The bus ride from Seluck south to Bodrum is a quick four hour journey through breezy seaside towns and rugged farmland. After exploring the ruins of Ephesus I was ready to spend a few days relaxing at Turkey’s most famous beach resort. I was looking forward to nursing an ice cold bottle of Efes beer and digging my feet into the sand while watching the sun set over turquoise waters.
Bodrum certainly has a reputation. Too many travellers, the very name conjures up images of drunken debauchery, full English breakfasts, and belly-out Europeans slowly turning pink on a Mediterranean beach. While there is certainly an element of truth to the stereotype, the reality is somewhat different and based on the choices you make you can find authenticity in a town overrun with fake designer bags and bland burgers.
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. After hopping off my bus at the local Otogar I rang my hotel for a pickup. Standing with my suitcase and camera bag I couldn’t help but laugh as an older gentleman arrived on an antique bicycle. The definition of “pick up” was quickly thrown out the door as I found myself running along cobblestone streets in an attempt to keep up. I would spend the duration of my stay at Hotel Gulec, a breezy guesthouse centered around a lush garden courtyard.
While Bodrum is famous for its nightlife scene I opted to spend my time in town unplugging from a hectic schedule, enjoying early morning beach strolls, a sailing trip, local slow food feasts, castle climbing and my first Turkish Bath. Proof that Bodrum offers more than just a heavy hangover.
Bodrum’s beachfront boardwalk is lined with restaurants and bars which during the day serve up sips and nibbles to tourists with a penchant for afternoons filled with warm ocean breezes and steamy suntans. At night lounge chairs are replaced with white linen table cloth draped tables where couples sit with their feet dug into the sand. Across the harbour The Castle of St Peter glows, offering diners and late night beach strollers an unforgettable view.
The Castle of St Peter
Bodrum’s landmark with its array of towers, courtyards and dungeons, is now home to the Museum of Underwater Archaeology displaying underwater finds from various wrecks. The castle was built by the Knight of St John in 1406, over a small Selcuk fortress. Urgently needing to replace the fortress at Smyrna destroyed by the Mongols, the Knights engaged the era’s finest military engineers to construct their new stronghold. Be sure to bring your camera the views from up here induce a jaw drop.
A Day at Sea
Everyones visit to Bodrum includes a lazy-day boat trip across the Aegean’s surrounding bays and islands. A typical day out starts at 10:30am and ends at 4pm. These “Blue Cruises” are hosted on Turkish gulet boats which offer a top deck padded with pillows for tourists to relax and tan the day away. Stops include Akvaryum perfect for snorkelling, Kara Ada a sizeable island southeast of town where tourists bathe in hot springs issuing from a cave at the island’s margin. The final moorings are often Kizil Burnu (Red Bay) and Tavsan Burnu (Rabbit Bay). The crew play high energy Turkish pop music all day while encouraging guests to relax with a cold bottle of Efes. Your memories will be where turquoise blue meets ice cold beer.
I intentionally avoided the “famous” Turkish Baths in Istanbul as they are known for being overpriced, inauthentic, rushed and wildly touristy traps. A visit to a traditional Hamam is essential on any Turkey travel itinerary but best to wait until you head outside of the big city to enjoy a more quaint local experience. On my last day in Bodrum I strolled over to the local Turkish Bath which is located just across from the main bus station. The experience is by far one of the top ten most interesting slash hilarious experiences I’ve ever had travelling.
The Details: after checking in with reception you’ll be given a large dishcloth and offered your own “private” change room (surrounded by windows) where you disrobe and exit wearing nothing but plastic flip flops and “dishcloth” tightly wrapped around your hips like a skirt. Walking down the stairs you hit the humid heat and enter into a marble adorned space with a raised stone platform called a “hararet.” Attendants scrub and soap each visitor on this communal warm stone altar.
First your body is rigorously scraped with an exfoliation mitt to schluff off all of your dead skin. After a quick douche you are then rolled around on the stone by another attendant where he covers your body in a plume of soapy suds and massages you vigorously from head to toe. After another douche you have the opportunity to relax in the sauna or head back upstairs where a gentleman in the laundry room wraps your head and torso in more linen. Guests relax outside on a potted plant filled balcony while sipping on fresh orange and pomegranate juice. If you are keen for more muscle work you can pay an additional fee for a 30 minute oil massage. You’ll never in your life have such a hilarious communal spa experience where old Turkish men give you a jolly rub down and total strangers flash their balls and bum without a care in the world.