Jenny Southan’s return to the Turkish Riviera proves that it is not a ‘once in a lifetime’ kind of place.
Sometimes, returning to a place you revere in your mind as being perfect and special, is disappointing. Somehow, that initial gloss that comes with a first-time discovery has evaporated, things look shabbier, the service has gone downhill, the weather isn’t as good. But not in this case. Coming back to Limon Gümüşlük, a restaurant nestled on a hillside meadow where wooden tables and mismatched chairs are dotted among tall grasses and wildflowers, is just as dreamy as the first time my wife and I came a few years before.
It’s exactly as I remember, if not better – the sun setting over the sea in the far distance, a couple of smiling cats, local families enjoying ice-cold bottles of wine. In fact, the huge painter’s palette of mezze dishes that arrives at our table is even more delicious than my memory could recall – a bowl of pink beetroot and yoghurt in the centre, surrounded by little ceramic dishes of red lentil patties, stuffed courgette blossoms, smoky aubergine, grated zucchini with dill and garlic, and cracked wheat balls in tomato paste. The simplest of fare but every mouthful a moment to savour all over again.
It’s undeniable that the Bodrum Peninsula makes for a gorgeous getaway. Here the season is long and word on the yachts is that it is in the running to become the next Mykonos or Ibiza. But it has already for years been luring in celebs, socialites and those in the know; and has a lion’s share of big-brand luxury hotels, with new challengers popping up all the time (an Ian Schrager’s ‘Edition’ was just about ready to open at the time of visit).
Bodrum is, after all, one of the most picturesque places in the country. It’s a romantic and enviable escape. You’ll have seen it plenty on Instagram, with sugar-cubed houses adorned in pink bougainvillea, dotted across verdant Aegean hillsides. So, it isn’t surprising that it has had a steady rise to fame. But Turkey, on the whole, has had a raw deal of late – turbulent politics, border issues, brushes with terrorism and untimely natural disasters have meant that despite Bodrum being comparably as beautiful as its European beachside contemporaries, its international accolades have been somewhat muted.
Ironically, it was Bodrum that was the first place in Turkey (Istanbul aside) to embrace tourism. And the story of how the Turkish Riviera first opened up in the 1920s has various parallels to its situation today. It was nearly a century ago that one Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı, an author, was exiled to the then back-of-beyond Bodrum for writing a book that disregarded the political ideologies of the time. But unlike other stories of exile, this one had a happy and fortuitous ending. Cevat fell deeply in love with the area, hiring local fishermen to take him sailing and exploring, so much so that the became known fondly by locals as the ‘Fisherman of Halicarnus’. He kept detailed journals of his travels and what he saw and experienced, which soon inspired his friends from the intellectual classes to join him on his bohemian ‘Blue Voyage Cruises’. His exploration laid down the roots for Bodrum becoming a major tourism hub. So perhaps despite everything that’s happening now in the country, Bodrum will again be in vogue. I’m sure the locals won’t complain either, because after a year of underperformance for the area, I expect they’d be glad to welcome us all back with open arms and palms.
Today, the main town of Bodrum to the south is where you’ll find much of the nightlife. Its harbour isn’t quite on a par with glitzy Monte Carlo or Cannes (despite being described as the “St.Tropez of Turkey”). The money hasn’t quite made it in just yet. However, the new Yalıkavak Marina is home to mega yachts and designer stores where OutThere travellers can stock up on shorts from Orlebar Brown and Vilebrequin, while the rest of the peninsula is rich with secluded bays and pretty fishing towns such as Türkbükü (another beautiful, upscale resort town) and Gümüşlük (known for its Rabbit Island and seafront seafood eateries). Explore further and you’ll discover many other charming outposts along the coast – Torba, Bitez, Ortakent and Gundogan – for example. But like anywhere in the Aegean, we are learning to trust our instincts and our eyes, even within some of the towns we’ve mentioned and love. There are many places, like Gümbet and Turgutreis that have sadly been scourged by mass, package tourism – enough said.
For me, holidaying in Turkey is as much about the food as the soul-reviving sunlight, turquoise seas and charming people, although I’m glad to report that we are not going to get embroiled in another captain-deckhand escapade on a yacht that ends up with us having olive oil massages from the pair of them. The first time we came to Bodrum, we were initiated to the local towns and harbours by a certain Captain Mo, who we had met when we crashed a regatta after-party. The following day, we received texts saying, “You come my boat? I pick you up?” Well, sometimes you have to live a little.
As two women with a baby on the way, this time we are on our best behaviour (but that doesn’t mean you have to be!) and we find our way around Bodrum by taxis and the odd speed boat, which by the way, is a very glamorous way to zip across the bays for an afternoon drink at one venue, then quickly for sundowners at another. But with enough stories under our belts, we are content with an ice-cold glass of champagne and the twinkling lights of the coast from land. Sometimes, it is rather nice to replace old memories of a place with new ones.
The inside track
Andrew Jacobs is the Australian-born General Manager of the chic Maçakizi hotel, which opened in its current location in 2001 (although the original property dates back to the 1970s). Famous for its jet-set crowd, the property has a relaxed, OutThere atmosphere. www.macakizi.com
My favourite fish restaurant is Gemibasi (132 Fırkateyn Sk) opposite Bodrum’s marina. If you like seafood, Orfoz restaurant (13 Zeki Müren Cd) is another great choice – Caglar, the owner is a friend of mine.
Bodrum’s gay bar is called Kavalye. It’s a little place on the beach (the entrance is on Cumhuriyet Cad). It doesn’t tend to get busy until around midnight. For an early drink, Moonlight bar nearby is nice and has a diverse crowd.
LifeCo is a cleanse clinic that is popular with people who stay with us – you often see them sunbathing on our jetty with their juice drinks for the day. It’s simple, that’s why people like it. It’s not like a boot camp. www.thelifeco.com
- Give Turkey a chance. For various geo-political reasons, tourism dropped from 42 million visitors in 2015 to 25 million in 2016, but things have since settled down.
- Apply for a Turkish tourist e-visa in advance online (it currently costs $20.55) unless you’re a national of one of the exempt countries. Buying one on arrival means long queues and you need cash. www.evisa.gov.tr/en
- Charter a yacht, ideally a traditional Turkish gulet. The new Yalıkavak marina (also known as Palmarina) has a wide variety of vessels available, as does Bodrum harbour. www.guletescapes.com
- Hire a car. The winding coastline and reasonably empty roads make for some fun and picturesque driving, and there’s no shortage of beaches and towns to explore along the peninsula.
- Learn a few words of Turkish before you go. A little lingo will get you a long way. Here’s a crash course: Merhaba means “hello”, tesekkür ederim means “thank you” and nasilsin means “how are you?”
- Don’t try and visit out of season. This does provide a completely different experience from the peak periods and is much quieter, but for good reason: most of the hotels and direct flights tend to only really operate between April and October.
Photography courtesy of Burak Demir, Serdar Yurulmaz, Nejdet Duzen