), linked to the mainland by a causeway, and home to a Byzantine fortress that dates back to the 1200s (and was once inhabited by a bunch of pirates).