Chic town on ancient coast of Turkey

Costa Rica

Turkey is one of the top destinations for British holiday holidaymakers. In 2011 the market grew with trouble in N Africa and the Middle East. Bodrum is a league leader as one of our most popular tourist resorts. Now it is adding to the coastal holiday experience a new category: elite and exclusive. Photo - Kempinski Hotel, Bodrum. Gareth Huw Davies

Leave to shimmer

Bodrum has one big advantage over many Turkish holiday resorts. It’s just 21 miles from the airport. Such a rare pleasure to check into your hotel an hour after you clear immigration these days. The town itself is a handsome shimmering vision on a hot morning, ranks of white stucco houses and bougainvillea climbing a hill above the deep blue of two bays. By night it basks in the glow of the lit-up St. Peter''s Castle, home of the Museum of Underwater Archaeology. They display wondrous riches recovered from the seabed from 3000 years of shipwrecks in these coastal waters. Look for the fabulous gold seal of Queen Nefertiti, from the famous C14th BC Kaṣ-Uluburun shipwreck. It was found in 1982 close to here, 120 feet down, with enough metal aboard to make weapons for an entire army.

Turkey goes five-star

The Turkish holiday coasts in the south and west have evolved rapidly since my first visit in 1987, when mass tourism was taking hold. There is still plenty of standard hotel accommodation, and small, cheap B&Bs, with more and more smart boutique hotels. But now the coastal holiday experience has a new category: elite and exclusive. The five-star Kempinski Barbaros Bay, a rarefied and supremely quiet retreat 20 minutes from the town, is one of the top places to stay outside Istanbul. This summer (2011) ex-Manchester United football star Cristiano Ronaldo was a guest with his girlfriend. Its features include bedrooms fit for a pasha, acres of marble, vast views over the sea, one of Europe’s best spas, and off-the-scale service including chilled mint-infused towels around the infinity pool.

Sea Plus

From Turkey''s many splendid summer features, I award top bliss-rating to...the sea. The early-morning flat calm, before the breezes get up is quite sublime. And from then on it is usually calm sailing. The Blue Cruise, the lazy, bay-hopping week-long drift in a gulet, the traditional boat for these water, was conceived in Bodrum. The only change is added luxury. The same magical formula applies to day trips. Sail for a bit. Drop anchor in some empty little cove, where nothing has changed in 2000 years. Swim around in peerless, clear blue water. Lunch aboard, or in some little waterside restaurant. More swimming and drifting. And back in time for a sundowner.

Join the party

While the the Greek economy ails on the island of Kos, just a few miles away, Turkey is booming. And few places demonstrate the starburst of spending by the country’s rich list as much as Türkbükü, on the north side of the peninsula above Bodrum. Comparisons with Marbella and St Tropez are not so wide of the mark. If you want a restful visit, go late afternoon, inspect the mega-yachts in the marina, and see if you can spot Catherine Zita Jones or Tom Cruise. Then dine early at one of the ultra-chic waterfront restaurants, or join the parade - dress your best. I say early, because this place then transforms into one of the loudest, brashest, highest-octane nightspots in this corner of the Aegean. Prepare to party, or leave town.

Double the wonder

There are two original Wonders of the World on your doorstep in Bodrum. In the town itself the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (the city’s original name) celebrated a long-forgotten governor. The Knights of St John recycled what was left to build the castle, but you can still stand on its foundations and dream of that stupendous 150 feet high vanity. Then it’s an easy trip to the second wonder, the remains of the Temple of Artemis at the huge Greek and Roman city of Ephesus. But it can be busy. For that rare thing, tranquil ruins, take the boat tour to the nearby Datca peninsula. At the very end is usually-quiet Kindos. We had the extensive Ancient Greek site almost to ourselves in high summer.

Top trip

We leave our forays into the largely unspoiled peninsula to the west of Bodrum until after 3 pm, when the fierce heat begins to decline. If you don’t hire a car, there’s nothing wrong with the ubiquitous dolmus - public minibus. It’s cheap and handy and many routes criss-cross the high and ancient terrain of terraced fields and beehives, giving thrilling glimpses to a latticework of islands, capes and inlets on a brilliant aquamarine sea. Take a good guide book to seek out deserted villages, monasteries and ancient rock tombs. Then savour one of the glories of the Aegean, the view of a golden sunset over the sea at Gumusluk, on the peninsula''s western tip. Brutus and Cassius would have seen it when they were here after murdering Caesar. Find a terrace table at any of the excellent fish restaurants and be amazed.

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