Turkey on a Roll
At last the Bodrum Peninsula has discovered its inner St Tropez. This is how I like my Turkey, says Mark C O’Flaherty — smokin’ hot and stuffed with luxury
MILLA JOVOVICH has just stepped out of her car. Flashguns are going off so fast in her direction that they’ve created one constant, blinding, spotlight. Down at the water’s edge, two girls are floating high above the beach, suspended from hundreds of white helium-filled balloons, pirouetting in mid-air while light opera drifts across the water towards dozens of anchored superyachts.
Watching them, scores of women wearing frilled, fluoro, outré evening dresses clutch flutes of some of the most highly taxed sparkling wine in the world, waiting for Eros Ramazzotti to take to the stage. It’s the launch event for the Mandarin Oriental Residences on the Bodrum Peninsula, Turkey’s answer to the Côte d’Azur. Here, not quite a continent away from the imploding eurozone, it’s a case of excess all areas. The feelgood factor is plentiful and every night is a party.
GDP rocketed by 8.5 per cent last year in Turkey — and even that represented a fall from 9 per cent the year before. There’s a housing boom focused with laser precision on high-net-worth buyers. Production and exports are booming, thanks in part to the now controversial ‘Zero Problems’ policy Turkey adopted with its Middle East neighbours back in 2002, strengthening business ties in ways that the likes of the US would find awkward at best.
WHILE DRAMA IN Syria rocks the boat, an already buoyant luxury and hospitality sector appears to be full steam ahead. Turkish design, from yachts by Vicem and Tansu to furniture by Istanbul-based design studio Autoban, is world-renowned and revered in luxury circles. There is still the amplified call to prayer from the country’s mosques five times a day and some of the most dissuasive alcohol taxes anywhere, but if you squint at the Bodrum coastline it could be Monaco.
Soho House is opening its next property, and biggest operation to date, in Istanbul next year. And Rezidor has broken ground for the next Hotel Missoni, to be located in Belek. ‘We target fashionable destinations that turn heads,’ explains Rezidor CEO Kurt Ritter.
‘In a sense, Turkey has turned away from Europe and towards the Middle East,’ says Gabriel Lousada, the GM of Adrian Zecha’s latest resort, the Amanruya. Few things flag up a hot destination like a new Aman, and with occupancy close to 100 per cent, temperatures around 40°C all summer and staff continually being called by guests to ferry buckets of Moët to their private villas, Zecha’s reasoning for opening here is more than sound.
Pictured above: The Amanruya in Bodrum
One nice touch is the stock in the boutique, which includes stacks of Rifat Ozbek’s Yastik cushions. Ozbek was an international fashion superstar of the 1980s and 1990s who recently designed the peacock fantasia that is Robin Birley’s new nightclub in London, Loulou’s. He has a summer home in Bodrum and creates the most graphic, colourful, beautiful cushions, riffing on traditional Turkish textile patterns.
When Ozbek comes to Turkey for the summer, he dines in the historic open courtyard of Kocadon, the most celebrated and certainly the prettiest restaurant in Bodrum. The tablecloths are crisp, white linen and the grilled squid is phenomenal. ‘It’s a curious name for a restaurant,’ says Ozbek. ‘It translates as “big boxer shorts”. No matter— it’s perfect for supper on summer nights.’
THIS COASTAL DISTRICT wasn’t always like this, of course. For years it had a reputation for package holiday hell, but now the use of private jets and yachts continues to grow in popularity, along with yacht charter. ‘The area has a big pull for many superyacht clients right now,’ says Y.CO broker Tamsin Priestley. ‘It doesn’t have the crowds or noise of other European destinations.’
Things are, however, getting noticeably busier. Fortunes have been spent on expanding docking facilities, and the superyachts are taking full advantage. ‘I first came here when I was about three years old and it was just a simple seaside resort,’ says Murat Bozok, whose Istanbul restaurant Mimolett, with its grand, cruise-like sunken dining room, chandeliers and soft lighting, is one of the most famous in the country.
Trained by Marcus Wareing, Murat is the archetypal big chef, full of bonhomie, beaming smiles and gastronomic adventure. This summer, he opened a pop-up version of Mimolett at Casa Dell’Arte, the art-filled hotel on the waterfront of Torba that feels like a slice of luxe, white and loungey Miami chic served on the Med. ‘This is a totally different place now,’ he says. ‘Over the past few years it has become unrecognisably sophisticated and cosmopolitan.’
Pictured above: The view from the pool deck of Bodrum’s Kempinski Hotel
Cooking next door to Murat at Casa Dell’Arte over the summer months has been his close friend Jale Balci, who looks like a catwalk model and runs the smart, monochrome, modernist Istanbul restaurant Antiochia Concept. The concept is regional food from Antakya, which translates as simple but delicious mezze, well-seasoned grill fare and an Antiochia Roll — a slightly spicy beef burrito that might just be the most delicious thing you’ll ever eat. ‘I like what [Yotam] Ottolenghi did with his restaurants,’ she says. ‘I think the cuisine from Antakya has the same potential.’ If her Antiochia Roll came to London, it would become a phenomenon.
MANY OF THIS summer’s diners at Mimolett and Antiochia arrived by water. At the Kempinski, some of its business is to serve as a VIP facility for the owners of superyachts that drop anchor just offshore. For a few days in July, a small stretch of beach was marked as ‘private’ — screened off at the request of the current owner of one of Bill Gates’s old yachts. ‘All our staff sign non-disclosure agreements about the identity of our guests,’ says GM William Latour. ‘And all our guests arriving by yacht want to be discreet.’
The hotel is blessed with one of the finest beaches for swimming on the whole of the Bodrum Peninsula. There’s a Six Senses Spa, terrace restaurants worthy of Tender Is the Night, and when there’s a full moon, a candlelit path leads you to the beanbag-strewn beach, where the gleaming water and sea-splashed rocks make an extraordinary, expansive theatrical backdrop. It’s profoundly, impossibly beautiful. Some things in this part of Turkey, one is reminded, have always been perfect.