It might not the best time to open a luxury hotel in Turkey. But set aside preconceptions, says Sarah Marshall, the new LUX Bodrum is the perfect sunshine escape.
Sitting cross-legged in front of a vertical loom, 60-year-old Ummahan plucks at woollen threads with the same care and concentration as a virtuoso harpist. She’s copying a pattern passed down through generations of her family and recorded to memory, but the selection of colours is determined by her mood.
Whether she chooses a calm rose, dyed by boiling pale onion skins, or an angry red generated by ladybird husks, the design palette will be an expression of how she’s feeling today.
Turkish people are generally positive, but the last couple of years have been trying. Stupefied by the raging 46C heat of Bodrum’s hottest day in 30 years, I’m unable to decipher the code buried in this gentle woman’s carpet – but I imagine it might send a message of concern and trepidation.
As a member of the Etrim Hali village co-operative, Ummahan, who’s wrapped in a flowing headscarf and billowing silk pantaloons, derives much of her income from tourism. And lately, foreign visitors have been staying away.
A series of terrorist attacks coupled with unrest caused by last year’s failed coup and President Erdogan’s increasingly strict governance have sent the tourist industry into a slump. According to government figures, the situation is improving; in May, the number of arrivals was 16 per cent higher than 12 months previously. But there’s still a long way to go.
“A few years ago, 600 cruise ships came to this coastline,” says Ummahan’s son, Engin, who runs the co-operative. “Last year there were 300, and now we have 20.”
The ultra-exclusive Amanruya hotel, who provide Engin with many customers, has also decided not to open this season. It’s hardly an environment conducive to launching a new business, yet – somewhat surprisingly – several big-name hotel brands are opening along Turkey’s most sought-after Turquoise Coast. A safe distance from major cities, with direct flights operating from the UK, Bodrum’s twisting olive groves and translucent sea are hard to resist.
The latest to open is LUX Bodrum Resort & Residences, a 72-room cliffside property from the hip, tongue-in-cheek resort group with outposts in the Indian Ocean. Championing a sense of low-key luxury, it’s the sort of place where women in designer kaftans waft through pearly-white corridors, and champagne drinkers dance to a Cafe del Mar soundtrack in sand-encrusted flip flops.
A 35-minute drive from the foam parties of Bodrum and a 25-minute water taxi from A-list favourite Golturkbuku, the sheltered bay is far removed enough to justify idle days. Gazing down from my glass-fronted balcony, I study a horseshoe of muslin-dressed cabanas and sunbeds a sandy stumble from the water.
“All coastline in Turkey is public,” explains Sedra Demirkol, director of sales and marketing. “But our little area is difficult to access, so we have it to ourselves.”
Like worshippers before a marine deity, rooms on the landscaped scrubland genuflect to the beach. Golf buggies make steep hills bearable, although when peak season hits, I imagine traffic could be fierce. Visitors to any of the other LUX properties will recognise signature features; there’s a wish tree for tying handwritten hopes, a red phone box for making free international calls, and homemade ice cream served from a cart in cones and scoops.
But food is where LUX Bodrum makes its own mark. At Beach Rouge, the waterside bar and restaurant where a DJ slides his crossfader from day to night, I delve into a menu showcasing all that’s great from the region.
Pomegranate kernels gleam like rubies in a rainbow salad bowl, plump, grilled octopus tendrils spiral around a plate in Escher patterns, and a baked sea bass (farmed just outside the bay) snuggles in a pastry lattice so wonderfully salty I could be mistaken for swallowing the sea.
Head honchos at LUX were so impressed by the menu, there are plans to roll out Turkish restaurants in the company’s other resorts. The hotel’s Scrucap wines, will also be making an appearance elsewhere.
A spa and gym offering bespoke programmes are intended to keep guests occupied during scorching hours of the day, when even the wind burns like dragon’s breath. I find early morning and sunset swims the most pleasurable, watching inquisitive fish weave through my toes.
LUX can also arrange activities in the local area, such as my visit to Etrim. Many come to buy elaborate, hand-woven carpets, but I’m amazed simply by the history of a pastime practised in this crossroads of cultures for hundreds of years. Engin’s back room is stacked with silky, woven scrolls, waiting to be unfurled, with different stories to tell. “If I’m not asleep in bed with my wife, you’ll find me here with my carpets,” he tells me, his voice trembling with joy. “Until my eyes close, I will be with them. They speak to me.”
He shows me one of his favourites featuring a design more than 500 years old. Christian crosses, Stars of David and Muslim motifs are bound together to communicate a message of religious tolerance that – on this occasion – is easy to decipher.
Given the mood of our times, it’s message which could speak to us all, today.
Destinology offers a seven-night stay at LUX Bodrum Resort & Residences from just £1,165 per person, based on two sharing a sea front room on a B&B basis and including return easyJet flights with baggage from London Stansted. Saving 30%, or over £600 per couple, this deal is valid for travel during September 2017 and must be booked by July 31.
For further information or to book visit Destinology.co.uk or luxresorts.com/en/hotel-bodrum/luxbodrum