Bodrum was once seen primarily as a package holiday destination, but diamond-encrusted watches are replacing all-inclusive wristbands in the Turkish resort as it grows in popularity amongst the jet set, says Jonny Payne.
I gaze out across a sea of bobbing heads towards the Castle of St Peter, which is twinkling mischievously across the harbour as if encouraging me to continue partying – it’s 3am and I’m in Halikarnas, the largest open-air nightclub in the world.
From the moment I arrive, it’s apparent Halikarnas is an experience to rival even the most hedonistic of Ibiza’s classy late-night hangouts. After exploring the numerous rooms, I finally settle within the bright white VIP section overlooking the dance floor as beams of light stretch out across the water and club hits fill the balmy early morning air. Cirque du Soleil-style acrobats soon appear on stage, followed by incredible Ghanaian contortionists who fit their meager frames into metal pans little bigger than casserole dishes.
The long-running club has just had a facelift to suit Bodrum’s ever-increasing well-heeled visitors, including a jetty for those wishing to arrive by yacht from their moorings in the quiet coves and bays of the Bodrum Peninsula.
One of the more notable ravers here is Jade Jagger, whose father Mick was once a regular. The designer is also the brains behind the opulent Secret Garden restaurant, which is the dramatic centerpiece of the club and serves up gourmet fare with stunning views of the harbour.
Explore bustling Bodrum
The resort’s impressive transformation has led some to christen Bodrum the ‘new St Tropez’ but it would be discourteous to brand it the ‘new’ anything. The Bodrum Peninsula’s infectious culture, shrub-dotted coastline and traditional villages give it a captivating identity all of its own.
The town itself has a charm that is heightened at night. I’m drawn to the lively bazaar, where narrow shops sell imitation goods and local handicrafts. The bars surrounding the market are alive with music and the cries of locals cheering on their favourite football teams.
By day, the town has a lazy feel, with the picturesque harbour and a laid-back café culture. The imposing castle is also home to the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, which houses a fascinating array of relics excavated from shipwrecks in the region.
Sail the azure Aegean
Be sure not to miss a day sailing the beautiful Aegean Sea. From Bodrum’s harbour, you can charter your own boat or simply join a trip on a traditional gulet – the bottle-blue waters here are not just the reserve of oligarchs, sheikhs and celebs.
I spend a day on a luxury yacht, on which I sail around the calm waters surrounding the peninsula and stop off at a number of secluded pine-fringed bays for refreshing dips in the bath-like water. Onboard, I’m served a delicious lunch of cold meze, fresh barbecued fish and sticky-sweet baklava, while other vessels of various shapes and sizes glide by.
Discover traditional fishing villages
Back on land, the Bodrum Peninsula is blessed with character-filled fishing villages that have yet to be tarnished by the region’s increasing celebrity – even the farthest is handily within a leisurely 40 minutes’ drive of Bodrum.
The balance between old and new is no more apparent than in Yalikavak, a slow-paced port to the northwest of Bodrum. Daily life here centres on the harbour with its family-run restaurants and a weekly market offering handmade traditional goods. But nearby is the gleaming Palmarina, home to hundreds of super yachts, millionaire hangouts and luxury hotels – sheer nouveau riche extravagance that luckily does not encroach on the old village.
South of here is sleepy Gümüşlük, which sits atop the ancient city of Myndos – part of which lies in sight beneath the waves that lap the dusty seaside promenade. Semi-submerged benches and trees sprouting from the water echo the sunken city, while cafés and bars jut out into the water on surprisingly quaint concrete jetties. Here, you can snorkel in the crystal clear water for glimpses of the ancient city or wade across to Rabbit Island for views back to the mainland.
Glamorous and moneyed Istanbul holidaymakers have been onto a good thing for decades by visiting Türkbükü, to the north of Bodrum. This charming town is peppered with whitewashed box-like housing that wouldn’t be out of place in a Georges Braque painting. It also has a lively but more low-key nightlife scene than Bodrum, with a good selection of waterside bars and restaurants.
Where to stay
Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay (Kızılağaç Köyü Gerenkuyu Mevkii Yalıçiftlik; tel: (252) 311 0303) is the perfect hideaway just along the coast from Bodrum. Boasting a Six Senses spa, a private beach and an infinity pool with sunken minarets, the hotel has far-reaching views across the water to Kos.
Those wishing for upscale seclusion with local charm should opt for Maçakizi (Kesire Mevkii Narçiçeği; tel: (252) 377 6272) in Türkbükü. This stylish bougainvillea-shrouded boutique hotel features a high-end restaurant, beach bar and an expansive terrace overlooking the shimmering turquoise water.
Where to eat
Hidden away in a leafy courtyard in central Bodrum is Kocadon (Saray Sokak 1; tel: (252) 316 3705), an intimate restaurant split between a 19th-century stone house and pretty courtyard that’s reminiscent of a Romeo and Juliet set. The food is good here too, with a delicious selection of fresh fish and barbequed meats. But the standout is the meze: a selection of dishes bursting with fresh flavour and a zesty tang.
When in Gümüşlük, don’t miss Mimoza (Gümüşlük Yalı Mevkii; tel: (252) 394 3139) for its quirky design, picture-perfect waterside location and fresh fish dishes. It’s a great place to relax at sunset amongst the silhouettes of bobbing boats in the bay.
Need to know
Fly: easyJet operates direct flights from London Gatwick Airport and London Stansted Airport to Milas-Bodrum Airport.
Get around: It is advisable to hire a car to explore the peninsula – a number of international and local operators are represented in Bodrum with pick-up available from Milas-Bodrum Airport.
Want more inspiration? Read our review of the Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay.