The ancient Lycian town of Myra, now modern day Demre, is located on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey’s Antalya Province. With the Taurus Mountains as a backdrop and the azure waters of the Mediterranean lapping at its shores, Demre’s beautiful natural location is matched only by its rich history. It was here that Saint Nicholas of Myra served as bishop, evolving into the figure now known as Santa Claus.It is believed that Myra was one of ancient Lycia’s most important cities, and the construction of many public buildings throughout the Roman Period is testament to its wealth. Modern-day Demre has its roots in agriculture, with citrus groves scattering the landscape, although Christian pilgrimmages have seen tourism blossom, with numerous guesthouses and restaurants populating its waterfront.The ancient site of Myra is located around a mile from the centre of town, home to an impressive Roman theatre built into the cliffs. Not only is it beautifully carved with inscriptions, but its tunnels indicate its later use for gladiator fighting. There are also two sets of Lycian tombs, some of which date back to the 5th century BC and have been elaborately carved into the rock faces. Myra’s importance as a centre of coin minting is evidenced in coins dating back to the 3rd century BC, some with images of Artemis.No trip to Demre is complete without visiting the Church of St Nicholas, built in the 6th century around the tomb of St Nicholas himself. Born in Patara around 300AD, St Nicholas devoted his life to helping the helpless, and later became the patron saint of children. Despite his remains being removed, the church remains an important pilgrimage site. Successive reconstruction works have resulted in multiple architectural styles and there are some beautiful Byzantine mosaics and frescoes to see.Demre is also a good launching point for shore excursions to nearby Kekova Island, home to the famed Sunken Ruins. As you travel by boat you can see Lycian chest tombs scattered along the coast, before arriving at the ancient buildings that now lie beneath the water’s surface on the northern shore of the island. Kayaking around these semi-submerged ancient buildings is a surreal experience, with the crystal clear waters offering incredible viewing.
You can also take the scenic drive to the otherworldly landscape of Pamukkale, where petrified lime cascades down the hillside in spectacular travertines. This is one of Turkey’s most photographed sites and combines perfectly with a guided tour of the ancient Hierapolis ruins which lie above.