Bodrum? It’s back... so get in there now!
As Turkey tries to lure back tourists after a turbulent time, one resort beloved by Irish holidaymakers is showing its best face to all who visit
KOCABAHCE is its name but everybody, even the Turkish people, calls it Sailors’ Paradise.
It’s exactly that, a rustic restaurant and homemade jetty at the head of a pocket fjord in probably the prettiest bay, on the loveliest coastline in the Aegean. It’s just around the corner from Bodrum.
My wife and I have been sailing here for 20 years. We’ve watched the palm trees and the oleander grow up to frame the simple wooden building.
We’ve been greedy with the best meze in the Gulf and drunk raki late into the night with Mehmet, the mournful little man who’s put his heart and soul into this wonderful place.
He has much to be mournful about. The boats are largely gone. The tourist gangs of middle-aged German men head for Croatia. The rest of the Europeans have moved to Greece. The flotillas have fled.
It’s not paradise lost, it’s paradise abandoned.
Turkish tourism was hit hard last year, and this year it seems worse. But tourists don’t know much about Turkey, and even less about geography, and are spooked by recent events. No matter the Syrian war is roughly 1,000 miles away – as far as Ukraine is from us.
No matter the bombings have been in Istanbul and Ankara, farther away from somewhere like Marmaris than Cologne is from Dublin. The truth is that Turkey’s resorts feel free, calm, safe and determinedly secular. Selfishly, all this is great.
The anchorages this year are largely deserted, the restaurants and traders keen, verging on desperate. So we decided it was the ideal time to go to Bodrum, a town we have avoided because it is buzzy, fashionable – the socalled St Tropez of Turkey.
Bodrum, the Irish well know as a tourist destination they loved from Celtic Tiger days and before.
An added incentive was a chance to sample the newest and possibly most luxurious development.
We squeezed our shabby little boat onto the jetty of the Caresse hotel, between the hotel’s sleek gulet boat and its jet-set speedboat, with such lack of skill we nearly destroyed them both.
The reception committee hid any alarm behind fixed smiles and stepped smartly forward with welcome cocktails and chilled towels. It’s taken five years and, according to the locals, €120million to build Caresse. The location’s perfect. It’s on the edge of Bodrum, ranked down a steep hillside above the sea. It looks over the most beautiful, unspoilt view of Black Island and the Gulf of Gokova.
You can see it from nearly all of the 67 rooms and nine suites, let alone the infinity pools, the beach of imported sand, the two restaurants, bars and acres of the finest Burmese teak decking which, on its own, is said to have cost €1.75million. It’s determinedly modern and high tech.
Caresse is doing better than many Bodrum hotels. But it was launched when Bodrum was getting a million tourists a year and this drastic downturn makes even the very top end a (comparative) bargain.
Caresse’s spa helped make it European Resort of the Year. I’ve always been sniffy about massage. But the Thai therapists with fists like jackhammers gave me the kind of brisk going-over that had my muscles still singing at sundown.
Bodrum itself was better than I remembered. Attractive even.
The white-washed, blue-edged houses are charming and the town is dominated by the Castle of St Peter, built in the 15th century. It houses a fine underwater archaeology exhibition – including the wreck of a ship that sank in 400 BC. Bodrum has long been the town of choice for the Istanbul glitterati and foreign tourists who still go.
The downturn has done us all a favour. The nightclub party boats seem to have been an early casualty.
The people have always been warm, the food excellent, the coastline beautiful and studded with antiquity, the climate ideal.
Now it’s even cheaper and we’re spoiled for choice.
Crystal blue: The harbour at Bodrum
Relaxed: Michael Buerk
Sumptuous: The exotic Caresse Hotel