For those heading to Istanbul for business or leisure, extending the visit to ports beyond the Bosporus can make for a rewarding vacation with plenty of beach, night life and shopping thrown in. History buffs still get a field of ruins to explore between people watching and sun worshipping along the shores of the Aegean.
Best of Bodrum
The Bodrum Peninsula in southwest Turkey is oft considered Turkey’s French Riviera. The city and environs harbor hundreds of sunny, sandy coves that hug the Aegean – often disserted save the small gulets, or small chartered yachts, that ply the coastal waters on week-long custom vacations for the ten or so guests onboard. Some 32 islands and islets ring the 108-mile stretch of dazzling coastline that runs between the bays of Güllük and Gökova.
Dozens of fishing villages-turned-hidden-resort-hamlets dot the coastline and cater to sun-seeking Europeans who take up temporary residence in tasteful villa developments and boutique beach B&Bs. A quaint two-lane road passes sheep farms, wind mills and gleaming limestone white houses with blue doors framed by red bougainvillea trees – the stuff of postcards – all along rugged cliffs leading to unexpected beach settlements.
Bodrum, itself, is a charming city of 120,000 people – probably double that in peak season, but for all its history, beauty, action and shopping, it is well worth the trip. It dates back to the Lydian people of the 6thcentury BC and was ruled by Persians, Seljuk Turks, and Ottomans before it started catering mostly to sun-starved holiday seekers in the late 20thcentury.
Visitors will want to see the castle of St. Peter (the Egion castle), built in the 1400s as a place for Christian refugees and with it, the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which offers a look into ancient Turkish baths, torture rooms and Byzantine ships. Unfortunately, this castle is under renovation currently and likely to be so until the end of the decade.
A special treat in this destination is the Greco-Roman amphitheater visible from the main road. The ruins are well preserved and serve as a backdrop in the summer months for the area’s numerous concerts and music festivals.
With a little time to spare, a great road trip to take runs northward through the burgeoning cruise port and resort town of Kusadasi. Here is where to find the legendary city of Ephesus and many less visited ruins along the Southern Aegean coast.
The cruise market has slowed in Kusadasi for the time being but that means the great outdoor museums are virtually empty and ripe for the visiting. Easy trips can be made to the House of Virgin Mary (where she is believed to have lived out her years before ascending to heaven) near Ephesus. A longer segue could include the UNESCO World Heritage site of Pamukkale. It’s a striking frame of some 17 turquoise thermal pools cascading down a cliffside of natural limestone terraces. The waters were believed to be healing and were the foundation for Hierapolis, once a Roman and Byzantine spa city, now a museum and labyrinth of abundant ruins. Some of the heated pools can be enjoyed by visitors.
A good way to manage a customized road trip is to book a private car and guide through CITTUR. This option brings educated interpretations of the ancient sites in English, as well as assisting with restaurants, meals, shopping and destination choices. As the Turkish lira is currently at about four to the dollar (up from two in 2015) the values all around Turkey are at a premium.
Bodrum and many of the villages surrounding bring the night to life with buzzing outdoor beachside bistros and dance clubs. During the day, it’s about shopping, dining and sunning and there is plenty of all of it.
Bodrum’s bazaar is a tangle of old shops selling finery, famed Roman sandals made in the region, cashmere pashminas, perfumes, jewelry, sweets, beachwear, bags … all from very approachable medieval storefronts that have been there for centuries, although modernized and offering very reasonable deals.
Yachting on the Aegean
For many visitors, Bodrum is a jumping off point to an exquisite sailing adventure. Richly appointed wooden gulets sleep four to 12 friends and family in very comfortable quarters. It’s possible to wander the harbor, find the perfect vessel and crew for the right price and take off on a heavenly sailing vacation for $4000 for up to 12 people, all inclusive, seven-day minimum. CITTUR, an inbound destination specialist, can pre-arrange these adventures as the boats do fill up in the summer high season.
Bedding Down in Bodrum
Visitors to Bodrum do not have to stay in the city. There are splendid resorts hidden in spectacular coves and bays around Bodrum. The Six Senses Kaplankaya, a luxury spread an hour north of Bodrum, offers its own wellness agenda as the property had been run by Canyon Ranch. The new Bodrum Resort by Paramount offers 134 guestrooms, villas and suites and caters to mostly Middle Eastern and GCC guests with California-style elegance in a hidden cove about 50 north minutes of the city.
The five-star Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay brings dramatic views the city in its spot just out of town. The Hilton and the Mandarin Oriental share a perch over Paradise Bay, about 30 minutes north of town. For those who want to splurge, the Mandarin Oriental brings dedicated butler service with its 86 villas and 23 apartments stacked on a mountainside above the Aegean.
Each has a view of the water and most come with their own private deck terrace and pool. Accommodations run from 775 to 6,500 square feet with the junior villa configuration as the most popular choice. Dining is buffet style in the morning with indoor and outdoor view seating, beachside in the afternoons with mezzes, salads, light seafoods and sandwiches. It’s seafood in the evening with a romantic seaside dining venue and an elegant Japanese sushi restaurant.
Recommended: the hammam experience at the Spa at Mandarin Oriental. In an inner sanctum of the spa is a marble hammam where steam rises from a central stone platform as an attendant rubs, scrubs, massages and washes with the care that would be given to the pasha’s favorite concubine. The 50-minute experience leaves the body tingling and fresh, perfect to then relax on a hanging chair in the garden or on a lounge bed by the saltwater pool listening to waves crash on the shore.
Water taxis and complimentary shuttles are available for those who want to explore surrounding beach towns or head to the city. Accommodations start at $200 per night and an ongoing fourth night free promotion makes the visit even sweeter.
Meanwhile, the latest resort property to open along these waters is The EDITION. Ian Schrager’s latest visionary concept, The Bodrum EDITION brings a partnership with Marriott International to offer a contemporary luxury hotel experience on the West side of the peninsula, in Yalıkavak Marina. The horseshoe-shaped grounds slope downward towards the beach and jetty with pathways and leisure areas interspersed by the hotel’s 102 guest rooms, bungalows with private pools and its four-bedroom private villa with pool.
Two signature restaurants are overseen by Peruvian chef Diego Munoz, formerly of El Bulli and Mugaritz. There is an active nightclub and some 4,000 square feet of space for private events, meetings, weddings and parties. Rates start at €350 per night, including breakfast.