Bodrum’s Eternal Blue

by Mark Thompson

EDGE Style & Travel Editor

Friday December 28, 2012

While some people consider Bodrum to be "the Hamptons of Turkey," for me, flying into Bodrum was a bit like finding Brigadoon. From the window of the plane, I watched as a series of misty blue islands rose almost chimerically out of the silvery gray sea.

Situated in southwest Turkey, the Bodrum Peninsula sits on the Aegean Sea, cradled by two bays and surrounded by 32 islands and inlets. With a hundred-mile coastline dotted with fishing villages, olive groves, and tangerine orchards, these are the fabled shores from which Homer's heroes launched themselves into history and where Greeks consulted their oracles and along which the Romans built temples.

Known as Halicarnassus during the time of Alexander the Great, Bodrum was the birthplace of Herodotus, the father of written history, as well as the locale of one of the Seven Ancient Wonders of the World: King Mausolus's tomb, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. (And yes, he is the one from whom the world "mausoleum" derives.)

Today, the city of Bodrum recalls elements of the heyday of the French Riviera - and particularly during high season when the yacht-lined marinas and chic nightclubs are home to Russian oligarchs, Arabian royals, and one-name superstars such as Beyoncé and Sting. In summer, when the population swells from 50,000 to half a million, the peninsula becomes the catwalk for Hollywood stars like Selma Hayek and Nicole Kidman and numerous other boldfaced names such as Chelsea Clinton and Caroline Kennedy.

Similar to the Hamptons, the Bodrum Peninsula was, for years, a series of small fishing villages punctuated with pebble beaches, bays, and pine barrens. Instead of the potato fields of the Hamptons, there were olive groves.

Much of Bodrum's development as a global tourist destination can be attributed to the writings of Cevat Sakir, who later became known as the father of modern Bodrum. Writing as "The Fisherman of Halicarnassus," Sakir helped transform the former sleepy sponge-diving village of Bodrum and environs into a global destination - so much so that by the 1970s, it was not uncommon to see jet-set celebrities such as Nureyev and Jagger seated at neighboring cafés along the water.

Prior to the most recent wave of development (including brand-new and upcoming outposts of Aman Resorts, Four Seasons, Mandarin Oriental, and a Richard Meier-designed residence), most of the homes built in Bodrum were two- and three-story white structures. Balconies were constructed so as not to obstruct a neighbor's view and the hills above Bodrum harbor are a series of setbacks, which resemble the white rows of balconies on the prow of a cruise ship.

In October, during the shoulder season, Bodrum settles back into a life dictated more by maritime rhythms than by the whims of globe-trotting tourists. The calm of the Aegean in autumn enables a more profound reflection of the region's natural attributes. There's time for a visit to a local artisan who carves driftwood into the figures that frequent his dreams - and then populates the hillside with hundreds of his hand-carved sculptures. There's time for Turkish tea with a renowned Turkish glass artist who spent sixteen years in Australia and who created a glass mosaic street park in Sydney. And there's time to sip fresh limeade with mint amidst a profusion of birds of paradise and fuchsia bougainvillea as the sun sets over the bay.

Late one autumn evening, I dine alone at a table along the water in the art-strewn gardens of Casa Dell'Arte in Torba. Tucked into a tiny bay, Torba (meaning "handbag" in Turkish) is a small seasonal village evocative of those waterfront enclaves along the Maine coast where the same families have maintained summer homes for generations. There are only three of us basking in the understated luxury of this seaside hotel restaurant: a French couple dining à deux - and me. There's a first hint of autumnal chill in the air and the French woman is wrapped in scarves. Summer is over - and yet here we remain in the evening splendor of Bodrum along the Aegean.

The in-house collie wanders onto the patio - and two stray cats shoot across the lawn, their hissy howling echoing across the night. Two evenings before, I dined in this restaurant with the hotel's owner in a party of eight, and long after the other tables had cleared, we remained in the moonlight, discussing the future of Turkey. With more than 5,000 years of Greek and Roman history, the Bodrum peninsula has witnessed military campaigns, naval victories, knights and conquests - and today, Bodrum is somewhat like Hong Kong: the region in the south where rules and convention matter less than in the rest of the country. What matters more is how you fill your days.

Across the lawn, a large piece of art is illuminated in white lights to reveal the words: "The people you love become ghosts inside of you - and like this you keep them alive." For the past three mornings, at breakfast in this restaurant, I have enjoyed watching an elderly German couple. The male with a camera, he photographs her repeatedly - and it's clear that her wizened face is as beautiful to him now as it was when he first saw it as a youth. In the early light of morning, the German woman's eyes close as her head nods over her fruit. She sits there, eyes closed, until he arrives to join her, his hand lightly touching her shoulder as she lifts her face to his. This is what matters, who we spend our lives with and how we treat them.

Speakers suspended above the garden play a track from the Seventies, a song by the Isley Brothers. One definition of heaven: the murmur of French from a neighboring table while an R&B ballad sprinkles the night with romance and a tinge of elegy. Summer in Bodrum has ended but, in the words of Homer, Bodrum goes on, a "land of eternal blue."


(Travel feature continues on next pages: Where to Stay, What to Do, Where to Shop, Where to Eat, Getting There...)


Casa Dell'Arte Residence: At the end of a long, dark winter during a year when the snow has blanketed the ground in early November, this is where you want to be in April. This is where you want to emerge from hibernation and contemplate the beauty of an enchanted locale as it bursts into spring.

Created by the Buyukkusoglu family, a family with incredible vision and impeccable taste, Casa Dell'Arte Residence is a luxurious art hotel built around the family's private art collection, which is now displayed in the modernist splendor of this sleek, marble sanctuary.

Named for the signs of the zodiac, the twelve guest suites are sumptuous residences furnished in a contemporary style and complemented by artworks from modern Turkish artists. White leather sofas and upholstered tulip chairs are paired with red cowhide rugs. If you've ever browsed the modernist pages of a Design Within Reach catalog and yearned to step into the display rooms, then this is your opportunity.

The owners' permanent collection ranges from the works of Old Masters to 19th-century paintings alongside Fabergé enamels and contemporary Turkish painting. The atmosphere is akin to being a guest at a home curated by Bernard Berenson and Joseph Duveen.

An air of understated luxury pervades the entire property, thanks to the residence's exquisite sense of proportion and line. A low-key entryway leads to massive ancient Turkish doors that open into a reception area beyond which is a lengthy swimming pool in a courtyard. In the distance, beyond another courtyard and an expansive white marble living room, is a broad marble staircase leading down to a lawn and onto an outdoor dining room that skirts the beach and a jetty built over the turquoise bay. Everything faces the water; everything leads to the water - or, as Homer put it best, "the land of eternal blue."

Located in the fisherman's village of Torba, where boats depart for the ancient cities of Didymas and Miletus, homes to the Temple of Apollo and the Baths of Faustina, Casa Dell'Arte Residence is flanked by a three-bedroom private villa and a 37-suite luxury family resort. Torba Bay is surrounded by hills of green dotted with olive groves and lemon trees and Rosa rugosa. Nearby islands rise from the blue gray sea like shimmering chimeras. Guests seeking further pampering can avail themselves of the use of three private yachts.

Casa Dell'Arte's tagline is "hotel of arts and leisure," and time spent in residence at the discreetly glamorous property becomes an exercise in artful leisure. The extremely professional staff are exemplars of hospitality and graciousness: attentive yet unobtrusive and never obsequious.

Late one autumn evening, well after midnight, I strolled from my suite, across the lawn and through the garden down to the water. Apart from a man fishing off the far end of the jetty, there was no one else about and as I stared across the bay, I was startled to recall anew that these were the very shores from which Homer had witnessed "the rosy-fingered dawn."

Casa Dell'Arte opens for the 2013 season on April 1.

LINK: Casa Dell'Arte Residence



Mausoleum of Halicarnassus: Yes, there are still remnants of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World - and one of them exists in an unobtrusive, nearly nondescript park in Bodrum, Turkey.

Once known as Halicarnassus during the time of Alexander the Great, the city known today as Bodrum was originally colonized by Greeks before falling under the reign of Persian King Mausolus, whose wife commissioned a huge monument from which the term "mausoleum" derives.

One of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the monument tomb stood for 1,700 years before succumbing to earthquakes. Today, the foundation remains as a testament to the strategic locale of Halicarnassus and an elegiac reminder of Bodrum's ancient history.

LINK: Mausoleum of Halicarnassus


(Travel feature continues on next pages: What to Do, Where to Shop, Where to Eat, Getting There...)

Bodrum Castle: Built in 1406 on a peninsular promontory overlooking the Aegean, Bodrum Castle is the town's most visible landmark and home to one of the world's most exceptional museums of nautical archeology.

A stunning example of medieval architecture with courtyards, turrets, sunken gardens, galleries, and resident peacocks, the five-tower castle was formerly known as St. Peter's Castle, when it served as a refuge for Christians. Over the course of six centuries, the castle has served as a garrison as well as a prison. Apart from its significant role in the history of two continents, the castle affords splendid views from its staircases and towers.

LINK: Bodrum Castle

Bodrum Maritime Museum: For those interested in the gifts from the sea - and shouldn't that be everyone? - Bodrum's Maritime Museum is a rich collection of the ocean's bounty and its role in the history of the town once known as Halicarnassus during the time of Alexander the Great. Scores of meticulously-built model ships are joined by an exquisite collection of more than 4,000 seashells from around the world.

An entire section of the museum is dedicated to the manuscripts, drawings, and objects associated with the man known as "The Fisherman of Halicarnassus," the celebrated author who is often considered the father of modern Bodrum for his role in transforming the sleepy fishing village into a global destination.

LINK: Bodrum Maritime Museum

Cemil Ipekci Design Center: The celebrated Turkish fashion designer Cemil Ipekci has been visiting Bodrum since 1963 - not only for its beautiful vistas, but also for its integral role in the history of Turkish culture and design. After opening a design center in the city of Mardin in 2008, Ipekci recognized the need for a similar socially responsible project in Bodrum.

Located in a traditional ancient Bodrum house, the Cemil Ipekci Design Center in Bodrum is a school of textile arts that offers handicraft and design courses for housewives, in an effort to help improve the entrepreneurial skills of local women.

The center's focus is fixed on the creative well-being of the women who employ traditional skills of crocheting, needlework, beading, embroidery, and tailoring to create bespoke garments and vestments.

A visit to the center is a window onto the quotidian creative life of some of Bodrum's most congenial female artists.

LINK: Cemil Ipekci Design Center

Gulet Yacht Cruise: What better way to discover the surrounding bays and inlets around the Bodrum Peninsula than a cruise on a gulet, the two-masted wooden sailing vessel long associated with the southwestern coast of Turkey.

Owned by the proprietors of the Yarbasan Stone Houses, "The White Goose" is a particularly luxurious vessel for an enchanting sunset cruise around the peninsula and a swim in the turquoise waters.

LINK: Gulet Yacht Cruise



Ara Collection: For nearly twenty years, the globally-celebrated Turkish jewelry designer, Ali Akdolu, and his brother have been creating hand-crafted 24-karat gold jewelry inspired by the ancient designs of Anatolian culture.

A visit to Ara Collection in downtown Bodrum is an exercise in Turkish hospitality. A genial host, Akdolu is as generous as he is gifted, which proves an irresistible combination for celebrities such as Salma Hayek. A recent collection of jeweled fish draws inspiration from the beauty and bounty of the Mediterranean and Aegean seas.

Ara Collection is sold in more than 150 boutiques worldwide, including Ara Collection's US flagship in Santa Barbara, California.

LINK: Ara Collection

Enver Camdal Glass Studio: If you've spent time in Australia, it's possible that you've encountered the award-winning work of Turkish glass artist, Enver Camdal, who created an elaborate glass mosaic street park with 27 pieces of street "furniture" in Sydney.

The artist behind numerous public art projects and commercial commissions, Camdal is a long-time local resident of the Bodrum peninsula whose intricately-detailed mosaics and wall murals are located throughout the world.

A visit to Camdal's local atelier and shop is an exercise in appreciation for the ancient artisanal traditions of Turkey.

LINK: Enver Camdal Glass Studio


(Travel feature continues on next pages: Where to Eat, Getting There...)


Erenler Sofrasi: Turkish cuisine in the southwest is closer in style to Mediterranean cuisine, with a liberal use of olive oil and herbs. A cooking class at the restaurant in this complex of hand-crafted stone villas includes lunch - with a side order of panoramic seaside views.

Aslihan Mutlu is a highly-regarded Turkish chef who shares her culinary wisdom with the many visitors to this unique development of artists' studios, workshops, and stone houses built atop a hill above Ortakent, twenty minutes west of Bodrum. With sweeping views of the Aegean, as well as the island of Kos and Gökova Bay, the houses are patterned after ancient Roman models when Bodrum was known as Halicarnassus.

An afternoon with Mutlu commences at a local market before heading to the kitchen. Guests sit at a table in front of mounds of fresh produce to learn some of the traditions of Turkish cuisine that Mutlu acquired from her grandmother who lived in a Greco-Bulgarian region of Thrace. Regional wines are poured and by the time baklava and mastica ice cream is served on a terrace overlooking the water, you might be thinking about opening your own restaurant along the Aegean.

LINK: Erenler Sofrasi
Cooking Classes Bodrum

Vespa Café & Restaurant: Located along the harbor at the popular Marina Yacht Club in downtown Bodrum, this casual restaurant offers fresh Turkish fare by the water. A recent renovation and expansion, along with the addition of Chef Hasan Huseyin Erdem from Istanbul, has made Vespa Cafe & Restaurant an ideal venue for fine cuisine while watching the glamorous parade of yacht-owners, models, and fashionistas.

Maritime specialties are complemented by local produce; menus feature sea beans, grilled fish, octopus, calamari, and fresh fruit. The toothsome meal is a telling reflection of the generous bounty of the Bodrum peninsula. A late afternoon lunch at Vespa is particularly relaxing, while, in the evenings, live music and deejays from the adjoining bars, lounges, and nightclub of Marina Yacht Club intensify the energy level.

Open twelve months a year, Vespa Cafe & Restaurant is always a party.

LINK: Vespa Café & Restaurant



Turkish Airlines: Traveling to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines makes you yearn for a state-owned airlines in the United States. Alongside the stewards waiting to greet you as you enter the plane is the chef in full whites - and right away you realize that this isn't going to be one of those boxed meal flights.

Traveling Comfort Class on Turkish Airlines is the equivalent of an eight-hour vacation in the sky. Passengers are welcomed with aperitifs and Turkish mezze, as well as hazelnuts. You sink into your plush leather seat with a sigh of relief. All seats in Comfort Class offer a 46-inch seat pitch, with a 19.5-inch seat cushion. Comfort Class seats fully recline, with adjustable leg rests and personal 10.6-inch entertainment monitors that offer more than 400 entertainment options.

Meals in Comfort Class are served on porcelain china, with stainless steel cutlery and linen napkins. A recent international flight featured menu options such as a potpourri of mezze, green salad with tomatoes and Parmesan, grilled fillet of salmon with potato puree and fried zucchini, cheeses and fresh fruit, and homemade apple strudel with whipped cream. And in a nod to Turkish hospitality, the chef reappears, offering his passengers a selection from a fresh bread basket. Breakfast includes a tomato and cheese omelette with fresh fruit salad.

Employees on Turkish Airlines are as gracious as Emily Post would have wished for and after a flight on Turkish Airlines, you understand why Skytrax awarded them "Best Airline in Europe" for 2012.

LINK: Turkish Airlines



Click here for Bodrum photo album

Turkey Tourism

Contact Bodrum Guide Mehmet Colak at: [email protected]


A long-term New Yorker and a member of New York Travel Writers Association, Mark Thompson has also lived in San Francisco, Boston, Provincetown, D.C., Miami Beach and the south of France. The author of the novels WOLFCHILD and MY HAWAIIAN PENTHOUSE, he has a PhD in American Studies and is the recipient of fellowships at MacDowell, Yaddo, and Blue Mountain Center. His work has appeared in numerous publications.