The afternoon sun slants low, hazy as a dream, and paints the water gold. Out in the stillness of the bay a group of girls and boys swim, heads slick as seals, their laughter skipping over the sea like a song. It is known as the Turquoise Coast but here, where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean, the colour of the sea is capricious as the shifting sky.
The sea informs everything in Bodrum. This place only really makes sense from the water. Turkey’s jagged south-west does not lend itself to sweeping corniches, its evergreen peninsulas stretching out into the inky waters towards the Greek islands a couple of miles away. Its seafaring people lived around its edges, in disconnected fishing villages which, even now on Bodrum’s sleepier neighbours of Bozburun and Datça, are only accessible from the sea. Well-groomed Bodrum also keeps secrets: fragments of islands too small to name, hidden coves where you drop anchor to swim in lagoons or come ashore for lunch at beach restaurants.
Bodrum’s stars aligned almost 100 years ago when a writer – an aristocrat from Istanbul called Cevat Sakir Kabaa˘gaçli – was exiled here for three years. In a hut! On a beach! He fell in love, of course, and stayed for three decades. The local sponge divers showed him the underwater treasures. As the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, he wrote about Homer’s land of eternal blue with its submerged cities, its imprints of Greeks and Romans, of saints and apostles, of Antony and Cleopatra. His idea of the Blue Voyage brought all Istanbul society to Bodrum, to spend summers sailing gulets along the fragrant coast.
In the 1970s Bodrum emerged as the most glamorous spot in Turkey. And now, in pale-mineral Göltürkbükü bay, the waterside decks shine with oiled limbs lying cheek by jowl like a backgammon board. Hard to believe that a couple of years ago Europeans and Americans had all but stopped holidaying on the Turkish Riviera. It hasn’t taken long to recover. ‘People have short memories when the offering is this good,’ says Sahir Erozan, the owner of the hotel Maçakizi, surveying all the buzz and beauty with a fiendish grin.
It’s true. Bodrum is back with a bang, booming like never before, all aflutter with sleek openings which have manicured great swathes of the peninsula into next-level hotels. Old favourites have been revived; Nicolas Sarkozy was among those holing up at reopened Amanruya last summer. The newly enlarged Yalikavak Marina is now deep and glitzy enough to accommodate superyachts with Monets and Rothkos on board.
Among the newcomers is the Bodrum Edition, importing Ian Schrager’s trademark all-white minimalism and knock-out proportions, along with the star chef Diego Muñoz from Peru, soft sand on the beach where children splash about on paddleboards, and Balearic house music. Its bar, Discetto, has a giant pink disco ball.
Across the water on the mainland, an altogether more grown-up crowd drink cocktails from copper cups at Kaplankaya’s Anhinga beach bar. Rising up from the shore into a scrub of pistachio and olive trees, Kaplankaya is not just a hotel, but an entire new town: a turbo- smart hideout on a wildly ambitious scale, with one modernist Six Senses hotel and destination spa, and three more hotels in the offing (Cheval Blanc is confirmed) plus a marina by Foster & Partners.
Kaplankaya’s creator, Burak Oymen, spent hot, happy summers here as a child in the 1980s, his parents part of that Turkish intelligentsia lured by the Fisherman’s tales. Like Bodrum, Burak grew up and made his fortune; and with it bought a stretch of empty land. ‘I wanted to recreate the Bodrum of my childhood,’ he says. Such is the power of nostalgia. It started simply, he and his girl Tereza living in a beach hut, not in exile but in love. If they wanted civilisation, they took their boat across the bay for lunch at Maçakizi, the trade winds in their sails
Maçakizi has encapsulated the spirit of Bodrum since it was opened in 1975 by Sahir Erozan’s mother. It is authentically Turkish yet completely international, pretty yet progressive, barefoot and sexy as hell. Whitewashed suites tumble down the hillside among oleander and palms; then deck after deck for eating and drinking and dancing, all the way to the sea. Sahir is invariably found in the thick of things, telling stories. He throws the kind of parties that get out of hand. ‘You know – you tell two girls, they tell 88 people.’ Guests waft around, brown skinned and beautiful with absurdly tiny waists. Kate Moss, so the story goes, checked out of nearby detox retreat LifeCo early and came straight to Maçakizi.
People dance here all hours of the day, ebbing and flowing with the rhythm of the tides. It looks artfully effortless, but don’t be fooled: this is a slick operation. Sahir spends his winters travelling the world for inspiration and rebuilding – last year adding a new beach club and state-of-the-art outdoor kitchen.