Turkey's Mediterranean resorts
Hasan was tinkering with the engine of his little boat before taking us for a trip around the bay. He assured us that he only did this for friends. We didn’t like to tell him that it seemed everyone was a friend in Gumusluk.
In the space of just a couple of days in this idyllic village on the tip of the Bodrum peninsula, the staff of one of the restaurants had taken us swimming and the local baker had shared yoghurt and freshly-picked almonds with us. Now the owner of the village antiques shop was about to take us for a late-afternoon jaunt on his boat.
Turkey is famous for its hospitality. It doesn’t come any warmer than in Gumusluk, which has largely avoided the tourism trappings of Bodrum just 40 minutes away.
We had intended to spend only a few days in this village, where the road ends – literally. The settlement’s position on the site of ancient Myndos means that development is severely restricted. Accommodation is limited to village houses, a few apartments and a couple of pensions.
Many of the houses and most of Gumusluk’s handful of shops and restaurants are accessed directly from the beach, which acts as the village’s main thoroughfare. And with very little passing traffic – save for a few Bodrum visitors to Gumusluk’s renowned fish restaurants each day – the beach is more country lane than high street.
Our “few days” in Gumusluk turned into two weeks. Apart from a trip to the market in Bodrum, we rarely ventured out of the village – such is its halcyon-like grip. With the garden gate of our stone cottage opening directly onto the beach, days began with an early-morning swim. Then it was a few strides along the beach to buy fresh bread, yoghurt and apricots for breakfast.
The rest of the day was distinctly lazy and hazy, with the odd break for kayaking in the bay or walking over the headland to explore meadows, cliff-top paths and remote coves. It was a rare walk when we didn’t stumble across tiny patches of ancient mosaics in the fields around the village.
We could have headed for bigger and busier resorts along the coast. We could have swapped weed-covered mosaics for more impressive historic sites such as Ephesus. Turkey’s popularity has boomed in the last couple of years as holidaymakers look for good value outside the eurozone.
But Gumusluk is proof that Turkey is big enough to cater for all types of traveller – on and off the beaten track. The country covers an area three times the size of the UK and has more than 2,700 miles of Aegean and Mediterranean coastline.
Beach resorts are served by the four main gateway airports at Izmir, Bodrum, Dalaman and Antalya.
Izmir is the most northerly of the coastal gateways. The area’s biggest and best-known resort is Kusadasi, where mass-market tourism in Turkey began in earnest.
Today it’s a cosmopolitan resort, with lots of shops and a bright and busy nightlife. The main town beach can get crowded in summer but there’s a good choice of other beaches a short distance out of the centre that are just as sandy but offer more space.
The resort has a large range of hotels to suit all budgets – but accommodation should be chosen carefully. While Kusadasi has done much to spruce itself up over the last few years, some hotels remain a little jaded.
Kusadasi’s main advantage is its proximity to Ephesus, Turkey’s most famous and best-preserved ancient city. The historic site is just 30 minutes from the resort.
The short transfer to Ephesus also makes Kusadasi a favourite call with cruise ships.
The area’s other main resorts are Cesme, a charming town dominated by a 14th century castle, and Altinkum, where the large sweep of golden sand makes it popular with families. Quieter options include Foca and Ayvalik.
At first sight, the sprawling city of Izmir appears to have little to offer tourists – mainly because of its lack of a decent beach. But its hectic bazaar is a fun place to haggle for Turkish souvenirs and there are some good restaurants along its seafront.
Bodrum boasts a beautiful marina overlooked by a Crusader castle and backed by a warren of narrow streets. It gets crowded in the height of summer – mainly due to its clever approach to satisfying a wide variety of visitors.
A popular base for sailing holidays, the busy harbour gives the waterfront a jet-set atmosphere. Clubbers are attracted by one of the largest open-air nightclubs on the Mediterranean, while families come for shopping, the castle and the waterside cafes.
Bodrum has a fair selection of chic, boutique-style hotels, while on the edge of town, Gumbet is a kiss-me-quick-type resort with budget accommodation and brash bars and clubs that are a big hit with the 18-30 crowd.
The 26-mile long Bodrum peninsula offers a quieter alternative among its lush countryside dotted with olive groves and whitewashed villages. Resorts such as Turgutreis and Ortakent have developed considerably over the last few years but still retain an authentic Turkish atmosphere. They offer a good balance for holidaymakers keen to avoid the big resorts but who still want a reasonable selection of restaurants and bars and don’t wish to be too off the beaten track.
Bitez has a mature, upmarket following, while Gumusluk and Yalikavak are among the quietest places on the peninsula.
Dalaman is the gateway to many of Turkey’s most popular resorts. They include the Brits’ favourite, Marmaris. Bustling, neon-lit and with a busy harbour, this is definitely not a resort for those in search of a quiet holiday.
Nearby Icmeler is popular with families because of its sandy beach and shallow waters. It has a wide range of hotels and apartments but has more of a relaxing, laidback atmosphere than Marmaris.
Small, family-run hotels make up most of the accommodation in Turunc, reached by a steep, winding road.
The beautiful Datca peninsula remains relatively undiscovered despite its proximity to Marmaris. Few tourists venture off the main coast road to explore the pretty countryside and traditional villages.
Further south, Oludeniz – near the attractive town of Fethiye – boasts one of the country’s best beaches cradled by a stunning lagoon. Most of the area immediately bordering the lagoon is protected, meaning that most accommodation is set back from the beach.
Because development at Oludeniz is heavily restricted, nearby Hisaronu has grown into a lively resort. A more relaxed option for families and older couples is Calis Beach, the nearest stretch of sand to Fethiye.
Further west, Patara has the longest beach in Turkey – 14 miles of white sand backed by dunes and mimosa bushes. The harbour towns of Kas and Kalkan have grown into upmarket resorts with swanky boutique hotels and luxury villas.
Oodles of winter sun make Antalya Turkey’s only major year-round beach holiday destination.
The Turkish government has invested heavily in the region’s tourism infrastructure over the last few years. A focus on four and five-star hotels is designed to rid the country of its reputation as a bargain-basement destination and show that it’s a match for more established rivals around the Mediterranean.
Some of the new hotels are jaw-droppingly ostentatious. They include the vast Mardan Palace, reputed to be the most expensive hotel in Europe when it opened in Antalya two years ago.
Much development has been focused on the purposebuilt resort of Belek. With luxury spas and more than 12 golf courses, it’s out to prove that Turkish beach holidays can offer more than just sunbathing. Other resorts with a spate of new upmarket hotels include Side and Alanya.
There is plenty of nature to explore in this region. The beaches around Belek are a nesting ground for Careta careta (loggerhead) turtles, and hotels have to turn off beach lights during the nesting season.
The Taurus mountains, snow-capped in winter, form the backdrop to the beach resorts. Inland, there are many beautiful pine forests, lakes and rivers. The Managvat Waterfall, just north of Side, is one of the most popular natural attractions, and has tourist shops and cafes. You can also take a boat trip along the river.
Turkey’s Mediterranean facts
When to go
Early and late summer is best, particularly if travelling with young children. July and August are stiflingly hot; temperatures often top 35ºC. Winter-sun holidays are mainly
restricted to the Antalya region.
Charter flights operate to all four main coastal gateways. Low-cost options include
easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Pegasus (www.flypgs.com). Turkish Airlines (www.thy.com) serves Bodrum, Dalaman and Antalya.
Turkish driving is erratic, so car hire is not for the faint-hearted. Dolmus –usually a minibus – is the typical form of public transport in Turkey. Services connect villages with local towns. Fares are cheap and it’s a great way to meet the locals, although the vehicles can get hot and stuffy in summer.
A wide variety of operators features Turkey. Cosmos (www.comos-holidays.co.uk)
offers a one-week all-inclusive deal in Belek from £499. Specialists include Wings Abroad (www.wingsabroad.co.uk), with a one-week all-inclusive stay in Altinkum from £497, and Anatolian Sky (www.anatoliansky.co.uk), with a one-week gulet cruise from Marmaris
from £599. Upmarket operator Exclusive Escapes (www.exclusiveescapes.co.uk) specialises in villas and small hotels. Two weeks in a two-bedroom villa in Kordere, near Kalkan costs from £5,100 for a family of four, with flights and car hire. Alternative Turkey
(www.alternativeturkey.com) has a week’s golf holiday with three rounds from £599. Co-op Holidays (www.co-opholidays.co.uk) and Prestige (www.prestigeholidays.co.uk) also feature Turkey.
Turkish Culture and Tourism Office: 020 7839 7778; www.gototurkey.co.uk
All prices and details were correct when published, please check before you travel. This feature appeared within the Spring 2011 issue of tlm - the travel & leisure magazine.