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Touring Turkey's Bodrum Peninsula

A view of Bodrum town; Maçakiz.

Photo: Cedric Angeles

I mean, if you’re going to lounge around on throw pillows at a beach club, sipping chilled raki or rosé while being serenaded by seabirds and Cesária évora, there’s arguably no finer place to do it. And if, like any normal person, your holiday agenda is to sit still—lifting your head now and then to admire a passing sailboat, or the genetic spectacle of some raven-haired Central European heiress—you could hardly do better than the Bodrum Peninsula, a swath of rock, sand, cypress, and cedar that reaches from Turkey’s southwest coast into the stained-glass blue of the Aegean. (“Bodrum” refers to the largest town and to the peninsula as a whole.) Though the region has a wealth of historical and architectural heritage, the majority of its visitors—2.9 million of them a year, mostly Turks, Brits, and other Europeans—come to relax on the beach, to relax somewhere near the beach, or to relax at cliff-top resorts with stunning views of the beach.

They do not, in other words, come to spend their waking hours sweltering in a rented 4 x 4, driving every last dusty road in search of something more interesting than a beach. I, however, have a problem sitting still. Cursed with restless legs, I can never simply enjoy where I am, even if where I am is a splendid Aegean summer resort. (This drives my wife, Nilou, a little crazy, but she indulges me.) Europeans might be jaded by ancient ruins, Crusades-era castles, and centuries-old fishing villages, but we didn’t fly all this way to lie on a beach. Let others laze around sipping rosé: I wanted to see the real Bodrum. From the moment Nilou and I checked into our hotel—Maçakizi, in the north-coast town of Türkbükü, 30 minutes from Bodrum—I was ready to turn around and hit the road.

On a peninsula with its share of opulent villas and over-the-top resorts, Maçakizi (pronounced mahcha-kiz-uh) is a standout, the sexiest hotel in all of Bodrum. That it’s hardly a traditional hotel is one reason: it feels more like the shoreside estate of some globe-trotting Turkish family blessed with considerable wealth but also the good sense to keep things simple. The property unfolds along a hillside studded with olive trees, tangerine groves, and bursts of bougainvillea. Eighty-one guest rooms are minimally but tastefully furnished and swathed in creamy white, punctuated by the bold abstract canvases of Turkish painter Suat Akdemir. Balconies offer knockout views of Türkbükü Harbor.

In July and August that harbor fills up with yachts and impossibly tall sailing ships, their masts piercing the sky like minarets. All day and night, launches glide to and fro across the water, delivering their owners to shore. Many of them alight at Maçakizi, whose beach club is a landmark in Türkbükü: a series of wooden decks over the water, strewn with white cushions and pillows, shaded by sailcloth canopies and twig-roofed pavilions. The water is clear and generally calm, sheltered within a semiprivate cove. Most guests spend their daylight hours—and much of the evening—at the beach. Every so often the muezzin’s call to prayer drifts across the water from the town mosque, a trebly counterpoint to the languid jazz playing at the bar.

Maçakizi is, in fact, owned by a globe-trotting Turkish family. Ayla Emiroglu, who moved here from Istanbul in 1977, runs the hotel with her son, Sahir Erozan, a former restaurateur who spent two decades in the power-dining rooms of Washington, D.C. At Maçakizi, the guest list alone is intriguing: Caroline Kennedy, Chelsea Clinton, Antonin Scalia, and Ruth Bader Ginsburg have all vacationed here, along with the requisite Turkish music and film stars. During the summer, paparazzi float in Zodiacs just offshore, training telephoto lenses on Maçakizi’s decks.


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