In 1925, Turkish novelist Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı was sentenced to three years’ exile in a tiny village in southern Turkey called Bodrum. He soon decided banishment there was no bad thing, and took to cruising in sponge-divers’ boats and in cargo and fishing boats that were precursors to today’s gulets. He coined the phrase ‘blue cruise’ (mavi yolculuk in Turkish) to describe the exhilarating experience of sailing on cobalt waters with strong winds at your back and with hundreds of natural shelters, anchorages and coves at your disposal. It was possible to make a blue cruise for six months of the year.
Fast forward 90 years and few holidaymakers today leave Bodrum without having indulged in a blue cruise like those Kabaağaçlı took. Andrew Lee, director of Turkey travel specialist Exclusive Escapes, says that taking to the water is the most traditional, and possibly the best, way to discover the stunning Turkish coastline. ‘Dropping anchor in a pristine bay, swimming in an untouched inlet, and flying through the water without any noise other than the sound of the sea lapping the side of the boat should be on everyone’s bucket list,’ he enthuses.
Bodrum has become the yachting capital of Turkey, and its sail-dotted horizon during the Bodrum Cup each October captures the spirit of this once humble location. In the 1970s, it was a remote fishing and sponge divers’ village frequented by the Turkish intelligentsia. By the 1980s, local sailors had started converting boats into simple yachts for charters, and 20 years later, things were looking a little different.
A new era
In 2003, D-Marin Turgutreis marina opened, and work started on Palmarina Yalikavak (then called Port Bodrum Yalikavak). By 2007, more marinas as well as restaurants, bars, beach clubs, hotels and spas had opened throughout the region.
Bodrum was soon discovered by yachting enthusiasts, and its charters were joined by foreign boats. The area became international, glamorous and luxurious. Middle Eastern royalty, Hollywood A-listers and the international jet set descended, and luxury hotel brands moved in: Kempinski, then Aman and Mandarin Oriental; Swissôtel and Nikki Beach are set to join them soon.
Nur Yılmaz of Valena Yachts is a yachting pioneer in Bodrum and has been building and chartering boats since 1987. Bodrum’s marinas, he says ‘are some of the most luxurious and well made in the whole Mediterranean, with a high level of service for the yachtsman’.
A wealth of choice
Milta Bodrum Marina is busy and intimate with a great social life. Set in Bodrum town, it’s ideal for those who want to be at the heart of the action. It is close to restaurants, live music venues and bars, and has capacity for 450 boats (with 20 spaces for boats more than 30 metres long, and space for 70-metre yachts). It has a smart shopping precinct, a pleasant yacht club and a clutch of good restaurants on site, including Charcuterie Istanbul & Tapas Bar and Vespa Café. The Bodrum Offshore Sailing Club, known by its Turkish initials Bayk, is just a mile from here and holds regular races.
In contrast, D-Marin Turgutreis, on the west of the Bodrum Peninsula and a short drive from Bodrum town, is a more remote and peaceful marina. It is set in the unassuming little town of Turgutreis which looks to the marina for its social life. D-Marin Turgutreis is a perfectly maintained haven for prized yachts (there are 550 berths, with 30 catering to boats between 30 and 40 metres and one at 70 metres). Its facilities range from a yacht club and beach club to restaurants that have a local feel and a good choice of shops, including Mavi Jeans, Mudo Concept and Stefanel. Be sure to dine nearby in town at Uncles Restaurant, which offers spectacular views from its beachside terrace, and to visit the D-Marin Sea Movies Club, an open air cinema.
Palmarina Yalikavak is popular with the jet set. It is home to large motor yachts, high-end boutiques and fine dining restaurants, playing host to a Nobu, a Cipriani, the nightclub Billionaire’s Club, an integrated boutique hotel (the Palmarina Bodrum Boutique Hotel), a marina hotel (Palmalife Marina Hotel) and a number of luxury stores including Armani, L’Occitane and Vilebrequin. A $10 million investment in 2010 improved both the quality and capacity of this reconstructed 710-boat marina (and there’s now space for 140 boats up to 45 metres in length and about 70 larger boats).
Bodrum has become a very attractive spot for international yachtsman in the last 10 years, Yilmaz says, because of its great infrastructure. The Saint-Tropez of Turkey is born.