With the five medieval towers of St. Peter’s Castle jutting into its azure bay, Bodrum, Turkey, showcases a storied past. On the eastern side of the landmark, the beach-lined crescent of Kumbahce Bay and the yacht-filled marina tell the present-day story.
Bodrum has an illustrious heritage. The ancient Dorians named it Halicarnassus and it later became the capital of Caria. Alexander the Great stormed the city walls, and Herodotus was born there in 484 B.C. and Dionysus in the first century B.C. Suleyman the Magnificent wrested it from the Knights of St. John in 1523, when it came under Ottoman rule.
From celebrities to average tourists, crowds flock to Bodrum’s turquoise waters seeking the nightlife, shopping and dazzling sun during the summer months. Ahmet and Nesuhi Ertegun, founders of Atlantic Records, visited the family villa in Bodrum often. Another famous local villa owner, Zeki Müren, a transvestite pop singer, something of a Turkish Liberace, has a street named for him. After his death in 1996, his house became the memorabilia-filled Zeki Müren Museu, which displays his flamboyant stage costumes.
The museum leads to the open-air Halikarnas Disco. With a capacity of 5,000, it’s hard to miss and offers light shows, revues and musical acts. You’ll have a good view of the castle, which the laser show targets. Plenty of other clubs abound.
Blue Voyages to Homer’s Turkey
Bodrum wasn’t always a playground for vacationers. Once a sleepy fishing village used to house exiled dissidents, Bodrum’s natural beauty gave rise to the Blue Cruise, or Blue Voyage, trips along the so-called Turkish Riviera.
Politics mixed with art turned Bodrum into a popular spot for intellectuals, who came to visit Cevat Kabaagacli (1886-1973), “The Fisherman of Halicarnassus,” sentenced to exile in 1923 for three years for writing a column about army fugitives. Kabaagacli’s punishment turned out to be paradise, he said, and he stayed for years.
Kabaagacli wrote stories about local fishermen, joined sponge divers on their trips and penned poems about the environment, expressing his ecological sensitivities. Artistic and intellectual friends, dropping by from Izmir and Istanbul, witnessed the glories of the coast of the Gulf of Gokova in Kabaagacli’s boat.
Bodrum’s visitors wanted to discover Turkish coastal points immortalized by the ancient Greek epic poet Homer, so they called their trips the “Blue Voyages.”
A sample of today’s Blue Cruise itinerary, offered by Durukos Yachting (durukos.com), includes:
• First night in Bodrum, where tourgoers can sample the cuisine at dozens of restaurants with outstanding views of the blue-green waters. Nightlife starts late and dance bars include White House, Breeze and Déjà Vu.
• Set sail along the Gulf of Gokova to mythic Knidos, the ancient Carian city that still boasts artifacts, an amphitheater, the remains of an acropolis and a temple to Aphrodite. Spend the night in pine-covered Mersincik.
• After breakfast on board the third day, the gullet stops in Cati lagoon and then heads for Yedi Adalar, or “Seven Islands,” where guests can hike the slopes or swim, dive and snorkel.
• On to Tuzla and Ballisu, quiet beachfront towns.
• Day five the gullet steers to Cleopatra Island, where legend has it that the white sand was imported from Egypt for Anthony and Cleopatra’s honeymoon.
• On the sixth day, the boat sails for Cökertme, where villagers weave carpets and offer good-natured hospitality. The last day is the sail back to Bodrum.
Water lovers will find plenty of diving, skiing and sailing in the southern Aegean. The Blue Voyages, now offered by several tour and yacht operators, are two- to seven-day trips that stop in various coves along the coast. Some travel to small northeastern Greek islands as well.
By October, a sense of serenity pervades the signature white-washed, blue-trimmed houses and hotels. Lodging ranges from small family-run hotels with rooftop dining rooms to the Marmara Bodrum ($177 a night on hotels.com) and the five-star Amanruya (from $1,200 a night).
Daily blue cruises are available at the ferry terminal near St. Peter’s Castle.
Nearby, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, marks the tomb intended for Mausolus (377-353 B.C.), ruler of Caria. His widow, Artemisia, the only woman to rule Caria, finished construction on the 134-foot-tall colonnade with 36 columns and a pyramid, topped off by a horse-drawn chariot. There it stood for more than a thousand years, in ruins.
When crusaders from the Knights of St. John took over in 1406, they pillaged the crumbling stones to build the Castle of St. Peter, now the major sight in Bodrum. The five towers – English, German, French, Spanish and Italian – represent the five nationalities occupying the castle. With its dungeons, courtyards and fortress design, the structure is worth a visit, especially for those interested in the science of artillery ballistics and fearless children with strong imaginations.
How many times have you seen underwater treasures? Here’s your chance. The castle also houses the Museum of Underwater Archaeology, showcasing treasures from various shipwrecks along the coast. Local divers often ran into the costly finds by accident.
For more information, visit bluecruise.org or tourismturkey.org.
For the traveler who hears Homer’s sirens
Several tour operators offer the original Blue Cruise, created by the late ecologist and humanist Cevat Kabaagcli, “The Fisherman of Halicarnassus.”
Single and double rooms include private bathrooms, and fees cover all meals, taxes and service charges. You’re on your own for drinks and tips.
For an upscale, customized tour, Trippin Charters (trippincharters.com) takes you where you want to go, but you’ll pay for the privilege.
Ali Perret, a jazz musician, operates Trippin Charters May through October. He skippers his own boat, a classic 67-foot wooden sailing boat, the S/Y Trippin.
With four suites, the ship takes eight passengers tops, for a high-season price of $1,950 daily. That doesn’t include food, alcohol or excursion fees.
“I’ve been a seaman for 45 years, and S/Y Trippin is my third boat, especially designed for charter,” he said.
Perret advises passengers that less is more when packing for a Blue Voyage.
“Bring soft bags, because they make for easier stowage,” he recommended, adding that his itineraries are flexible.
“Being a creative jazz musician, our trips are random,” he said. “Of course, it depends on the weather conditions (and) trying to avoid busy coves,” he said.
For a one-week trip, however, Perret prefers the Gulf of Gokova.
“It’s a relaxing cruise, and a protected area with the pine forest and 360 coves,” he noted. “Also, it’s good for sailing.”