A tiny black cat curls up on a beautiful embroidered cushion and takes a deep sigh before closing his eyes back to sleep. He’s found a warm spot close to the wood-burning agar on one of the two benches that sit in the middle of a wooden lodge deep in the Geyikbayiri Valley. In the background, the faint noise of pomegranates being patted to make fresh juice compliments the reggae, and other eclectic tunes on the restaurant’s playlist. The pine smell of Kezban’s lodge lingers in the air and as a fresh draft brings in the tempting crackling of the fire outside, all the guests gather around to share stories of their day’s climbing.
It’s almost November and autumn’s wand has started laying its mischievous golden spell on the trees outside. The warming sunlight and cool winds hit Kezban’s campsite from early in the morning and filters through its corridors of fertile pomegranate trees that line the rustic grounds. Nestled between the trees; playfully coloured tents and the occasional guest doing yoga on a wooden platform all add to the incredible backdrop of striking powdered grey and amber limestone. As you explore down towards the river you find a handful of quaint, rustic bungalows and tree houses unassumingly adding to the serenity.
The idyllic climbing wall that you can see in the reflection of Kezban’s restaurant is just one out of 20 or more sectors accessible in the stunning Geyikbayiri valley- just 25km from the center of Antalya, Turkey. The main crags, some of which are 1.5km in length rise up proudly through the lush green forests and keep a watch over the valley; much like ancient stone guardians; and when the time is right they summon you to climb their features; from slabs to faces, crimps to overhanging roofs and an array of 3D climbing through caves and onto their ageless tufas.
The history of Antalya dates back from pre Alexander the Great up to the Ottoman Empire, and with historical remains to be found everywhere; just past the town of Geyikbayiri an hour by foot you can walk up ancient city called Trebanna. In contrast; the climbing scene is very new and spans over the last 14 years. In 2000 Metin Yılmaz and his close friend Öztürk Kayıkcı discovered and started bolting the area; since then it has been developed by both local and foreign route setters, and is now one of the largest and most accessible climbing areas in Turkey.
Geyikbayiri; meaning deer hill in Turkish and compared to the likes of Verdon Gorge or Kalymnos, has not only played a key role in the development of climbing in Turkey as a whole, but has also provided opportunities for the residents. Kezban’s guest house; a prime example was set up as the place to come for climbers in 2010. Şenol, aged 26 used his family’s land originally for horses and when climbers started camping on the premises he wanted to find out more. “At first I didn’t know what they were doing, they would get up early and have breakfast be out all day and come back late at night” he modestly shared. It was only until the group from Sparta invited him to find out what climbing was about did he quickly realized the potential.
Digging a little deeper into the livelihood of Şenol and his family over the years; a mother who brought Gozleme – the national Turkish Pancake to the markets of Akdamlar with her restaurant or the savvy father who sent his son out at the age of 9 to sell the best strawberries in Antalya to passersby; the family has made their name in the Antalyan valley. Kezban is Senols’ mother’s name, and everything that he has learnt as a young boy now plays a part into making Kezban’s an authentic family run business.
If you ever stay in Geyikbayiri you can expect everything and more from an overwhelming amount of climbing, playing backgammon with the locals, fresh pomegranate juice, traditional Turkish breakfast, taking a trip to the local Sunday market, having the best Gozeleme in town; to exploring the old city ruins on the Lycian way. With no shortage of things to do- climbing is just one part of visiting the gardens of Antalya; a place that’s not only on the map for it’s history but is now fast becoming one for the climbing bucket list.
As another day comes to an end, the sunlight filters through the incredible landscape; an opaque tint lingers above the forest as the last rays of sun spellbind the trees. The cool autumn wind rushes past the warm rock and once again, as nightfall settles another group of climbers gather around to start a fire, sharing stories of their days’ adventures.