After a few years in the shadows, the Aegean’s Turquoise Coast is booming once again.
Although Southwest Turkey may be firmly back on the cruising map, its picturesque coastline still harbors secret coves, archaeological sites and beaches just waiting to be discovered. From the Bodrum Peninsula to the Gulf of Fethiye, this area of the Aegean is named after the mottled spots in the sea that span the spectrum from aquamarine in the shallows to dark blue in its deeper points – justifying its nickname of the Turquoise Coast. Discover why Homer, the Greek poet, once called Bodrum and the surrounding area “the land of eternal blue” as you head east along this deeply indented coastline with its verdant and dramatic backdrop. Added to the stunning colors, the waterborne can expect perfect weather even late in the summer season, with calm blue mornings, brisk afternoon breezes and balmy evenings untroubled by the mistral or Meltemi winds.
The entire coast is dotted with gem-like anchorages and sleepy villages, but for those looking for more than peaceful bays, the bustling ports of Fethiye, Marmaris and Bodrum all have plenty to discover ashore. So, whether you are a pleasure-seeker in search of sunshine and sea, a culture vulture tracing Cleopatra’s footsteps, or just getting away from it all, this stretch of the Aegean is sure to fit the bill – the coastline was, after all, considered by Mark Antony ravishing enough as a wedding present to give to Cleopatra, a high-maintenance woman if ever there were one. Indeed, warriors of old coveted this coastline enough to fight over it for centuries.
The Bodrum Peninsula
The place where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean, the Bodrum Peninsula is the most popular yachting center on the western shore. A rounded headland jutting into the Aegean, it lies opposite the Greek island of Kos and between Turkey’s busier resort areas of Kuşadasi to the north and Marmaris to the south. Its cosmopolitan charm and strategic coastal position have contributed to its popularity as the ideal embarkation point for a superyacht charter. Founded 400 years B.C., it has plenty to offer any culture vultures in the charter party but is equally up to date with stylish, secluded resorts and the jet-set crowd to rival Capri or St. Tropez.
The Bodrum Peninsula offers a wide choice of marinas, including the Milta Bodrum Marina that occupies the main part of the harbor, close to the historic center of the city, and Port Bodrum Yalikavak in the northwest of the peninsula. The latter is where you will find plenty of bars, restaurants and boutiques, as well as a private yacht club and an amphitheater for concerts and shows. Surrounded by the homes of many of the Turkish aristocracy, it is also the location for some of the country’s most exclusive hotels and resorts. Step ashore to dine at BRAVA at The Bodrum EDITION. The thatched-roof beachfront spot serves Latin American-inflected sharing platters made with Turkish ingredients. After a delectable long lunch, enjoy cocktails at Discetto as international and local DJ talent take to the decks. If, on the other hand, relaxation and rejuvenation are what you desire, head across the water for a treatment at the Six Senses Kaplankaya. Rising up from the shore into a scrub of pistachio and olive trees, Kaplankaya is a smart hideout where you will find not just the Six Senses, but three more hotels and a marina in the offing.
Back on board, cruise on to the historic town of Bodrum itself. The attractive port, which is presided over by the Castle of St. Peter, has garnered comparisons to St. Tropez, with cafés, bars and restaurants bustling with locals and visitors. Spend the day embracing the town’s cultural riches and Bohemian lifestyle. Try one of the great ocakbaşi restaurants in the Kumbahçe district, on Atatürk and Cumhuriyet streets. The cuisine, the bazaars and the hammams are inherently oriental, while the culture is a very easy-going variety of Islamic.
By day the calls of the muezzin resound; at night the town reverberates with the sound of clubs and bars. Early evening, take the tender around the headland for cocktails and chilled beats at the Buddha-Bar Beach Bodrum. The legendary Buddha-Bar Beach chose the glistening Aegean as the prime spot to open its 10th international location last summer and has already become the chic hot spot for the discerning yachting crowd.
Tip – Book tickets for a live performance at the Bodrum Amphitheatre. Listen to music in an arena that once echoed to the baying of a bloodthirsty crowd. In ancient times, its capacity was about 13,000. Now, it’s a much more intimate 4,000 – outdoors of course
Much of the peninsula retains an intrinsic charm, coastal towns and villages remain low-rise; the stone-built houses embellished with the bright colors of flowering bougainvillea. Cruise just a few nautical miles from Bodrum’s bustling waterfront deep inside the Gulf of Gökova, dropping anchor in one of the many small bays, all of which offer quiet seclusion in picture-perfect settings. Moor in the harbor of the ancient fourth-century B.C. Greek city of Caria, now known as Knidos, embedded into the westernmost tip of the headland. Here you will find the remains of the temple of Aphrodite, the goddess of love and historically the first major nude statue of a woman in western culture.
Spend the next few days hopping around from mooring to mooring in the largely uninhabited Datça Peninsula. Stretching over 50 miles from east to west from the mainland to Knidos, the peninsula’s western coast is low lying, with vast beaches caressed by the Etesian winds in the summer. To the east, the coast is rocky with inlets and bays backed by pine forests.
Spend your days enjoying watersports in the bay before crossing to the picturesque harbor of Datça. Full of good restaurants and bars, the marina itself is a hub of activity and a great place to enjoy an apéritif while watching perambulating crowds along the quayside and the reflection of the taverna lights on the water as the sun settles for the night. This is when the pace picks up, the shops staying open far into the night, inviting a post-dinner browse. Sift through the carpets, ceramics and textiles and bargain with the shopkeepers (a Turkish tradition).
Occupying a large part the eastern end of the peninsula, the luxurious D Maris Bay presides over five white-sand beaches and is the perfect place to step ashore for a treatment at the resort’s Mytha Spa, one of the best in the whole Mediterranean. The culinary scene is equally appealing, offering a sophisticated lineup of dining concepts ranging from a seaside tavern, beach clubs and bars, to outposts of the famed Zuma and La Guérite.
Tip – Swim in Datça’s small freshwater lake, immersing yourself under the small waterfall
Between Datça and Marmaris, the Bozburun Peninsula is a sailor’s dream, dotted with picturesque harbors and coves that are only accessible by boat. Nature rules along this stretch of coastline, where stunning views appear around every turn. Quieter than neighboring Datça, at its heart lies the town that gave the peninsula its name. Famous for building traditional wooden gulets, Bozburun is quiet and relaxed, with tavernas concealed amid the shade of the trees serving traditional local cuisine. It has an authentic feel with a lot of small-town charisma. Further along the coastline, Marmaris has a very different feel. Known as Turkey’s yachting capital, it is situated in one of the world’s largest natural harbors and has a very ancient history due to its geographical position. The bay itself has always enjoyed a strategic location, partly thanks to its natural harbor protected by a narrow passage and a fortified town. Its castle dates back to the 14th century, and in the more recent past, Admiral Nelson took shelter here while preparing for the Battle of the Nile and his victory over the French Armada. Today the bay enjoys a different type of sailing activity, attracting vessels of all sizes from sailing yachts and superyachts to Turkish gulets. Stroll along the waterfront, where most of the socializing takes place, avoiding the blaring beats of the promenade and seeking out the boutique-lined streets and a vibrant bazaar bustling with Turkish trinkets.
Tip – Catch an open-air concert in the amphitheater in the older Kaleiçi district
Bay of Ekincik
Cruising east from Marmaris you will come across the beautiful pine-clad Bay of Ekincik. The conservation area has stunning beaches that have often been compared to the white sandy beaches of the Maldives. Jump in and swim near the breeding grounds of the loggerhead turtle before taking a local boat to the Roman ruins of Caunus;
the ancient city is located on the Dalyan River. The Venetian-style channel meanders between the cliffs that shelter small tombs built by the Lycians in the 4th century B.C. Further along is the Roman site of Caunus, with its baths complex and impressive amphitheater that dominates the ancient harbor.
Tip – Before heading back to your yacht, relax in the Sultaniye thermal baths nearby. Said to cure all ills, the waters reach temperatures of over 104°F
Gulf of Fethiye
The next step of your itinerary takes you to the Gulf of Fethiye, a large inlet with Göcek and Fethiye at its head. Surrounded by beautiful hills, within the bay lie twelve islands, each of which offers pine-clad hillsides, clear waters and uncrowded beaches. The gulf offers idyllic conditions for sailing, with several bays and inlets for anchoring in peaceful, sheltered spots that are well protected from the north winds.
Tip – The most popular swimming spot in the bay is Cleopatra’s Bath. Legend has it that Cleopatra used the cove for bathing, however, there is no evidence
Göcek itself has increased in popularity, becoming a major yachting destination. All types of yachts up to 330 feet (100 meters) can find a mooring place in the three marinas located here. Disembark and explore the town’s cobbled streets and twisted alleyways filled with little shops and tavernas and raise a glass to celebrate the end of your Aegean cruise.
Tip – The Turkish baths at Göcek’s Pier Marina are the perfect place to experience a typical hammam treatment involving a steam room, followed by a scrub and wash and a head-to-toe massage – all while lying on a hot marble slab.