Head to Marmaris and you won’t struggle to make yourself understood, even if you can’t quite remember ‘merhaba’ and ‘teşekkürler’.
The Turkish resort city, where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean, is a popular destination for Brits abroad with the combination of low prices, reliable sunshine and plenty of package deals tempting many to spend their summer holiday there.
It was recently named as the best value holiday destination out of 36 popular spots globally, beating Sunny Beach in Bulgaria into second place in the Holiday Money Report 2022 due to the weakening Turkish lira.
While other countries may offer cheaper prices when you get there, factoring in a long-haul flight will bump up the amount you spend so for UK travellers, finding somewhere within easy reach is key.
With the cost of living crisis biting, I was naturally keen to head somewhere I could make my pounds stretch further.
But I didn’t want it to feel like a budget break, especially having just celebrated my wedding in Turkey.
I was hoping for some pristine beaches where I could swim without feeling crowded by other people splashing (or worse), where we could have a meal out without being surprised by a £500 bill, and generally forget about the news for a few days. You know, just your classic beachside break.
So we drove from Istanbul to Marmaris, watching the weather gradually clearing from torrential rain into a landscape dotted with palm trees as we came further south. By the time we arrived, my worries had turned from aquaplaning to whether I’d packed enough suncream, and I was ready to plonk down by the pool and not move for several days.
Marmaris itself greeted us a with a roadside statue of a pearl surrounded by a globe in the colours of the Earth. Even if my Turkish was rusty, I could see it meant to say this city was thought of as a rare jewel.
It has a bit of an unfair reputation for being cheap and cheerful, rather than for its beauty.
The Greek island of Rhodes is seen as more of a luxury break, but it’s actually only 29 miles away. The landscape of hills, forests, and inviting ocean is almost exactly the same, and there are frequent one-hour ferries taking people on day trips each way (just don’t forget your passport, as it’s a different country after all).
The city is laid out along the harbour, with dozens of boats moored up. Many of them are quite expensive-looking yachts, and the vibe would have been similar to St Tropez – if it wasn’t for the boats being interspersed with a Pirate of the Caribbean themed ship, or a terrifying-looking ‘Viking’ ship which you enter through a monster’s mouth.
Towering over all of them, though, was Roman Abramovich’s huge superyacht.
The oligarch and former owner of Chelsea Football Club had to move Eclipse out of Europe to avoid sanctions imposed after Russia invaded Ukraine, and so the boat – the longest private yacht in the world when it was built – has been spotted at various locations along the Turquoise Coast of Turkey this year.
It offered an interesting juxtaposition between such an ostentatious symbol of wealth and the ‘Grand Bazaars’, where you can pick up all manner of fake luxury goods such as Gucci and Christian Dior in rows of similar boutiques.
On one evening, we stopped for a dinner in a seafood restaurant called Nil Balik right on the water’s edge, with an uninterrupted view of the £380 million boat.
I had to think that we were doing well to get the same view as billionaires for a £40 meal including fresh sea bass, sea bream, calamari, a bottle of raki and plenty of mezes.
There are plenty of places to eat and drink in Marmaris including ‘The Geordie Bar’ for tourists missing home, as well as other more budget eateries that aren’t in as prime a position. The holiday money report found that you could get a standard three course meal for two with a bottle of house wine for £16.02, while a 330ml bottle of local beer cost £1.54.
It worked out that a similar meal in Corfu, Greece, would cost £48.08 while in Nice, France, it would be £71.95.
And there are buckets of deals you can find offering to get you from the UK to Marmaris on a shoestring, with Tui currently offering a package of flights and seven nights self catering for as low as £296 per person.
But I wanted somewhere with a quieter feel, and so the prospect of a hotel on Adakoy peninsula within Marmaris National Park seemed like an interesting option.
Where to stay
We were hosted at Cook’s Club Adakoy which is a short boat trip away from the city lights, but set in a secluded area with three private beaches spread out along a stretch of sea so that sunbeds are only two or three deep, rather than a regiment of sun loungers you’d struggle to find your way back to.
It is situated next to a private marina at the foot of a forested hillside, and is the only hotel in the immediate area. When we went, there were water taxis running all day until 11pm into the city and back, so it was easy to go there for a meal out or to explore.
It was tempting just to laze by the pool or the beaches all day though, with many people seemingly having the same idea. We spotted several ‘influencers in the wild’ moments, including a woman hauling herself up from the sea like she was enacting the stage of evolution where fish grew legs. No doubt the final photo was much more elegant.
The hotel is adults only, with guests having to be 16 or over. The majority of those staying mostly seemed to be quite young, in their twenties or thirties, although by no means exclusively. On some nights there was a DJ playing by the bar, though for two nights a week the beats are suspended for a beach cinema.
The vibe was more chilled than partying when we were there, with special mention going to the ducks who felt free to waddle around the sun loungers all day hoping someone might give them a piece of simit (although feeding the ducks is strictly frowned upon). I had no idea that ordinary ducks like you might see in a park pond could thrive in salt water, and was constantly amazed by their presence.
You have the option of swimming in a pool overlooking the sea, or the sea itself. The hotel has a pier where people can jump or dive off, and a ladder to get back out again.
We took the all inclusive option, which allows unlimited drinks such as juice, house wine and Efes beer (though cocktails are extra) and food from the ‘cantina’, which offers seven different stations with different options for each meal, such as pizza/pide, pasta, meat, fish, sushi, and salads.
The food was lovingly presented and delicious, though quite pricy if you pay for meals individually – and with no other cafes in easy walking distance, it’s probably worth paying to have it included.
There is a programme of activities each day, with fitness fans finding plenty to keep them busy including daily sunset yoga by the beach and aqua aerobics. We also spotted table tennis and backgammon tournaments, a tour of Marmaris, a cooking class and a cocktail making workshop.
On our first morning, we got our bearings by heading down to Adakoy marina and getting into a double canoe with Splash Watersports.
We paddled out to Bedir Island opposite, then stopped for a brief rest on a sandy beach where some lucky people had anchored their yacht (much smaller than Abramovich’s this time).
We then paddled our way around the island and headed back, taking around an hour in total (although our guide said he does it on his own in around half an hour).
Seeing the area from the water was a beautiful way to explore and take in the landscape.
We had also wanted to explore some of the walking trails in the national park, including the hike to Nimara Cave. This is possible during the spring and autumn, but when we were there much of the forest was closed to visitors to reduce the risk of forest fires.
Last summer, Marmaris was struck by major wildfires which were covered in global media. Viral footage showed flames approaching the city itself, with some in nearby Bodrum forced to flee via the water from beaches during an evacuation.
Having gone through such a difficult period, you might expect Marmaris to still show the scars. Parts of the landscape do bear witness over a year on, with bare ground on the hills above the city where there used to be greenery, but the overall impression is far from one of devastation. There are still lots of holidaymakers strolling the streets, and a sunset boat trip will offer plenty of picturesque photo opportunities.
Adakoy peninsula escaped the flames, with the area still lush and green. It is understandable that precautions are being taken to make sure the area remains protected, with the national park being a haven for animals and plants.
If you want to do more than lie by the beach and the pool (though if you don’t, who could blame you), then the best time to visit and explore may be outside of the peak summer months.
June, July and August can get extremely hot with temperatures of 40°C not unheard of, although when we were there in mid August this year it was mainly in the early 30°Cs.
April, May, September and October still offer plenty of sunshine, but without the feeling of sweating off your suncream within ten minutes. As a bonus, you should also be able to find better deals outside of the school holidays.
For those braving the heat to look around, there is a castle in Marmaris city centre dating back to 1044BC with views of the sea, or if you want even more history you could make a longer trip to the towns of Dalyan and Datça where there are ancient ruins, which are around an hour’s drive away.
How to get there
The nearest airport is in Dalaman, which is around 56 miles from Marmaris, or an hour and 15 minute drive. Cook’s Club Adakoy, which offers parking, is around another seven miles from the city centre, though it may take half an hour to drive the extra distance as some of the roads are woodland tracks.
You can book hotels directly and arrange travel yourself, perhaps by renting a car at Dalaman Airport from a company such as Europcar or Enterprise. This would allow you to easily explore more of the area if you stay for a while.
Alternatively, travel companies such as Jet2, Tui and Easyjet arrange package holidays including flights and transfers to Marmaris and Adakoy.
Prices at Cook’s Club Adakoy start from £117 per night for two guests for the all inclusive ‘Feel Free’ concept, including breakfast, lunch and dinner, branded alcoholic drinks, beers, wines and soft drinks.
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