Bodrum: Turkish St. Tropez

VOX Sunday Magazine of THE SUN October 14, 2001

By June Mong

Late summer sailing, reading in the sun and cocktails at dusk make up an idyllic Aegean coast holiday for June Mong.

As our car wound around the coastal road towards Bodrum, I realised that no one can be indifferent to the beauty of this jagged coastline that once saw battles waged between ancient Greeks and Persians. I packed a copy of Herodotus' Histories with my bikini and sunblock because I knew the ancient Greek historian was born in Bodrum but also because the spirit of Homeric-scale exploits felt very strong in this part of the world. Troy, the setting of Homer's Trojan War over the beautiful Helen in The Iliad, is along this coast.

My first stop was the quietly classy Golden Key Hotel at the edge of the town, away from the crass tourist stalls. Built on a hill overlooking the Outer Bay of Bodrum my suite had a well-appointed living room with french doors that opened out to my own private little garden with a sea view. My first day started early as I got up at 6:20AM, wondering if the sunrise could be seen from my garden. I sat on the cream cushions of the dark wood deck chair and watched a speedboat taxi some people from the Bar Street across the Outer Bay to our side of the bay. Perhaps they had just ended their night-long revelry and were returning home to sleep. A German lady staying at the hotel was already swimming in the sea. It was 7AM and I decided on a brave dip into the cool waters before breakfast myself.

Golden Key serves a wonderful Turkish breakfast on its sea-view terrace. As you watch gulets, the traditional Turkish sailing boats, bob in the water and the medieval St. Peter's Castle looming at the end of the bay, it becomes the most natural thing to have olives, goat cheese, tomatoes, local honey and rose-petal jam with Turkish bread for breakfast. The hotel also offers cold cuts, blue cheese, yogurt and cereals on the breakfast board. Courteous young men in resort shorts and smart Lacoste polo shirts who look like they just stepped out of a Ralph Lauren ad serve you very attentively.

When in Bodrum there are two ways to spend your holiday. One is to explore the town on foot and browse through its many souvenir stalls strewn along its myriad cobbled lanes and visit the weekly open market on Tuesday for crafts, and Thursday and Friday for fresh produce. I bought a lot of white cheese, cracked green olives, saffron, kebab spices and jars of the local honey to take home. I also bought 500 gm of lavender for my linen closet. On Tuesdays, I recommend you look out for the blonde lady in her 40s in an embroidered kaftan whose stall is opposite the entrance of the Gima supermarket. She has wonderful handworked lace curtains, tablecloths, blouses and dresses made by hand by women in villages around Izmir 250 km north of Bodrum. A two-panelled crotcheted lace curtain costs just a little more than a pair of drapes form Ikea!

Once you have seen Bodrum and done your shopping, check on the schedules for the local minibuses they call the dolmus. The town square at the start of Neyzen Tevfik Sokak is where most people wait for their dolmus and for a few dollars you could get a ride to the lovely charming towns around the Bodrum Peninsula and see what Aegean village life is really like. Many locals still farm their lands -- agriculture and shepherding is still part of village life today. Farmers and local women sell their wares in villages or along the road side in covered stands to protect themselves from the hot sun.

The second way to spend your holiday in Bodrum, which was the one I opted for, is to do little more than read by the sea, enjoy the views of the white-washed villas and the fuchsia of the cascading bougainvillea on their terraces, and think about how you'll like your cod cooked for lunch. The days pass slowly but exquisitely by as you get more and more brown. The absolute best meal I had was at the Chaine des Rotisseur restaurant at Antique Theatre Hotel up on the hills across from the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre. The owners who lived in Paris have been running their terraced 19-room cosy hotel for about nine years now. Some rooms have their own little enclosed terrace which overlooks the poolside. As you lean over the poolside you can look out over a panoramic view of the city across the village rooftops, the Karada Marina, all the way to St. Peter's Castle. In the afternoons, my friends and I strung jasmine buds collected from the hotel garden into a bracelet garland as we lay about the deck area.

In the evenings we come back down to dine by the swimming pool at tables lit by lamps, competing with the glimmering lights of Bodrum town. Arif Bey's culinary skills have not only been recognised by the Chaine des Rotisseurs in 1998 but a few years ago the food critic of The New York Times wrote that there were only three places in all of Turkey where one can still taste authentic Ottoman cooking, and one of them was at Antique Theatre Hotel's restaurant. My friend ordered a signature starter, the aubergine boat filled with mussels, prawns, and squid in a red wine and saffron sauce that was rich and exotic like the Aegean night. They also served us a Saumon Tartare as a complimentary hors d'oeuvre with spring onions and eaten with toasted baguette.

Our main courses were Stuffed Calamari for my friend and Filet of Duck with caramelized apples for me. The calamari had been stuffed with a rich mixture of walnuts, capers, sweet young tomatoes and black olives. My duck filet had a sublime gamey sauce that was fragantly sweetened by the prunes, oranges and caramelized apples. The plat de resistance, however, had to be Arif Bay's chocolate souffle that was light as a cloud and served with custard cream and chocolate sauce. The wine that our waiter Mehmet recommended for our meal was a Karmen 1996 Selection, a fruity rose served chilled, from Elazig near the Iraqi border. Mehmet said that the wine was chanced upon by the owner Ismail Bey in Paris and is hard to come by even in Turkey. It was fresh, fruity with berry tones and went exceedingly well with the calamari stuffing and duck.

With its sea facing boutiques like Lacoste, Marks & Spencer, Mudo (the Turkish Ralph Lauren clothing and home brand) and Workshop (which carries Dolce & Gabbana, Versace, and Krizia), no one would guess that Bodrum was a bohemian paradise in 1923 when Cevat Sakir Kabaagac arrived. He was a young political exile who was sent as a punishment to languish in the Bodrum prison by Ottoman administration. Luckily for him, the prison in Bodrum has been closed so he spent his days chronicling the lives of the local people and came to be known affectionately as the Fisherman of Halicarnassos. All that's now left of Bodrum's old name is the over-the-top, large open air disco called Halicarnassos which puts up a raucous, glitzy nightly cabaret show.


The best way to travel to Turkey is by Turkish Airlines with its twice-a-week flights and convenient departure times. You leave at 10:50PM and arrive in Istanbul at around 6AM the next morning. The 10-hour flight gave me just enough time to finish Harold Nicolson's well-written detective novel, Sweet Waters: An Istanbul Thriller, to get me in the mood. The Turkish Airlines inflight magazine, Skylife, is also an extremely well-edited publication, full of excellent articles on the history, culture, arts, trivia, lifestyle and food of Turkey. They also pass out a cool complimentary little pack that contains a toothbrush, toothpaste, a pair of socks and shoe horn for your convenience. For reservations on Turkish Airlines, call 03. 2713 6199 or fax 03.2713 6180. Turkish Airlines flies to Istanbul from Kuala Lumpur every Sunday and Tuesday.


Golden Key Hotel, Kumbahce Mah.
Salvaraga Sokak 18,
48400 Bodrum.
Tel: 39.252.313 0304 Fax: 39.252.313 4171
This lovely hotel has 8 suites and a guest house they call a Konuk Evi. The guest house which costs US$530 is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom triplex with a fireplace and private terrace. Guests can either swim in their private swimming pool on the terrace or in the bay just in front of the hotel. The vast and spacious wardrobe in the bedroom has very thoughtful metal shelves for you to organize your shirts, pants, toiletries, shoes and accessories. The rooms with living rooms are decorated with rustic wood furniture, some of which has been handpainted that is very tasteful. All rooms have air-conditioning, a mini-bar and cable TV. Suites are US$190 for a double in the high season. A very compact team of courteous and unobstrusive staff. Highly recommended. Owner Ismail Koyun also runs two toehr resorts near Marmaris in Bordubet and Hisaronu.

Antique Theatre Hotel,
Kibris Sehitleri Caddesi 243,
48400 Bodrum.
Tel: 39.252.316 6033 Fax: 39.252.316 0825
This hotel with 19 double rooms and a two-bedroom suite has an informal club feel with a very friendly staff. Built into a terrace, every room has a view of the Castle of St. Peter's and the turquoise blue Aegean Sea. The exquisite classical Turkish cuisine served at the hotel restaurant is reason alone to stay here during your holiday. Elected into the membership of the Chaine des Rotisseurs in 1998, Chef Arif Bey designs a different daily menu to tempt the palate of the guests. The menu for September 20 was Mussell Florentine with White Wine Sauce, a choice of Fillet of Sea Bass with Aubergine Puree and Lemon Sauce or Fillet Steak with potato and Rosemary Sauce, Seasonal Salad with Mustard and Vinegar Sauce, finished with a desert of Apple in Mint Sauce served with Ice Cream, all for US$35 nett. The menu is tri-lingual in Turkish, French and English with a well-chosen wine list by owner Dr Zafer Basak which includes a 1994 Bordeaux from Chateau Font-Merlet and a dessert wine from Diren, Vade 1995. A double costs US$150 during the high season from May to September.

Emiko Pension, Dr. Ekrem Uslu Cikmazi, Off Ataturk Caddesi, 48400 Bodrum. Tel: 39.252.316 5560 For those on a shoestring budget who aren't willing to slum it, this white-washed double-storey house run by a lovely Japanese lady called Emiko comes with our highest recommendation. Emiko has excellent taste and her rooms are done in typical Bodrum style with polished hard-wood floors, rustic high-backed chairs, matching wardobe and bedposts. There is a terrace garden shaded by vines and squash where she has provided guests with a communal fridge and stove for tea or coffee making. The 9 rooms all come with a bathroom with shower and look out either to the cul de sac or her small vegetable garden filled with ripening aubergines and peppers. All this for US$11 per night for a double! She says most of her guests come from the US with the rest made up of Europeans and Turks. Emiko Pension is such a little known gem that even the local taxi drivers never heard of it!


Su Otel,
Turgutreis Caddesi 1201 Sk.
Tepecik Mah.
48400 Bodrum.
This has got to be one of the most tastelessly decorated interiors I have ever seen with an infantile colour scheme of primary colours and squiggly patterns. More than five minutes in its rooms and you'll think you're in a bad Alice in Wonderland nightmare. The owner also comes across as very money-minded and has no public relations sense in the least. The drinks at the makeshift bar by their pathetic excuse of a pool are overpriced for the class the hotel belongs to. Avoid at all costs!


Antique Theatre Hotel Restaurant, Kibris Sehitleri Caddesi, Bodrum. Tel: 252.316 6033. For a memorable meal of classic Turkish cuisine and Chef Arif Bey's exquisite sense of subtle seasonings. On the menu are some delightful nouvelle dishes that are worth trying like the Fillet of Sea Bass on a bed of Aubergine Puree and Raki Sauce and Seared Sea Scallops Wrapped in Rings of Potato with a Light Lime Cream Sauce. After one meal, you won't want to eat anywhere else for the rest of your holiday here. Leave room for his delectable desserts" Crème brulee with Raspberries, Bavarois with Fruits or my favourite Chocolate Souffle.

Tucked along a pedestrian walkway off Ataturk Caddesi, this tiny little place with four low tables outdoors serves excellent home-cooked local food made in the home-like kitchen that makes up the entire inside of the "restaurant". She makes manti, Turkish ravioli filled with minced meat, and it is served in a warm yogurt sauce garnished with mint and red pepper flakes, a crushed garlic sauteed in butter. Her other speciality when she can find lamb liver in the market is Arnavut Cigeri, lightly fried lamb liver with spices and eaten with a squeeze of lemon and a shepherds salad. Not to be missed and unbelievably inexpensive. Lunch with drinks costs about US$2!

Durum Adana, Neyven Tevfik Caddesi, opposite the entrance to the Karada Marina where the pleasure yachts are moored. The best Adana Kebab I have ever tasted and my Turkish companions vouch for it as well. As for it to be served spicy and it comes with roasted green peppers, fresh red onions, tomatoes, parsley and pickled peppers from Adana on the side. US$0.90 for one kebap wrapped in durum bread and I usually eat two.