Speeding through the Aegean Sea, flanked by the splendid rolling mountains of the Bodrum Peninsula, the glassy blue surface transforms into torrents of white foam.
Suddenly it’s up, up and away — no longer cruising through the water but into the sky, rising to 3,000ft above the white sand bays of the Turkish Riviera while soaring serenely in a sea plane.
What a way to take in Bodrum, renowned for its ancient history and celebrity visitors, such as actress Catherine Zeta-Jones, as well as being a luxe holiday destination without A-list prices.
In fact, prices are incredibly reasonable, with the personal finance experts at cashlady.com only this week estimating that Turkey is a whopping 319 per cent cheaper to visit for Britons than it was a mere five years ago.
The Bodrum Peninsula has long been popular with holidaymakers. In the 1970s, it was the epicentre of bohemian glamour with aristocrats, millionaires, writers and artists descending to work and play. And they’re still coming.
Value for money: Sian Boyle travels to the Bodrum Peninsula, which is ‘renowned for its ancient history and celebrity visitors’. Above is ‘magnificent’ Bodrum Castle
Strolling through the marina, passing pink bougainvillea flowers on one side and traditional wooden gulet sailing boats on the other, I hear how Sting and Tottenham FC owner Joe Lewis have been spotted here of late. Naomi Campbell, meanwhile, was seen in town in uncharacteristically non-diva mode: sipping coffee alone, sans entourage and security.
‘They can’t act like a celebrity here, because everyone here is a celebrity,’ says Gozde, a glamorous local who, in her high heels and glitzy shades, isn’t fazed by the clientele who come.
I’m here before the summer season gets under way, which means that Bodrum’s Bar Street — the mile-long stretch of raucous bars and clubs along the coastline — is yet to gear up. But luckily I didn’t come to go clubbing.
Tucked in the north of the peninsula, I’m staying at the five-star, all-inclusive LuJo hotel, carefully designed as the perfect fly-and-flop bolthole. It’s a vast resort with 15 bars, ten pools and a coastline of private beach complete with cabanas and Maldivian-style beach beds.
Sian stays at Lujo Hotel, which has been ‘carefully designed as the perfect fly-and-flop bolthole’
The expansive layout means there’s no dawn rush to put towels on the loungers. It’s so quiet you can swim all alone to the edge of almost any of the infinity pools and gaze out with no other buildings in sight.
At dusk we dine on the beachfront at Gaia, the dreamy seafood restaurant that offers John Dory fish, crispy baby octopus and catch-of-the-day delicacies prepared with Aegean and Cretan herbs marinated with Bodrum’s famous extra-virgin olive oil.
It’s hard to believe this is an easyJet holidays package. There’s no hint of budget orange utility and instead it’s luxury in the form of the helipad on the rooftop, the chocolate bar, the LuJo-branded sea plane and concierge butlers known as ‘Joy Advisors’, who are always a quick WhatsApp away from attending to your every whim.
And you won’t feel guilty about dumping the children in the kids’ club. Instead of a soft-play prison the resort offers ceramic and wood workshops, an art studio and a music room.
The LuJo hotel offers luxury in the form of the helipad on the rooftop, the chocolate bar, the LuJo-branded sea plane and concierge butlers known as ‘Joy Advisors’
‘It’s hard to believe this is an easyJet holidays package,’ Sian says of her stay at the LuJo hotel
Away from the relaxing delights of LuJo, however, we head over to Bodrum to take in the sights of the ancient Greco-Roman amphitheatre, which in summer hosts an international ballet festival and throws concerts under the stars.
The port city’s history dates back to the ancient Greeks in the 4th Century BC, and it is home to the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, an ornate king’s tomb that was one of the original Seven Wonders of the World.
Little of the original tomb can be seen today, but the remains were used by the Knights of St John to build the magnificent Bodrum Castle. They erected a tower for each of the English, French, German and Italian knights, and the English Lion’s Tower is resplendent with the coat of arms of King Henry IV.
More history is to be enjoyed moving inland on the peninsula. Hiking tour operators offer guided routes on the Carian Trail, named after the ancient Carian indigenous people of Asia Minor.
These hikes take in mountains and tranquil scenery as well as the ruins of ancient cities and their fortresses, some more than 3,000 years old. And walkers here are literally following in the footsteps of VIPs and royalty (including a pre-war President Zelensky, Nicolas Sarkozy and many an Arab sheikh).
Each bay on the Bodrum Peninsula has a different atmosphere. Day trippers could head south to Bitez, one of the largest and most popular family beaches lined with beach clubs and restaurants.
Authentic: Bodrum city’s history dates back to the ancient Greeks in the 4th Century BC. Above is a mosque at Bodrum Castle
Actress Catherine Zeta-Jones has previously holidayed in Bodrum
In the south, Gumbet is known as one of the liveliest nights out, while Guvercinlik Bay is home to LuJo and other sprawling, yet secluded, family resorts.
Further west, we amble around Yalikavak Marina, regarded as the ‘Turkish St Tropez’, where the Med Set dock their superyachts in summer and where Tom Hanks has been spotted recently on holiday.
For a brief few hours I am lucky enough to feel like one of the set myself, thanks to a morning cruise on LuJo’s luxury 19-metre catamaran. It’s my below deck superyacht fantasy: shoes off — so as not to spoil the teak, darling — and a glass of champagne on arrival, before switching to the palest of rosés to glug lazily on deck.
Lunch is a banquet fit for an Ottoman sultan while we cruise languidly around the Peninsula, past the olive groves and pine forests of Torba, and the ritzy Golturkbuku area with its coterie of ultra-expensive hotels. According to local legend, Kate Moss once checked out of a detox retreat here and checked straight into Macakizi, the luxury party hotel. Dropping anchor near Ikizadalar islet, we dive off one of the catamaran’s bows and I float in sea so salty I could have almost fallen asleep, floating effortlessly on the water and drifting all the way to Greece.
This is my first time in Turkey, and I’m blown away by how friendly everyone is. I can now see why the country is such a go-to for British tourists, who I’m told come here at the season’s bookends — in May to June and September to October — not just for the lower prices but to avoid mid-summer’s 40c heat. February’s earthquake, 700 miles away from here, was the worst natural disaster in Turkey’s modern history, killing almost 60,000 people.
This nation’s open-hearted people, therefore, are now desperate to get their country and tourism industry back on track, and are optimistically revving up for the start of the new holiday season. And while controversial President Erdogan’s monetary policy has caused havoc for the domestic economy, it means exchange rates for British holidaymakers are only getting stronger, currently at around 24 lira for every pound.
Above, an open-air market in Bodrum. Sian explains that exchange rates for British holidaymakers are only getting stronger, currently at around 24 lira for every pound
EasyJet Holidays offers seven nights at Lujo Hotel Bodrum from £2,610pp all-inclusive including transfers and flights (easyjet.com). Take 25-minute Lujo seaplane excursions from £174pp. Book via the Lujo concierge.
A pint will set you back around 60 lira. On our final evening we dine at Gemibasi overlooking the marina and I soak up the warm clatter and din of family celebrations, with babies cooing, Turkish tea glasses clinking and shots of raki being toasted with a resounding ‘Serefe!’, the Turkish word for ‘cheers’. You know a restaurant’s good if it’s packed to the rafters with locals.
Be forewarned, however: a Turkish meal is a marathon, not a sprint, with endless courses of sharing plates of fat sizzling prawns, piquant aubergine dips, potato salads and the freshest calamari. After hours of feasting, we end the meal and the weekend feeling thoroughly fed, watered and content with life. Gemibasi’s menu bears Bodrum’s unofficial slogan, a quote from a famous Turkish writer known as the Fisherman of Halicarnassus, who was exiled here in 1925 and fell in love with the peninsula. He wrote: ‘Don’t assume you’ll leave as you came. The others before you were the same. As they departed, they all left their souls in Bodrum.’
Serefe to that!