From ancient fishing villages and crumbling castles to megayacht-filled marinas and designer boutiques, the Bodrum Peninsula is Turkey's answer to the Côte d'Azur. Sarah Gilbert maps out a three-day itinerary to take you from sun up to sundowners.
Fuel up Turkish-style at the Marmara Bodrum's Tuti restaurant, which offers jaw-dropping views from its rooftop terrace. Tuck into bagel-like sesame-coated simit, salty goat cheese, plump olives and menemen (the Turkish take on scrambled eggs).
Not many seaside resorts can boast a history that dates back to the Romans, but Bodrum, once known as Halicarnassus, was a favorite pit stop of Antony and Cleopatra's. Start by exploring one of the the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus. It was built around 350 BC, and what remains is now an atmospheric museum.
Spend an hour or two in the narrow, winding streets of the lively Old City behind the harbor. After a lunch of just-caught fish at one of the many meyhanes (traditional Turkish taverns) along Meyhane Street, dive into the warren of shops, which sell everything from leather goods to ornate lanterns and colorful ceramics to sugar-sweet morsels of lokum (Turkish delight).
Stroll along the harbor, lined with sleek yachts and traditional wooden gulets, and stop at Musto, a café/restaurant/bar overlooking the marina. It wouldn’t look out of place in London or New York, but the menu is unmistakably Aegean, with dishes like goat cheese with raki, octopus with eggplant and Turkish meatballs.
Nearby, the Marina Yacht Club serves creative cocktails, DJs and live music late into the night, or you can catch a concert under a star-studded sky at the semi-restored Greco-Roman amphitheater.
If the Bodrum Peninsula is the Côte d’Azur of Turkey, then Göltürkbükü is its St.-Tropez. This former fishing village is now an Ibiza-style magnet for Turkish and international jetsetters, who often arrive by helicopter.
Head to the crescent-shaped bay, where all the action takes place. It’s fringed by wooden jetties rather than beaches and winds around the many waterside restaurants, bars and boutiques.
Atelier 55, an import from Istanbul, stocks the summer collections from up-and-coming Turkish designers, as well as Vivienne Westwood and Charlotte Olympia, and Ipekce is a good spot for chic accessories, jewelry and home decor. Cool off with a homemade ice cream from Dogal Dondurma.
Rub slender shoulders with supermodels on the terrace of the Macakizi Hotel, where the buffet lunch is served on a breezy terrace overlooking the water. The tempting array of Turkish treats includes hot and cold meze dishes like smoky eggplant dip, flaky cheese borek and stuffed peppers.
For more luxe lounging, head west to Yalikavak, a sleepy fishing village that’s now home to Turkey's largest marina, the state-of-the art Palmarina Bodrum, made just for megayachts. Spend time browsing the boutiques; you’ll find a host of upscale brands under one roof at BrandRoom, Midnight Express and Beymen.
Pop to the ESPA Spa at the Palmalife Marina Hotel for a pre-dinner scrub down in its marble hammam, then head to the latest outpost of the Michelin-starred Japanese restaurant Zuma (which has its own seawater pool to lounge by) or Cipriani for gourmet Italian, before dancing ’til dawn at the Billionaire Club, a see-and-be-seen spot for wealthy weekenders.
After a late night, start with a head-clearing stroll on the beach at Bagla Bay, a glorious sweep of golden sand that’s relatively crowd-free.
Away from the coast near Ortakent, stop by Dibeklihan Culture and Art Village, where a series of traditional-style stone buildings are set along streets named after famous Turkish artists. They house art galleries, boutiques selling regional handicrafts, and even a little museum showcasing Anatolian artifacts. Stop for lunch in the tranquil garden before heading to the peninsula’s west coast and Gümüslük. This picturesque fishing village is a long-standing favorite of artists and urban escapees, some of whom have built homes among the citrus groves. Shop for handmade leather sandals, bags, jackets and more at Vanda’s small store-cum-workshop, or unique paper products at Kikkula.
A pebble’s throw from the shoreline — it’s close enough to wade to at low tide — is Tavsan Adan, otherwise known as Rabbit Island, after its growing population of wild bunnies. Or don a mask and snorkel to glimpse the remains of the ancient city of Myndos, a Hellenic village that now lies submerged in the lagoon, just a few feet below the surface.
A row of fish restaurants overlooks the wooden boats bobbing in the harbor. After you’ve watched the spectacular sunset, head to the family-run taverna Sogan-Sarmisak (onion-garlic) for a feet-in-the-sand feast of sea bream served with a garlic and sage sauce, or braised lamb shank. Wash it down with a glass or two of raki, Turkey’s potent anise-flavored spirit.