Turkey has enjoyed some ups and downs with the holiday business in recent years, but Bodrum has proved that, in tourism, form is temporary, as football pundits like to say, but class is permanent. Bodrum definitely has class. This stretch of the Turquoise Coast famously lured Mark Antony and Cleopatra. There are few major holiday resorts that can point to a history that dates back to about 1500 BC. Most popular Mediterranean resorts, by comparison, are about half the age of Sir Bruce Forsyth.
What makes Bodrum so attractive is not just its rich history (and a range of fascinating historical sights) but also its excellent selection of great hotels and fine restaurants that rival the places you can find on the famously fashionable Greek island of Mykonos.
Standing high above the town, among the rubble of ancient civilisations, we gaze down on a manifest of cranes. ‘No debt crisis here,’ says my guide. But while Bodrum attracts the ultra-wealthy, including Middle Eastern billionaires and Saudi royalty, the resort defiantly remains a place that can happily cater to the mass market.
In the past couple of years, the area in and around Bodrum has enjoyed a rapid pace of development. There may be a new luxury designer shopping centre, and a new Aman Resorts complex is due to open next month (only its third European property to date), but you definitely don’t have to be a high-roller to enjoy a holiday here.
What is attracting more and more UK travellers to Bodrum is its outstanding value for money. While Eurozone destinations become ever more expensive thanks to the continuing fall in the value of the pound, Turkey offers a welcome oasis of affordability.
While the cost of a basket of holiday purchases in Portugal has risen by 39 per cent, Spain by 41 per cent and Croatia by 47 per cent, prices in Turkey have gone up by just two per cent, according to a recent survey by Post Office Travel Money. Of the main European holiday destinations, only Bulgaria is cheaper than Turkey.
So while Bodrum is known as the St Tropez of the Aegean, this is merely to point up its chic, laidback style and its popularity with celebrities (Michael Douglas and his wife Catherine Zeta-Jones, as well as footballer Cristiano Ronaldo, have all been spotted there this month). A holiday in Bodrum, particularly at the moment, is available at a fraction of the cost of a break in St Tropez. As people kept telling me: Bodrum offers ‘cheap chic’.
In classical times, travellers came here because the town boasted one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World: the Halicarnassus, tomb of King Mausolus. The ornate monument must have been breathtakingly massive in the ancient world, standing 138ft high and topped off by a sculpture of the king and queen riding in a chariot. It was so extraordinary that it gave its name to a new word – mausoleum.
But while there is plenty of the old to enjoy, most of this summer’s tourists will be enjoying the new. The ancient name of the city is being kept alive as a nightclub. The famous Halikarnas, at the eastern end of Cumhuriyet Caddesi, is where at the weekend the party-lovers gather on the mammoth outdoor dancefloor with space for up to 5,000 people. There is also an excellent laser show, as well as an illuminated 50ft water fountain.
The other major club in town is the Bodrum Club, housed on a 2,000-person capacity catamaran that sets sail every night at 1am for a four-hour disco. You may need your sea legs as well as your dance shoes for this.
What surprised most British visitors I spoke to was not just the sophistication and tirelessness of the nightlife, it was the quality of the food in hotels and restaurants and the warmth and friendliness of local people.
Another thing that people enjoy is that, unlike Spain where seaside resorts have fast roads or railways running through the middle of them, the seaside places around Bodrum are relaxed spots. There’s not one long strip of resorts, but small developments that have grown up around delightful coves. You’ll find lots of peaceful and unspoilt places, such as the sweet little fishing village of Gumusluk, 12 miles west of Bodrum.
Another plus is that in this part of Turkey, hotels have worked hard to attract families, so there are many child-friendly attractions, kids’ clubs and special mealtimes for younger guests.
There’s plenty to do when you eventually tire of lying on the beach. Take a journey inland, for example, and you’ll discover an unspoiled landscape of citrus orchards, windmills and abandoned villages. Or you could take an excursion to the famous classical sites of Ephesus and Aphrodisias. And it might surprise you to discover that the Greek islands are on your doorstep. Kos, for example, is just five miles away by boat.