Desperate to escape the crowds, Tina Walsh finds a quieter side to the Turkish riveria.
Not far from the fleshpots of Marmaris, on Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, there lies a sleepy little town where you’ll hardly hear another English voice, where there are no hustlers, no hawkers and no Club 18-30 reps trying to lure you onto a booze-fuelled boat trip.
Selimiye, on the western side of the Bozburun Peninsula, is a charming time warp. If it wasn’t for the sleek gulets (traditional wooden sailing boats) and catamarans moored in the harbour you could be forgiven for thinking tourism had passed it by. There can’t be many Turkish resorts left where old women in headscarves wave from their front porches and goats munch happily at the side of the road.
It’s long been popular with tourists from Istanbul and Ankara and word of Selimiye’s laidback charm is now spreading farther afield. This year, for example, the first boutique hotel opened aimed at foreign visitors.
The Badem Tatil Ev is a pretty, 12-room property located on a hillside overlooking the bay, with fantastic views of the surrounding pine-studded hills. Owners Gonül and Zeki (who also cooks amazing Turkish cuisine) have kept things simple but stylish. Bedrooms are light and airy, with wooden floors and balconies overlooking the sea and the cobalt blue infinity pool is surrounded by well-padded sun loungers and expansive umbrellas. During the day Zeki and Gonül like to come round and offer blissed-out sunbathers slices of refreshing honey melon or Turkish tea served in dinky tulip-shaped glasses. Come dusk, the rustic outdoor restaurant morphs into a cosy bar and dining area, garden lamps dotted here and there. The whole thing is set in lush gardens brimming with brightly coloured flowers and almond trees (“badem” means almond).
The best way to experience the Bozburun Peninsula’s stunning scenery is by car. Outside of the larger resorts such as Marmaris (about 30 miles away) and Icmeler, the roads are pretty quiet. Even the hairpin bends on the road to Turunç, just over an hour’s drive away on the eastern side of the peninsula, held no terror once I’d got used to driving on the wrong side of the road.
Turunç itself is a low-key bucket and spade kind of place but drive through the town and carry on up the winding mountain road and you’ll come to the fabulous Dionysos Estate. Built into a canyon, the hotel is the last word in discreet mountain retreats, with panoramic views of the sparkling bay of Kumlubük stretching out below.
Selimiye doesn’t have much in the way of beaches as it’s really just a stretch of promenade but most of the bars and restaurants along the strip have decking areas where you can avail yourself of a sun lounger or squishy sofa for the afternoon for the price of an Efes Pilsner.
You can also sunbathe at the Badem Tatil Ev’s private beach a five-minute water taxi ride from the harbour. It’s a lovely secluded spot and, at the end of August, the clear-blue sea is pleasingly tepid.
Gulet making is a centuries-old tradition in the Bozburun Peninsula and still one of the region’s main occupations. The Faralya is one such boat: a 20-metre ketch (with two masts). It’s a cloudless, sunny morning when we board, perfect for sailing. Baris, our captain, is waiting with a welcome glass of something fizzy and, before we set off, informs us that we’ll be making three stops during the day, with plenty of time for swimming.
There’s more than enough room to spread our beach towels out on deck, sit back and enjoy the view. And what a view: a 360-degree vista of glittering sea, pine-clad hills and the odd swanky yacht bobbing serenely in a secluded cove.
Sevdar, our chef, serves up lunch in the boat’s stern: sea bream caught that morning, Turkish meze, jacket potato and, for dessert, homemade carrot cake. We make our way back to Selimiye, replete, just as the sun is setting.
Orhaniye is where the boating fraternity like to hang out. This lovely little resort, just a few kilometres north of Selimiye, has the largest marina outside Marmaris and offers some of the best sailing in the Mediterranean.
Gourmands will find plenty to satisfy their palate in Selimiye. There are around 40 restaurants to choose from, most of them strung out along the promenade. Sardunya gets consistently good reviews. It’s located right by the water and naturally, fish and seafood are a speciality. Our grouper fish, baby squid and calamaris were all excellent, as was the 2011 Cavus Teneia, a Turkish dry white. Amiable proprietor and sometime chef Muhammet has served a host of VIPs in his time, from Turkish prime ministers to the German football team and – he’s sure it was him – Michael Douglas.
On the main road, away from the seafront, the Falcon has a loyal Turkish following. A house speciality is the lamb kavurma, a casserole made with peppers, mushrooms, tomatoes and melt-in-the- mouth pieces of lamb. It takes Dursun, the owner and chef, six hours to cook to perfection so, if you’re thinking of indulging, make sure you give him enough notice.
It might be a secret for now but it’s more than likely Selimiye won’t stay that way for long.
• Turkey specialist Exclusive Escapes (020 8605 3500 or www.exclusiveescapes.co.uk) offers seven nights’ B&B at Badem Tatil Ev from £800pp sharing, including return flights to Dalaman from Manchester or Leeds Bradford, transfers and a day’s luxury gulet cruise.