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As an expat in Istanbul, I am very fortunate to have awesome opportunities for short trips around Europe and the Middle East. My previous weekend jaunt was to Beirut, Lebanon. Though the current 90+ degree weather is ruling out a lot of domestic travel for now, for my next getaway, I made like the locals and headed south to the beach.
The place: Bodrum, Turkey
The Bodrum peninsula fancies itself the Turkish Riviera, though the town proper feels a bit more like the Jersey Shore, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. The Bodrum coast (like the Jersey Shore) has great beaches and fun nightlife, though it lacks the sophistication of other European beach towns and the coastline is getting more developed each season. Still, there's charm left in Bodrum town, beautiful castle and harbor views, and easy boat access to more secluded spots in Turkey and even Greece. Big and boutique resorts with private beaches (many of them jetties) line the sea though you may have to rent a car or rely on taxis and dolmuses (minibuses) to get around. As we wanted to stay in a walkable area with restaurants nearby, we chose the Su Hotel in town, on a quiet street close to the harbor, with a good-sized pool and friendly service.
- Water is the big draw to Bodrum, though the town itself has only a few small strips of beach, with most of the beach clubs and resorts in neighboring towns like Bitez and Gümbet. The few town beaches are small but serviceable, as well as convenient and most often free, though you may be obliged to buy a drink from one of the adjoining cafes. If you're after the wide, sandy beach experience, you're better off in a resort outside of town or taking day trips.
- Hop on a boat and be in Greece in an hour. From the ferry, you can walk to a beach where 5 euro will get you two chairs, some bottled water, and an umbrella. Pleasant Kos Town doesn't have a wealth of tourist attractions, but does remind you how NOT European Turkey is, if only for the good wine, availability of pork, and sensible city planning. Alternatively, boat trips are offered all over town to nearby islands and coves in Turkey.
- While sometimes it's pleasant to visit a foreigner-friendly city where English is widely spoken and familiar foods are available, after seeing the third cafe in a row serving a full English breakfast, Bodrum's popularity with Brits and Australians becomes overwhelming and almost demoralizing. I happened to be in town during the England-Germany World Cup match, and the English loss could be heard up and down the streets. On the plus side, a nice book market on Cumhuriyet Caddesi towards the east end sells English books for as little as 5 TL.
- You don't come to Bodrum for sightseeing, but the main attractions can still be a little disappointing. The Castle of St. Peter holds the Museum of Underwater Archaeology (admittedly, I hoped it would actually BE underwater) and while the views from the castle are spectacular and several of the exhibits are interesting, the highlights (the cool-sounding Glass Shipwreck and remains of a Carian princess) are only open Tuesday - Friday. Imagine if New York's Met Museum closed the Temple of Dendur on weekends or the Louvre limited days to see the Mona Lisa?! Likewise, the Mausoleum might have once been one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, but not much of it remains.
Bodrum is an hour flight from Istanbul, with sporadic direct flights from continental Europe in season. The airport is 60 kilometers from town and a pricey 90 TL taxi ride, but a shuttle bus connects with domestic flights for 17 TL. If you have early or late flights, be sure to factor in the round-trip taxi fare to the cost of your travel. Ferries depart for Kos (also Rhodes) in the morning and return late afternoon for around 55 TL.
Make it a week
Get your bearings in Bodrum town and then sail a gulet yacht for a cruise along the Aegean. Booking a cabin will cost from 400 euro per person including meals (but not alcohol), crew, fuel, and taxes for a week, chartering the whole yacht can run thousands of euro but can work for a group of friends or family. Do your homework and shop around; Turkey Travel Planner is a good primer.