South of the main Ionian sites the southern Aegean begins with reminders of another ancient civilization, the Carians, a purportedly barbarous people indigenous to the area (a rarity in Anatolia) who spoke a language distantly related to Greek. Bafa Gölü (or Lake Bafa) and ancient Heracleia ad Latmos on its northeast shore make a suitably dramatic introduction to this once isolated and mysterious region. From the nearest substantial town, Milas, the ancient sites of Euromos, Labranda and Iassos provide tempting excursions.
South of Milas, on the Gulf of Gökova, Ören is a rare treat: an attractive coastal resort not yet steamrollered by tourism. Most visitors bypass Ören in favour of Bodrum and its peninsula, very much the big event on this coast. While the tentacles of development creep over the surrounding land, in places what first attracted outsiders to the area still shines through on occasion.
Further south, Marmaris is another big – and rather overblown – resort, from which the Loryma (Hisarönü) peninsula beyond, bereft of a sandy shoreline but blessed with magnificent scenery, offers the closest escape. As a compromise, Datça and its surroundings might fit the bill, with remote beaches nearby more rewarding than the much-touted ruins of ancient Knidos.Read More
- Bafa Gölü
It’s fair to say that the coastal resort of BODRUM has a certain reputation. To many travellers, the very name conjures up images of drunken debauchery, full English breakfasts, and belly-out Europeans turning slowly pink on a Mediterranean beach. While there’s an element of truth to that stereotype, the reality is somewhat different – with its low-rise whitewashed houses and subtropical gardens, Bodrum is the most attractive of the major Aegean resorts, given a more cosmopolitan air by the increasing number of Turkish visitors.
Bodrum is neatly divided into two contrasting halves by its castle, and a largely pedestrianized bazaar area that sits immediately to its north. To the west is the more genteel area that surrounds a spruced-up yacht marina, with its upmarket hotels and restaurants, while to the east the town’s party zone holds its highest concentration of bars and restaurants. The eastern zone also features a thin, scrubby strip of beach, packed with sunbathers during the day and shoreside diners in the evening.
Lastly, mention must also be made of the delightful peninsula that Bodrum calls home; a tranquil and highly characterful place with beaches galore, it has recently become immensely popular with moneyed locals.
Originally known as Halikarnassos, Bodrum was colonized by Dorians from the Peloponnese during the eleventh century BC. They mingled with the existing Carian population, settling on the small island of Zephysia, which later became a peninsula and the location of the medieval castle. During the fifth century BC, Halikarnassos’ most famous son Herodotus chronicled the city’s fortunes in his acclaimed Histories.
Mausolus (377–353 BC), leader of the Hecatomnid satraps dynasty, increased the power and wealth of what had already become a semi-independent principality. An admirer of Greek civilization, Mausolus spared no effort to Hellenize his cities, and was working on a suitably self-aggrandizing tomb at the time of his death – thereby giving us the word “mausoleum”. Artemisia II, his sister and wife, completed the massive structure, which came to be regarded as one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. She distinguished herself in warfare, inflicting a humiliating defeat on the Rhodians, who were tricked into allowing her entire fleet into their port.
After a period of little importance under the Roman and Byzantine empires, and brief shuffling among Selçuk, Menteşe and Ottoman occupiers, the Knights of St John slipped over from Rhodes in 1402 and erected the castle that is now Bodrum’s most prominent landmark – indeed, the name bodrum, meaning “cellar” or “dungeon” in Turkish, probably pays tribute to the stronghold’s subterranean defences.
The Bodrum peninsula
The Bodrum peninsula
For anyone staying in Bodrum, it’s worth making at least one day- or half-day trip across the peninsula it calls home. You might even consider basing yourself in one of its many relaxed villages, such as Gümüşlük or Akyarlar, rather than in hectic Bodrum. The peninsular population was largely Greek Orthodox before 1923 and villages often still have a vaguely Hellenic feel, with ruined churches, windmills and old stone houses. However, the area has become immensely popular with moneyed Turks of late, and whitewashed cube-buildings have proliferated – some now appealing boutique hotels, others eerily empty, where building projects have gone belly-up. Luxury hotels, on the other hand, are proliferating – every major world chain either has, or is about to have, a hotel open here.
The peninsula still exudes a unique charm. Its north side, greener and cooler, holds patches of pine forest; the south, studded with tall crags, is more arid, with a sandier coast. There are also plenty of serviceable beaches, with Bitez, Ortakent, Yalıkavak and Türkbükü, among others, currently holding Blue Flag status for cleanliness.
Note that most of the peninsula’s hotels and restaurants only open from May to October. Travel at other times is certainly possible, though, and it’s blissfully relaxing.
Coastal charters and boat excursions around Marmaris
Coastal charters and boat excursions around Marmaris
Chartering either a motor schooner (gulet) or a smaller yacht out of Marmaris will allow you to explore the convoluted coast from Bodrum as far as Kaş. Especially out of high season, the daily cost isn’t necessarily prohibitive – no more than renting a medium-sized car, for example – and in the case of a gulet, a knowledgeable crew will be included. Virtually all the shore is accessible by boat, with abundant hidden anchorages.
You can pre-book a yacht charter through specialist holiday operators, or make arrangements on the spot. Prices are always quoted in euros or US dollars, but it’s possible to pay in Turkish lira. Substantial deposits are required – usually fifty percent of the total price.
The best option for individual travellers or small groups is a cabin charter. Several companies set aside one schooner whose berths are let out individually. The craft departs on a particular day of the week with a fixed itinerary of three to seven days. Typical prices, including all food and watersports equipment, range from €390 per person per week in April, May and October, to over €470 between June and September.
If you can assemble a large group, and have more time, consider a standard charter of a 20m motor schooner. A group of twelve, for example, will pay around €35 each daily during May or October, not including food or sporting equipment, and around €45 from June to September. Companies often offer to supply food from about €30 per person per day, though the best strategy is to dine in restaurants at your evening mooring and to keep the galley stocked for breakfast and snacks. If you tip the crew appropriately they’re usually happy to shop for you. Old and reliable charter agencies in Marmaris include Yeşil Marmaris, Barbaros Cad 118 (t0252 412 6486, wyesilmarmaris.com).
For greater independence, so-called “bareboat yacht” charter is the answer. Prices range from under €1000 for the smallest boat in off season, to €5800 for the largest in high season. This assumes that at least one of your party is a certified skipper; otherwise count on at least €140 a day extra (plus food costs) to engage one. For bareboat yachts, a large local operator is Offshore Sailing at the Albatros Marina, 3km east of Netsel Marina (t0252 412 8889, woffshore-sailing.net).
Boat trips from Marmarıs
Day excursions aboard a gulet depart from the southern end of Kordon Cad and the castle peninsula. Trips usually visit highlights of the inner bay, heading to a fish farm on the north side of Cennet Adası, caves on its south shore, then completing the day with a visit to Kumlubükü or Turunç coves. In summer, boats leave around 10.30am and return between 5pm and 6pm, and charge around TL20 per person, including lunch (no drinks).
You’ll also see signs in Marmaris offering trips to Cleopatra’s Isle. These actually refer to the islet of Sedir Adası (Cedar Island), near the head of the Gulf of Gökova, and said to have served as a trysting place for Cleopatra and Mark Antony. The sand on its beach was supposedly brought from Africa at Mark Antony’s behest, and indeed analysis has shown that the grains are not from local strata. The tours leave between 10 and 11am from Çamli İskelesı, and return at 4 or 5pm. The departure point is 6km down a side road that starts 12km north of Marmaris; most passengers get there on tour operators’ shuttle buses, but hourly dolmuşes leave from the otogar.