The Bodrum Peninsula has long been a favourite destination for Turkish holidaymakers. Annabelle Thorpe, of 101 Holidays, explains what makes it special.
Next year it will be twenty years since my first visit to Turkey. In that time I’ve watched unspoilt fishing villages grow into mass-market resorts and rustic-style pensions give way to elegant villas and gorgeous boutique hotels. Turkey has slowly shed its budget, backpacker image and taken its place among more chic destinations, and nowhere is this more true than on the Bodrum peninsula – a knob of land jutting out from the town of Bodrum, one of Turkey’s most famous resorts.
What makes the peninsula such a delight is that in spite of being just 20 minutes drive from Bodrum, it remains resolutely Turkish. The villages that edge the coastline have long been a favourite weekend destination of holidaying Turks from the cities of Izmir and Istanbul, and whereas other areas along the coast have become positively anglicised, there’s still plenty of traditional Turkish life to experience.
Villages such as Yalikavak still have cay bahcesis (tea gardens) and lokantas (simple restaurants) where locals sit and drink Turkish coffee, play backgammon and spend entire mornings behind the pages of Cumhuriyet or Sabah, the country’s leading newspapers, and there are fantastic weekly markets in all the villages, where you can barter for everything from fresh fruit and veg to fake Burberry handbags.
But it’s not all simple pleasures. In neighbouring Golturkbuku, around fifteen minutes drive from Yalikavak, decked terraces reach out over the water, dotted with over-sized beanbag loungers and pristine white sofas. This is where Turkey’s rich and beautiful come; flying in from Istanbul or sailing down from Izmir on gleaming yachts. The beachfront is lined with small boutiques selling itsy-bitsy bikinis and Ibiza-style cocktail bars; behind them chic small hotels ooze exclusivity, with art collections on the walls and open kitchens overseen by some of the country’s best-regarded chefs.
What I love about the Bodrum peninsula is that you can easily pair the Cote d’Azur glam of Golturkbuku, with the more laid-back charms of some of the other villages. On the westernmost edge of the peninsula lies Gumusluk, a sleepy little fishing village with restaurants lined up along the waterfront, serving up whatever the boats bring back from their morning trawl.
Many Turkish families have holiday homes here and – particularly after the day-trip boats have gone – the slim stretch of beach is dotted with locals, lounging between the bougainvillea-strewn cottages that front right onto the beach, and the clear blue waters of the Aegean.
What saves the Bodrum peninsula from being over-run is that the beaches aren’t amazing, particularly on the northern side. I’ve popped into the bigger resorts of Bitez and Ortakent on the southern side of the peninsula, and the beaches there are wide and sandy and great for families, although the resorts themselves don’t have the charm of Golturkbuku or Yalikavak. But then that’s what makes the peninsula such a perfect place – whether you want sandcastles and snorkelling, or sundowners and style, it’s all there to discover. Just like Turkey itself.