The Denizli Basin is a fault-bounded Neogene–Quaternary depression located in the Western Anatolian Extensional Province, Western Turkey. The basin is a unique geological site with abundant active and fossil (Quaternary) travertine and tufa deposits. Fluid inclusion microthermometry and isotopic analysis were applied to study the genesis of the Ballık fossil travertine deposits, located in the south-eastern part of the basin. Microthermometry on fluid inclusions indicates that the main travertine precipitating and cementing fluids are characterized by low salinity (<0·7 wt% NaCl equivalent) and variable temperatures that cluster at <50°C and ca 100°C. Fluids of meteoric origin have been heated by migration to the deeper subsurface, possibly in a local high geothermal gradient setting. A later uncommon cementation phase is related to a fluid with a significantly higher salinity (25·5 to 26·0 wt% bulk). The fluid obtained its salinity by interaction with Late Triassic evaporite layers. Strontium isotopes indicate that the parent carbonate source rock of the different travertine precipitates is very likely to be the Triassic limestone of the Lycian Nappes. Carbon isotopes suggest that the parent CO2 gas originated from thermal decarbonation of the Lycian limestones with minor contributions of magmatic degassing and organic soil CO2. Oxygen isotopes confirm the meteoric origin of the fluids and indicate disequilibrium precipitation because of evaporation and degassing. Results were integrated within the available geological data of the Denizli Basin in a generalized travertine precipitation model, which enhanced the understanding of fossil travertine systems. The study highlights the novel application of fluid inclusion research in unravelling the genesis of continental carbonates and provides several recommendations for hydrocarbon exploration in travertine-bearing sedimentary basins. The findings suggest that travertine bodies and their parent carbonate source rocks have the potential to constitute interesting subsurface hydrocarbon reservoirs.