Grab a supreme slice of Turkey while it’s going cheap!

Turkey has been getting a fairly bad rep lately so we thought we should send someone out there to check it out and see if it should still be a destination on your list.

Holiday-makers have been coming to Bodrum since the 1970s to enjoy the stunning scenery, warm climate, great food and fantastic nightlife. It’s relaxed, tolerant atmosphere and tranquil location amongst neighbouring Greek islands in the warm azure waters of the Aegean Sea make this town of 156,000 residents swell to over 2,000,000 at the height of summer. Tourism is down by more than 40% this year, however. That’s partly because of diplomatic issues— Russia effectively banned its citizens from taking Turkish holidays in retaliation for the shooting down of one its military jets — but also due to general fears about safety in the wake of political problems and terrorism, both globally and in the surrounding region. This means there are some great deals to be had currently. Some savvy travellers are getting up to 60% off last year’s prices — how does around £250* for one week at an all-inclusive five-star hotel with flights sound? So I flew down there to check on the security situation and to see whether you should take advantage of this Turkish delight before the prices go back up!

Name

Right from arrival, it’s clear that flight safety is taken seriously. At both Bodrum and Istanbul (where I transited), departing passengers must pass through two separate scanners, including one just to enter the terminal building. The checking areas are well staffed and professionally managed, though, so you’re not kept waiting long. Bodrum town centre is a 35 minute drive away on a coastal road offering tantalising views of mountain ranges sweeping down into villages of bougainvillea-draped cottages painted white and ‘Bodrum blue’. Casting your eye over the locals and visitors in the streets, Bodrum’s multicultural make-up is telling of its 3000 year history under the control of a diverse range of civilisations and empires.

Name

There’s a wide choice of accommodation options to suit all budgets, from cheap backpackers’ hostels and boutique guest-houses to the palatial splendour of the Four Seasons and Jumeirah hotels. I stayed at La Blanche Resort & Spa which is situated in Turgutreis, about 20 minutes from the heart of Bodrum. There’s plenty to commend this five-star tourist hotel with its generously-sized bedrooms, multiple restaurants and swimming pools, twenty-four hour bar service (watch out for the Raki, it’s stronger than you think!) and, best of all, its own private sandy beach. Be sure to catch the glorious sunset over nearby Rabbit Island whilst sipping a cocktail from the seafront bar.It would be easy to spend your time in Bodrum just soaking up the sun but its unique location at the crossroads of Asia and Europe means that there are just too many other attractions vying for your attention, especially if ancient history is your thing. 

The Mausoleum of Halicarnassus (the original name for Bodrum) was one of the seven wonders of the world and is the source of the name that is now used to describe all monumental tombs, having been built in 351 BC for Mausolus, a ruler from the Persian empire. Many of its important artefacts were stolen in the 19th century and are now in the British Museum but replicas of some of the statues are on display outside Bodrum Castle — an impressive building considered so important to Christianity that, when building started in 1402 AD, the Pope “guaranteed” a place in heaven to anybody from the Vatican who went there to work on it. There’s also a Roman amphitheatre that dates back to 400 BC which is still used today to perform shows and concerts.

Name

An hour away is Stratonikeia where budding archaeologists can spend the day poking around the ruins of this 2,500 year-old Greco-Roman city. There are still a few families living on the site and it’s surprising to see how they’ve ‘borrowed’ some of the ancient stones from the old city to repair their own crumbling farm cottages. It’s well worth the drive and there are numerous coach excursions to it on offer in Bodrum from 25TL (around £7).Bodrum itself is all about the sea. Tourism may have replaced sponge diving as the main source of income but a boat building industry still thrives. Handmade gulets are what this town is famous for and a day spent cruising around the bays and islands in one of these beautiful wooden boats is an absolute must. I was a guest on the Afroditi, a gorgeous 33m long vessel belonging to Barbaros Yachting. We cruised along the coast, stopping to dive and swim along the way, and partied on board after eating a delicious lunch and home-made cakes prepared by our chef, who then joined us on deck for a spot of impromptu belly-dancing.

Name

Another great way to see the area is from the back of an open-top Land Rover, as I did when I joined an adventure safari organised by local company Difference Outdoor. It’s a bouncy ride as you ascend mountain tracks to visit farms, villages and artisanal workshops and to sample the local delicacies. To iron out the bumps at the end of the day, I finished with a visit to Queen Hammam where I was soaped, scrubbed and then massaged after relaxing in a traditional Turkish sauna.When it comes to food, you won’t be disappointed in Bodrum, especially if you like Greek or Lebanese cuisine. Think lots of vegetarian meze dishes, tasty kebabs (we’re talking quality meat here, not the kind of fare you see thrown up on the pavement of your local high street at 3am) as well as excellent locally caught seafood. I had the largest sea bream I have ever eaten in one of the impossibly picturesque waterside restaurants of Gumusluk, a quiet bay just outside town. Basic English is widely spoken but detailed inquiries about ingredients are sometimes met with blank faces so it’s best to hit Google Translate before you arrive and write down the Turkish for any food allergies or special requirements on a piece of paper that can be shown to waiters.

Name

Bodrum’s nightlife is internationally famous; the ‘Halikarnas’ is claimed to be the largest open-air nightclub in Europe. The streets around the marina contain a multitude of different restaurants, bars, shows and clubs to suit all tastes and age groups, as well as shops and stalls which stay open until the early hours. The clientele is generally smart and affluent-looking yet friendly and unpretentious. Turkey’s population is 90% Muslim but it’s a secular country and the mood is laid-back and accepting. People, locals included, drink beer and sip cocktails in the streets outside the bars and my blonde colleague’s skimpy holiday-wear gathered no unwanted attention, other than the admiring glances of an aged Lothario sipping his Turkish coffee at a nearby cafe.Bodrum feels safe, welcoming, modern and cosmopolitan. It’s different enough from the usual haunts of European tourists to be special, yet less than a four-hour direct flight from London. It’s certainly awakened a desire in me to see more of what this country’s hospitality has to offer. Turkey has always been good value for money but, at these prices, it’s a steal worth gobbling up.

* Price quoted correct at time of writing, but rates can rise during peak season and on national holidays.