Rarely do you find yourself in a place that displaces reality to transport you to a state of dreamlike bliss. A place accompanied with a ripple of transcendence and waves of perfection. Bodrum is one such destination. Certainly, Istanbul and Cappadocia may have raced past as must-visits in Turkey on travel shows and books, but one visit to this little seaside heaven – often called the playground of the rich and famous – is enough to make you its fan for life. Especially when you choose to stay at a resort as gorgeous as the Mandarin Oriental Bodrum which presents this coastal town in all its glory.
Right from moment we stepped out of the tiny Milas-Bodrum airport after a long, boring early morning flight from Dubai with a stopover at Istanbul, we were captivated. The weather was a pleasant 18 degrees (what a change from hot Dubai!) and the drive along snaking roads, showed glimpses of the gorgeous Aegean sea and mountains carpeted with sparkling, whitewashed homes and restaurants. Something told us this would be a very different holiday and we weren’t wrong.
DAY ONE: EXPLORING PARADISE
Do you know that feeling when your eyes pop and you involuntarily let out an OMG or WOW when you see something incredible? That was our reaction after our warm welcome into the resort’s terrace reception area that offered a jaw-dropping panoramic view of the sea. Built on its very own Paradise Bay, the resort is a far cry from the opulent ostentation we often find at exotic destinations. Mandarin Oriental, in that sense, is understated and elegant without screaming luxury. Hidden in the hills and camouflaged by greenery, its stone-coloured buildings ironically stand out because they blend in so well with its surroundings. The philosophy of using natural colours and local touches is reflected in every aspect of its design.
We took our time exploring the villas and suites overlooking the idyllic Paradise Bay, most of which had exquisite gardens covering it, private pools and large spacious rooms. Of these, the Mandarin Villa was the largest and most breath-taking with its own maids’ room, kitchenette, massage table and a steam room among other luxuries.
Our own ultra-spacious sea-view room had a stunning Aegean Sea-facing terrace. The unique fluid design, where the bedroom, closet, wash area and a bathtub were all just simple slides of doors away, was impressive in itself. But it was the lovely details like mood-lighting, sunroof over the bathtub, sea-facing bathroom et al that made it all the more special.
The bliss sucked us right in, pulling us away from the chaos of everyday life. A short walk from the main hotel led to the beach, tucked away at one end of the resort, providing reasonable privacy as we comfortably lounged under the Turkish summer sun before heading to the Blue Beach Bar & Restaurant for lunch.
The first day seemed like a world away from our regular world. Dinner was especially memorable. The modern Turkish seafood restaurant Bodrum Balıkçısı was perched in a way that gave us views of the sparkling beach and the mountains, with the soothing twilight adding a dash of romance to the ambiance. Sitting there, sipping a glass of bubbly, digging into the delicious mezze and grilled seafood, one left life couldn’t get more perfect.
With three restaurants (and an Italian and Japanese one waiting in the wings) and a bar, a spa, gym, pools, water-sports, complimentary other activities and much more, one could easily spend the entirety of their weekend at this place. We almost did. But Bodrum was waiting to be discovered.
DAY 2: US TIME & OUTDOORS
Pampering was on the top of our agenda. First up was breakfast at Sofra restaurant. The standard eggs, cheese spread, cereal, yogurts, jams and assortment of other dishes were devoured at lightning speed before we hit the indoor pool. After all, there’s nothing like a swim amidst mountain views, is there? Thereafter it was time to spend an eternity of bliss at the Spa (the largest in the region), treating ourselves to their Jacuzzi, pool, sauna and steam room before enjoying a refreshing Oriental Hamam and a calming massage treatment. It seemed like heaven. Soon it was time for a light lunch and a glass of grape at the Pool Bar & Restaurant with the breeze caressing our spa-pampered skin further.
However, we also took out some time for a cookery class, one of the many complimentary activities on offer. Not a fan of entering the kitchen but it was fun to work alongside the chef at Bodrum Balıkçısı, whipping up a meal of Dolma, the Turkish delight!
Evening was reserved for some exploration. And a 45 minute taxi ride took us to Gümüşlük, a waterfront that’s covered by quaint restaurants along the sea. Perhaps this was the joy of travelling – discovering hidden gems that may not get mentioned in travel itineraries. Gümüşlük is full of incredibly cute seafood restaurants, tiny supermarkets and stores selling crafts and souvenirs. Our pick was the charming Mimoza, a packed Turkish specialty restaurant that served great meatballs, yogurt-garlic-aubergines and pickled olives along with a host of mezze. It’s ambience of pretty Turkish lamps covering white-coloured autumn-inspired leafless tall tress was as unique as it got. It had romance spilling in the air with a sunset to adore and the sea to admire, what more could you ask for?
DAY 3: CITY LIGHTS & MORE
Enough of lazing, we decided. Day 3 tapped into the heart of the city – the Bodrum City Centre, a vibrant, touristy place that had your essential restaurant-shops-flea market combination. Every word we heard about its buzz was true. The Turkish port-town had a unique charm that combined everything from Greek quaintness and European vibe coupled with Turkish energy. The flea markets and shops were packed with beautiful curios and handmade clothes and jewellery available at great bargains. The main street by the marina was buzzing with innumerable cafes and restaurants that served every cuisine you can think of. There’s much going on, from people smoking Sheesha by the beach to others enjoying a drink or a Doner Kebab, to people walking in and out of shops seeing what the best prices can buy them as memorabilia of this vibrant city. We inched the place over five hours and still couldn’t have enough. After stocking up on the fridge magnets, some Turkish coffee and a couple of pretty scarves, we were on our way back to the resort, the experience etched in our memory.
It may sound strange but just three days in Bodrum left some deep imprints on our mind. Be it the gentle luxury of the Mandarin Oriental or the long drives along scenic roads, be it the sights of old-fashioned homes plastered on the mountainside or the dynamism of the city centre, this slice of Paradise left us with a certain kind of longing. This is a town that borrowed the best of Europe and Turkey, giving you memories to last a lifetime!