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Elegant, Relaxed and Endearingly Beautiful 

Bodrum is where the very rich and the beautiful meet. But non-jetsetters will also fall in love with its people, the sea and the surroundings. A particularly appealing feature of this charming little town: the absence of multi-storey hotel complexes.

I must confess, when Bodrum first came up in conversation as a potential destination for a short getaway, I had to google it. Once there, it is easy to mistake the place for the Côte d’Azur – as, just like the French Riviera, this former fishing village in southwest Turkey attracts the rich and the party-loving jet set. But Bodrum has much more to offer!

The reason I opted for a holiday in a small town on the Aegean coast was a luxury resort – and the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to relax in an "Aman" resort. Built in 2011 and situated approximately fifteen minutes from Bodrum, the "Amanruya" resort is set in a quiet, picturesque bay and seduces with discreet luxury. The 36 free-standing cottages, each with a private terrace and pool, are an invitation to be (elegantly) idle. As I install myself in my luxury dwelling, it becomes crystal clear to me why many guests choose to stay within the confines of their little cottage world not even bothering to check out the private beach.

Photos: Steffi Hidber

Minimalistic luxury

By contrast, I am far too curious and want to know what –if you can afford the luxury of such a resort– your holiday might encompass. I take off to explore and discover the resort’s gorgeous infinity pool, the countless little niches and the open living rooms. The architecture of the entire resort is a minimalistic dream, and the staff incredibly courteous.

The charming head waiter, Can, serves me a helping of Menemen. This egg and tomato dish is soon to become my favourite in Turkey (and something I have since added to my cooking repertoire at home). I thoroughly enjoy the peaceful ambience and could easily succumb to the resort’s fantastic service. But, then, on discovering the little town of Bodrum, I realise what I would have missed had I limited my holiday to luxurious idleness.

Although Bodrum’s streets buzz with activity, the mood is laid back. The vendors of the abundant leather goods and (fabulous!) handbags tell me that things can get a bit wild at times, and that Bodrum is a great place to party. The affluent yacht tourists seem to spend most of their time in the luxurious Palmarina Yacht Marina situated outside the town’s historical centre. The Marina is also home to luxury boutiques and gourmet restaurants. Personally, I much prefer the abundantly available fish restaurants and bars in downtown Bodrum.

Down-to-earth and conscious of traditions

A particularly striking feature of Bodrum is the almost complete absence of "concrete bunkers" that often spoil the scenery of comparable beach holiday destinations. This absence has a good reason: Bodrum’s local politicians have imposed strict building limits so as to preserve the town’s characteristic architecture of flat whitewashed roofs and buildings no higher than two storeys. You won’t find any pomp and swank here. The large hotel chains –and the "Amanruya"– are situated outside of town so that Bodrum has kept its serene charm. This also includes the view of the bay where, in summer, hundreds of traditional wooden gulet boats offer a mode of transport to explore the coast.

Which brings me to the only drawback of my Bodrum trip: since I am a bad sailor, meaning I get seasick very quickly, a cruise on a lovely gulet is out of the question for me. Yacht builder and boatyard owner Erdem Argan is slightly dismayed by my unseaworthiness. The charming entrepreneur gives me a tour of his production hall where a gulet is in the final stages of construction. Work on this wooden sailing vessel started almost a year ago and is in keeping with the original plans of Erdem’s father. The sales price? 600,000 Euros. A bargain compared to the yachts currently berthed in the Palmarina Yacht Marina.

As Erdem explains, the larger yachts produced by Argan are also very much in demand. But he is more emotionally attached to the gulets and thinks it a shame that, these days, gulets are primarily sold to clients in France and Italy. Erdem would love the locals to rediscover the charm of a flawlessly built gulet. As for me, I am content to just look at an almost fully built luxury yacht and imagine what a jet set lifestyle might be like. But I understand why someone would choose to discover the Turkish Aegean on a yacht: clearly, there is no nicer (and more peaceful) way to enjoy the infinite number of enchanting coves around Bodrum!

Travelling in the region

Despite my lack of yachtsmanship I don’t get bored in Bodrum, which is not least due to its rich cultural offering. A characterising feature of the town, both historically and visually, is the mighty Castle of St. Peter with its impressive towers. Today, the castle houses one of the most important museums for underwater archaeology.

There are also plenty of sights to see in the hills that surround Bodrum, including the archaeological site and ruins of Pedasa that are easily reached by car. The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus is another highlight, and where one of the seven wonders of antiquity once stood. Since I am also drawn to "living" history, I spend an afternoon in the village of Etrim and get the chance to discover one of Turkey’s traditional crafts: carpet weaving.

Etrim, which has 300 inhabitants, is tucked away in the hills and can be reached in about fifty minutes from Bodrum. The village is not all that pretty, and you have to know your way around the hills to find it right away. But it is worth visiting: the village’s young generation has cleverly set up a type of cooperative to preserve and promote the traditional production of carpets (both flat woven and hand knotted) – a craft that would otherwise risk becoming extinct. The village mayor, Engin Basol, guides me through "his" village and offers impressive insight into how this craft is now thriving thanks to a web shop and collaborations with various tour operators.

Dozens of families and villages have teamed up for this, though every village has its own "imprint" on what is produced. I am allowed to watch a grandmother and granddaughter weave. I also get to stroke some very cute young goats before I make my way back to Bodrum – armed with a beautiful new Kilim carpet that has been packed travel-flat for me. Fortunately, apart from my bathing costume and summer dress, there is not much else in my suitcase!

Instead of lunch in one of Bodrum‘s award-winning fish restaurants, I treat myself to two hours by the sea before my departure. The crystal clear, luminous turquoise water is still warm in autumn, the sky is flawlessly blue and the only audible sound is the howling of a distant motor boat in the bay. My conclusion: I love the people and the stunning nature in and around Bodrum. And since this town is less than a three-hour flight from Zurich, I know one thing for sure: I will be back!

Three Bodrum Tips:

Amanruya Resort: A once-in-a-lifetime indulgence of pure luxury, with spa treatments and fantastic service. Pure relaxation! (Bülent Ecevit Cad. Demir Mevkii, Göltürkbükü - Bodrum, 48483 Muğla) www.aman.com/resorts/amanruya

Palmarina: See and be seen: Bodrum’s Yacht Marina can easily hold a candle to its “big sister” Saint-Tropez. Make yourself comfortable on a café terrace in the sun and spend a relaxing afternoon watching the world go by. (Merkez, Çökertme Cd. No:6 48990 Bodrum/Muğla, www.palmarina.com.tr)

Etrim: Tucked away in the hills outside of Bodrum, the village of Etrim has 300 inhabitants and is where carpets are knotted and woven according to traditional craftsmanship. Make sure you leave some space in your suitcase! (http://www.etrimvillage.com)

Text: Steffi Hidber