Lean in. I want to tell you something.
I’ll whisper it in your ear so no one else can hear.
The Datça Peninsula is Turkey’s best-kept secret.
But shhh, don’t tell a soul, because we need to keep it that way.
Pete, my parents-in-law and I rolled into this dreamy slice of Turkey’s Turquoise Coast on a sunshiny August afternoon, just as the shadows were starting to lengthen and a soft breeze was finally lifting some of the heat out of the day. We’d glimpsed slivers of village life out the car window as we drove in – rickety roadside bread stands, a lone tree with a crate of watermelons resting underneath, an old man shuffling past a crumbling white-washed wall – and we were desperate for more.
So before even dropping our bags at our hotel, we wandered the bougainvillea-lined cobbled streets of the surrounding village and felt as though we’d stumbled into a land that time forgot. We didn’t see a single other tourist – just a huddled group of old men playing cards, women gossiping and laughing in their backyards over steaming pots of tea, the odd candy-coloured vintage car and a few fallen pomegranates.
It was everything we’d been looking for; our own secret hideaway.
As the sun started to set we ambled back to our home for the next two nights, the Mehmet Ali Aga Mansion, and quickly discovered that things were only going to get better. Much, much better. We entered this Ottoman-style mansion, which dates back to 1809, and were walked through the wild gardens, past towering prickly pear cacti, softly waving palms, a citrus grove and tumbling pink and white bougainvillea, to our room in the mansion section of the property (there are five of these, plus 13 modern Ottoman rooms in three stone buildings.)
Our bathroom was concealed in a cedar wood wardrobe. There was a tea enclave just next door strewn with antique kilim floor cushions. Downstairs was a wood-fired hammam. It was our hotel des rêves.
The following morning, we headed to the picturesque port in Datça town where ice-cream stands almost outnumbered the number of boats bobbing on the water. We boarded a little white one heaped high with burgundy cushions which, captained by a rather hunky Fabio of a captain, was taking us out exploring for the day.
Off we sailed along the coast, trailing our fingers in the crystal-clear waters, passing raggedy grey cliffs topped with olive groves and the occasional stately yacht, and feeling completely overwhelmed by the towering skies and open horizons, until we found the perfect place to drop anchor. Pete and I splashed into the turquoise waters, swam our way over to the grey pebbly beach backed by lush forest, scrambled up onto a rock hand in hand to escape a rogue gang of wasps, then paddled back to the boat for our barbecue lunch. A sunshine-soaked afternoon that will forever have its own special pocket in my heart.
We could barely tear ourselves away the following day; we all agreed that this was a place we could rest easy in for a very long time. Buy a boat, explore the coast, do up an old home, maybe even join the local card club. But all that would have to wait, because we had places to be. Kalkan to be exact – certainly a more discovered section of the coast, but luckily we had a little stretch of it all to ourselves at Hotel Villa Mahal.
Perched on a hillside overlooking Kalkan Bay and the glittering waters of the Mediterranean, we had a quick dip in the infinity pool, then grabbed our glasses of rosé and headed down the cobbled steps (there are a thigh-burning 181 of them) to what you really stay at this hotel for: the private cliffside beach area. As the sun set, I stripped off into my crocheted All That Remains one piece, then we harpooned our bodies into the salty sea, giggling like kids.
There were some big challenges to face at Villa Mahal the next day. Should we lie on the sun lounges by the water, or the bamboo hanging chairs in the gazebo? Should we take the hotel’s private boat across the bay to do a spot of shopping in the narrow alleyways now, or later? What would the best time for a seaside massage be? And, most importantly, what kind of wine did we want to drink with our prawns at lunchtime?
Sweet dreams really are made of these.