Bodrum's main attraction is the Castle of St. Peter, which has great stone staircases, chambers, and towers. The gardens are roamed by peacocks and strewn with amphorae, statues, mosaics, and sarcophagi. Built by the Knights of St. John between 1406 and 1513, it was once considered the strongest fortress in the Mediterranean. Today, its walls enclose a small city of cafés, shops, and ateliers where glassblowers and potters show off their skills and sell their wares. The castle also houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, with the world's largest collection of artifacts retrieved from ancient shipwrecks, whole cargoes of amphorae and unbroken glassware, as well as the partially restored hulls of several of the ill-fated vessels that carried them.
At night after the day-trippers depart, well-heeled guests frequent restaurants like Sapa, in a stone-walled courtyard with candlelit tables. Another popular spot is Hadigari, which has a number of outdoor tables in the shadow of the castle.
Later, everyone moves on to chic bars. Picante—lizard murals, bathtub full of bottled beer on ice, funky indoor-outdoor space—smacks of Tangier's psychedelic era. Down by the port, people hang at Küba's tree-shaded courtyard. Speakers in the trees blast Latin music; the drink of choice is strong, anise-flavored raki.
Later in the night, the clubs—some of the most famous in the Mediterranean—come alive. At Halikarnas, a vast Doric-columned amphitheater by the sea, top European DJ's cater to the young and the sweaty. The ultimate nightspot is the M&M Marine Club, a gigantic catamaran fitted with futuristic bars, lounges, and dance floors. At 2 a.m., the whole affair sets sail, returning in the wee hours of the morning.
As one who prefers to do his sailing in the sunshine, I opt for a short afternoon cruise aboard a gulet, which I book through the concierge at the Marmara. But it's hardly an original idea. By midday, the waters around Bodrum are teeming: with inflatable banana boats pulled by motorboats, ice cream-selling dinghies, and yachts loaded with partyers. Still, my captain manages to find his passengers a relatively secluded swimming spot. For me, the cruise is a good way to check out some of the other resort areas on the Bodrum peninsula. Gümbet is a virtual British colony of budget hotels, transplanted pubs, and holiday condos for tourists from the United Kingdom. The breezy bay of Bitez draws wind surfers. But Gümüslük is my favorite: a fishing village with a pretty pastel mosque and a row of thatch-covered cafés whose tables are practically in the surf. I stop at Fenerci for a perfect lunch of octopus fritters and grilled mullet served with mezes and a glass of cool white Çankaya wine.
While Bodrum is still a long way from what you'd call overdeveloped, many of its fans miss the days when it was a simple fishing village with no mega-discos. For those people, there's the town of Türkbükü, a half-hour from Bodrum up the peninsula's north coast.
Approached from the road, Türkbükü appears to be little more than a haphazard clump of villas fronting a couple of marginally paved streets. The village parking lot is a makeshift space with shacks on one side, the sea on the other. Beyond it lies another world: a crescent-shaped bay edged with bars, cafés, and guesthouses. Narrow walkways lead from many of the cafés to floating platforms where bathers lounge on oversize cushions. At sunset, these decks are set with tables whose reflections shimmer in the floodlighted transparent waters.
For years, travelers to Türkbüku were forced to stay either in waterfront pensions—fine if your expectations (and budget) were minimal—or at the 60-room Palmira. Set back from the sea amid palms and gardens, the Palmira was too big and too slick (think tennis courts and lots of meeting rooms) for its unpretentious surroundings.