The hidden pleasures of the Datça & Hisarönü peninsulas

Datca PeninsulaIf you run your finger down the west coast of Turkey you will come eventually to Marmaris, and, beyond it, to a two-pronged spit of land that juts out into the Aegean Sea and resembles an open mouth all ready to swallow up the tiny Greek island of Simi (Sömbeki)

The upper jaw of the spit is the Reşadiye Peninsula, named after the tiny town of Reşadiye at the far western end. The lower jaw is the Hisarönü Peninsula, named after the blink-and-you’ll-miss-it resort of Hisarönü, but sometimes known as the Loryma Peninsula after the scant remains of the ancient city of Loryma right down at the southern tip. This is one of the more beautiful and unspoilt parts of the Turkish coast, protected (so far) from over-development by its sheer remoteness.

On the Reşadiye Peninsula, the most obvious destination for holidaymakers is the growing resort of Datça, a sort of Marmaris-in-miniature that clings to the southern side of the jaw. For the time being, getting to it requires a one-and-a-half-hour drive along a twisty, motion-sickness-inducing road from Marmaris, but once you arrive you will almost certainly think the effort well worthwhile, if only because of the relative peace and quiet. Datça is low on specific sights, but it does have its own beaches, and a modern amphitheater where, in high summer, you can watch Hollywood movies against a spectacular marine backdrop.

In the common way of things, modern Datça has grown up a little way away from the original settlement. To find Eski (Old) Datça, you need to trek inland for three kilometers to a cute little village of old stone houses draped with bougainvillea. It’s here that you will find most of the more interesting places to stay. The Dede (Grandfather) Pansiyon, for example, consists of a cluster of self-contained apartments, each named after a different artist, and facing onto a wonderful pool and garden. Nearby, the Yağhane Pansiyon is a tiny yoga retreat run by a Turkish woman who walked, with her British husband, all the way from the UK to Turkey.

There is one even more spectacular hotel hidden away inland from Datça in Reşadiye, and that is the Mehmet Ali Ağa Konağı, an extraordinary Ottoman mansion set in glorious gardens that accommodates what must be some of the magnificent guestrooms in the whole country in surely the most unlikely of locations. Hard as it now seems to believe it, back in the 19th century this remote part of Turkey was governed from Reşadiye, and this was the home of the governor. Unfortunately, his was a family that eventually faded away, whereupon the house fell into the dead hands of the state. Eventually it was rediscovered by an İstanbul antique dealer who set about the daunting task of restoring it to its original splendor in as authentic a fashion as possible. The result is a marvel to behold — but you’ll have to be staying there or eating in the restaurant (or be a hotel inspector!) to be able to appreciate it.

Otherwise, Datça is basically a place to come to chill out and eat well in the fish restaurants that line the harbor, or at the slightly shambolic but wholly delightful Fevzi’nin Yeri (Fevzi’s Place), right in the middle of town. It also makes a great base for several interesting boat trips. In particular, it’s from here that you can sail to Knidos, at the very tip of the peninsula, where the Dorians founded a colony in around 400 B.C. Even today this is a stormy cape which sailors can find themselves unable to navigate. In the past, mariners were often marooned here for days on end, and the locals grew fat on the proceeds of catering for their needs. Probably the most famous individual to find himself inadvertently holed up here was St. Paul, who was on his way to stand trial in Rome when his ship was forced to linger in Knidos and wait for more favorable winds.

Perhaps the most impressive structure at Knidos (although there’s precious little to show for it today) was the circular Temple of Aphrodite, which was renowned for a statue of the goddess of love created by the famous fourth century B.C. Athenian sculptor Praxiteles. As the story goes, he originally created two statues of Aphrodite, one naked and one clothed, and offered them to the citizens of Kos. They chose the clothed version, leaving the naked one for the Knidians. Rumors of the statue’s beauty soon swept what was then Asia Minor, and King Nicomedia of Bithynia offered to pay off all the city-state’s debts if the Knidians would sell it to him. This they refused to do, and somehow the statue ended up in İstanbul (then Byzantium), gracing the Palace of Lauros. After that, its fate is unknown, although many people will know what the statue looks like without realizing it as a result of all the copies made later.

Aside from boat trips to Knidos, there are also regular ferries to the Greek islands of Rhodes and Simi in summer. Rhodes is well-known as the home of the medieval Knights of St. John, and Rhodes Town is one of the glories of the Eastern Mediterranean, albeit swamped with tourists in high season. Simi offers the more low-key attractions of a small Greek island, together with plenty of fish restaurants.

On the Hisarönü Peninsula, you can choose between overblown Turunç, a characterless package-holiday resort, and several more pleasant smaller places. Perhaps the most appealing is Bozburun, which hugs a small harbor and serves as the base for getting to another of Turkey’s more memorable hotels, Sabrinas Haus, which is most easily accessible by boat. Both Orhaniye and Selimiye on the north coast offer a handful of boutique hotels, as does Hisarönü itself, which has several hotels and pensions dispersed around what is barely even a village. Orhaniye also boats the Kızkumu (Maiden’s Beach), a strange underwater sandbar which enables bathers to look as if they are truly “walking on water.”

Public transport is in short supply out here, but it’s just about possible to get all the way down to Söğüt (Willow), a large village with a mixture of old and new buildings, and a tradition of ship-building. Here, the wonderful Villa Julia sits right on the beach, tucked up against a cliff in splendid isolation. From the upstairs balconies you gaze out across bougainvillea on a flawless seascape. It’s the sort of view brochure makers would give their eyeteeth for.

Söğüt’s other great asset is the Denizkızı (Mermaid) Restaurant. Like Sabrinas Haus, this is most readily accessible by boat. What could be more romantic than being picked up from your hotel, ferried to a delightful fish restaurant, then dropped back again afterwards in the same way?

WHERE TO STAY

Dede Pansiyon, Eski Datça Tel.: (252) 712 3951

Yağhane Pansiyon, Eski Datça Tel.: (252) 712 2287

Mehmet Ali Paşa Konağı, Reşadiye Tel.: (252) 712 9257

Sabrinas Haus, Bozburun Tel.: (252) 456 2045

Villa Julia, Söğüt Tel.: (252) 496 5001

HOW TO GET THERE

The nearest airports to Marmaris are in Dalaman and Bodrum. In high season there are ferries from Bodrum to Datça. Otherwise, regular buses link Marmaris with Datça, with local buses from Datça to Eski Datça and, less frequently, to Reşadiye. Far fewer buses connect Marmaris with Orhaniye, Selimiye, Hisarönü and Söğüt — you’re better off hiring a car.


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