The Bodrum peninsula, on the Turkish Riviera, is enjoying a renaissance; now less back-packer parties and more about culture and cuisine.
As one walks along the shore, restaurant owners are eager to show-off their catch of the day. Before beckoning you to a table, glistening, bright eyed fish are held out, their gills opened to show rich red flesh. Here in Gümüşlük, a tiny fishing village on the Bodrum Peninsula, it’s a tempting invitation. These humble, alfresco eateries, with wooden tables set right on the shore, dressed with jugs full of wild flowers, and views out across to the Greek islands, are some of the best places to enjoy authentic, fresh Turkish seafood.
Back in the 1960s, the Turkish literati started to choose Bodrum for their holidays. Cevat Sekir, an Oxford Educated Turk was passionate about the area, and his famous book the ‘Blue Voyage’ which describes gulet boat adventures along the Turkish coast, is said to have contributed to the popularity of Bodrum. Yet like so many Mediterranean destinations, things changed over the decades. Cheap flights and the backpacker generation changed the ambiance.
However Bodrum is now once again a favourite destination for those looking for that perfect Mediterranean get-away, a place that retains bygone charm together with just enough upscale luxury. Think Côte d’Azur but with better weather, and lots of exotic flavour.
The big names in hospitality have arrived. Aman Resorts, Mandarin Oriental and Kempinski are all offering their own take on Turkish Riviera luxury.
But small is still beautiful here and probably one of the best ways to truly experience the bare foot elegance of this part of the Mediterranean is at one of Turkey’s very first boutique hotels, ‘Casa Dell’Arte’.
Created and owned by art collectors Fatos and Yunus Büyükkuşoğlu, this oasis of style is as much an education and an inspiration, as it is a place to kick back and relax. The contemporary residence echoes traditional Anatolian architecture, with two intimate, high walled courtyards. One provides privacy and shelter for the swimming pool, which is surrounded by exhibition space where you can admire and buy art from both emerging and established Turkish and international artists. The other is extravagantly decorated by vintage French crystal chandeliers, suspended in the open air. There are plenty of sculptures and installations in and around the property; and pretty much all the wall space inside is covered with rare art. Some 4,000 pieces in total, so take care after pre-dinner cocktails not to stumble and cause an incident!
The family have been collecting for over thirty years, discovering pieces on their travels. Request a private guided art tour of the hotel and one’s eyes are opened to the diversity of Turkish art from the middle ages through to the present day.
To get a flavour of the peninsula, head to nearby Bodrum. Its bay, dominated by the medieval castle of St. Peter (where you can enjoy the fascinating museum of underwater archaeology) is home to some of the best Turkish Mediterranean cuisine. Kocadon Restaurant, situated in a charming nineteenth century courtyard, has been leading the way with contemporary cuisine for over 25 years, but for a more ritzy vibe, go to the yacht club for live music, cocktails and an intoxicating atmosphere.
Of course, for the classic Bodrum experience, go to Gümüşlük, and accept that invitation to sit at one of those little wooden tables and enjoy some superb fish.
I was a guest of Turkish Airlines and Casa dell’arte.