“Beautiful sea”, says my driver unnecessarily, with a one handed gesture to the sublime oblong inlet boarded by lush wooded hills up ahead.
It’s not the first time I see the sea on the drive from the airport to Selimiye, but, suddenly appearing as we round a corner on the twisty road from Turgut, it has the impact of that first glimpse of the ocean on long-ago childhood holidays.
For the next 10 miles the road stays in full wow factor mode. It sweeps ound headlands and inlets and switchbacks up and down rocky hills, with the shimmering, deep blue Aegean Sea, studded with little verdant islands, a constant distraction to drivers.
The surprise is that there are still roads with such wondrous views, yet so little travelled. I was within an easy drive of Dalaman Airport, the point of entry for this, the far SW corner of tourist Turkey. Lastminute.com said Dalaman was the second most popular destination airport among British clients booking through the site this summer. So, why so quiet here?
Turkey does not keep the Bozburun Peninsula, where thickly wooded mountains plunge down to a scattering of coastal villages and beaches, a secret so much as restrict mass tourism development to places like Bodrum, Altenkum and Antalya. Not too many day trippers make it here from the nearest big resort, Marmaris. Many people only know this stretch of coast, which escaped the big tourist growth of the 1990s, and its little, low rise resorts such as Selimiye, by calling in on a boat.
Visiting Turkey regularly over 25 years, I’ve seen its tourism take a slow but important change of direction. if you wanted a break from big, busy hotels, until a few years ago the only choice outside the cities, with a few excellent exceptions, was the small family-run place, clean and friendly but little more. (Or there was self catering.) For sophistication and good eating you booked a gulet (traditional wooden boat) or a yacht. Now style has come ashore.
There is a new feature, small-scale enough to maintain the serenity of this stretch of coastline. It is the Turkish boutique hotel. My driver (anybody booking my package gets this free chauffeur-driven transfer from the airport) turns up the little hill into the Badem Tatil Ev, a neat and shining example of the concept.
The Badem, sleeky designed but without expensive hotel fuss, opened in 2012, on a hill overlooking the bay on the edge of Selimiye. My balcony has the perfect sightline, out over the infinity pool, down the hill, over the village and out to sea. My room is light and airy, wooden floors and large timber-framed windows, and thoughtful touches such as hammam towels, light cotton bathrobes and speakers to which you connect your smartphone. Oh, and free wifi.
The evening cocktail one of the staff hands up to me on my balcony, without me having to ask, is the perfect way to please this guest. I like the informality of breakfast on the quiet little terrace, helping myself from the bounteous buffet – I highlight the local honey, fresh orange juice and menemen – a sort of omelet of onion, tomato and green peppers – with eggs laid by chickens that had been my dawn chorus. That was one of the few sounds to intrude up here, along with the predawn call from the mosque.
The privately owned Badem is marketed by British company Exclusive Escapes, who help the hotel deliver to its own “low impact, environmentally-friendly” philosophy. Green action includes recycling, sourcing materials locally and treating the pool with organic cleaners, leaving guests smelling chlorine-free.
The garden is all shady nooks and corners, with a traditional Ottoman-style köşk seating area, a riot of herbs and flowers and the namesake almond (badem) trees.
Selimiye is one of a number of small coastal villages on the Bozburun Peninsula, and the most fashionable. Ever more opulent yachts cruise these waters, and tie up at the local marina. There are plenty of restaurants, smart bars and snazzy clothes shops, to catch that custom. Tight planning rules make this the very opposite of Marmaris – there isn’t a single hotel over one storey.
In my package is an idle outing on a gulet chartered by Exclusive Escapes. We dawdle around the nearby islands, anchoring at quiet spots where the landscape hasn’t changed for thousands of years, to swim in waters that could have been mixed to an original recipe by the Greek gods. The captain and his son unfurl two vast sails to harness gentle zephyrs for a lazy drift at two knots. Next day, more carefree hours on the hotel’s private beach.
There is a carpet making cooperative just round the headland, at Turgut. It’s a softer sell here than in the town bazaars, and you won’t feel so pressured to buy. My package includes a day trip to the nearby ancient Greek city of Knidos, at the end of the Datça Peninsula, just across the bay. Ruins are spread over a wide area. The visit might inspire a visit to something that isn’t even there. Fortunately the colossal marble lion found in Knidos in 1859, in the days of well-meaning but predatory archaeology, is on free and open display in the Great Court of the British Museum.
The principle outdoor recreation around here is swimming. Add to that, this year, a very British activity. The new 500 mile Carian Trail runs right past my hotel. I follow an obliging bright yellow sign pointing to a narrow path up into a hillside cloaked in ubiquitous, and prickly, sweet smelling shrubs.
Summer, full-sun walking is not advised. If you are an early riser on holiday, however, it’s another matter. The pre-dawn hour in the Turkish summer is a magical time, with a golden-creamy light, when the slightest countryside sound carries miles in the still, syrupy air.
Do take the trip inland to the Honey House at Osmaniye. This new bee museum tells the story of local honey production over the centuries. And to Bayır, for one of the coolest cafes I know. In the shade of a prodigious piece of living history, a plane tree planted in, some say, 300 BC. I order the bitter, refreshing yoghurt drink aryan and toast longevity.
So, is this the shape of the new Turkish holiday? Exclusive Escapes has shattered the traditional package mould. I joined clients flying from Stansted, using Titan Airways, based at a private terminal on the airport’s edge.
I received the full executive jet treatment, with somebody to park my car when I arrived at the little terminal, and somebody else to carry my bags into reception. After the equivalent of a business class lounge, there is private security and immigration, followed by a short walk to the aircraft for an agreeable 9:30 am takeoff. Into another private arrivals terminal at Dalaman, then the shortest of walks to the awaiting car.
This combination of pampered flying and smart, small hotels is enticing. As travel companies ramp up the quality, I can see Turkey becoming a real alternative to the chic South of France and, dare I say it, even Tuscany.