As we munched on our hearty treat at the Yeni Bodrum Ocakbaşı, we gazed across at the Istanköy Hotel. I felt a shudder down my spine. Back in 2008, a couple of months before we finally paddled ashore with all our worldly goods, we spent a week in the hotel courtesy of Thomas Cook. When we arrived we were escorted to a dingy sunken room the size of a broom cupboard. Natural light was supplied by a caged slit. It was not a good start. I complained and we were moved to a better room. I say ‘better’ purely in the comparative sense. Our stay was challenging. The over-familiar staff greeted us with ‘yes, mate’ or ‘hello Jimmy’ and it was impossible to get round the rowdy pool for tattooed honey monsters with their brats in caps (despite being in term time). To top it all, we were sure that something dodgy was going on with our safety deposit box.
We had booked cheap and cheerful because it was only a bed for the night. The purpose of our trip was to dolly-hop across the peninsula trying on the towns and villages for size. Early readers will know that we settled on Yalıkavak, a pretty coastal village, about 20 kilometres northwest of Bodrum.
The town of Bodrum is not well-served with good budget hotels. There’s a real gap in the market for the cheap and chirpy rather than the cheap and nasty.
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In the Beginning
Room with a View
We honeymooned in Kaş on the Turkuaz Coast. I was by then a seasoned Turkey traveller but Liam was an excitable novice. Kaş is a beguiling Bohemian jewel, surrounded by a pristine hinterland that has been mercifully spared the worst excesses of mass tourism. No expense was spared and we took a suite at the Deniz Feneri Lighthouse Hotel through Exclusive Escapes, an altogether superior hotel by an altogether superior travel company. No one star Gümbet with no star Thomas Cook for me on my first and final honeymoon. We bathed in the sparkling blue waters, strolled along the relaxed hassle-free promenade, feasted by candle-light and danced the night away with the locals in Bar Red Point, the best watering hole in town. I promised Liam the genuine Turkish shave experience and we got a lot more than just something for the weekend from the predatory married barbers on the pull. It put Liam off for life.
We hired a car and explored some of surrounding must sees in old Lycia. The area is stuffed with them. We lunched in pretty but twee Kalkan, meandered through the grand ruins of Patara, relaxing awhile on the adjacent beach – a stunning 18km protected stretch of soft white sand – and bathed in its shallow waters. We stumbled across the intimate ruins of the cult sanctuary of Letoon and watched turtles play in the warm pools. Letoon seduced us with its intimacy while nearby Xanthos, one-time capital of Lycia, awed us with its monumental scale and picture postcard aspect.
My first visit to Kaş was ten years earlier and it had hardly changed a bit. It was then that I met a middle-aged Scottish emigrey couple. They were ex-publicans with money to burn. The lazy town had worked its magic and they instantly decided to buy a house – no research, no cooling off, no going back. Prices were cheap and they visited a cashpoint machine each day to gather the deposit. I wonder if the dream lived up to the reality.
It was in Kaş that the seeds of our own change were sown though germination took another year. As we sipped chilled wine by the glorious infinity pool, we idly speculated about dropping out of the rat race and finding our place in the sun. We dreamed of Kaş and the Turkuaz Coast as if our lives could be one long honeymoon. Common sense prevailed as it must. Kaş is what it is because of its glorious isolation, protected by a wilting three hour drive from the nearest international airport. I hear talk of a new gateway to open up the coast. I would gladly chain myself to a tree like Swampy or pitch a tent like a Greenham Common lesbian to prevent it.
With the weather set fair, we accompanied semigrey hedonistas Greg and Sam on a road trip to reconnoitre some of the tumble down sites north of Bodrum, establishing ourselves at a secluded hotel on gorgeous Lake Bafa. We wanted a cute log cabin with charming rustic fittings. We got a Spartan concrete bunker decorated with blood red squashed mosquitos, a lumpy hard bed and stiff, thin towels. The entire complex is shabby chic but without the chic. However, the views across the lake are spectacular and the genial proprietor, Wilhelmina the beefy, bearded lady, is welcoming and helpful. She attempted to persuade us to participate on a five hour eco-trail walk. Not unless there’s an organic bar at the end, I thought.
Our first excursion took in Euromos where there’s little to see apart from the well preserved Temple of Zeus so a five minute stopover is enough for most. Onwards we drove to Didyma in search of the Temple of Apollo. We journeyed across miles of tedious, treeless, tatty flatlands broken only by occasional heaps of building rubble and skeletal erections. This is not the best of Asia Minor and provides an unappealing gateway to the truckloads of tourists who flock to Altinkum during the summer scurries. Now I know why Thomas Cook prefer to ferry their clients after dark. We passed through dire Didim, an ugly and unfinished urban sprawl, and arrived at the temple to find it fenced in by a shanty town of scruffy establishments. Despite this encroachment and the vandalism of Christian fanaticism, earthquakes and frequent plunder, the vast shrine is an impressive pile and well worth the entrance fee.
The hilarious highlight of our visit was tripping over a pair of horny tortoises. The smaller, younger male pursued his ardour with all the steely determination of a spring-loaded waiter chasing a VOMIT, banging his head on the rear of her shell until she relented. Typically, the no nonsense, no foreplay intercourse ended as soon as it started and the old broad looked bored throughout.
After a couple of hours surveying the ruins we travelled onwards to Altinkum, the playground of choice for those on a budget. We expected little and the resort lived down to our expectations. Few seaside towns look appealing out of season (and Southend looks unappealing in any season) but the pretty beach is utterly wrecked by the paltry parade of trashy hassle bars lining the frayed promenade. I don’t mind down market resorts for those on a fixed budget. I’m partial to a full English and a tuneless, tanked-up karaoke myself from time to time. Nevertheless, Spain does it so much better. It’s small wonder that a holiday home in Altinkum is cheaper than a Bournmouth beach hut.
We returned to the woods to drink the night away, star gaze and UFO spot. The frequency of alien sightings rose as the wine bottles drained.