Bodrum, Turkey sailing tour: An ancient land's turquoise coast

"You still going to Turkey?" came the text message from one of our kids the morning of the suicide bombings at Istanbul airport. It was only hours before we were to fly out to rendezvous with my London-based brother who was hosting  his family on a seven-day Aegean Sea cruise in celebration of his 70th birthday.

Fortunately, we were first flying to Krakow for a week before our planned family get-together in the Turkish coastal town of Bodrum.  By the time we reached Istanbul, the only evidence of the attack on the airport was the splintered glass on the airbridges linking terminals, and bullet holes covered with crossed masking tape.

Turkey is a great country to visit if you want to see order quickly restored, even though most of the political problems are home made – points chillingly reinforced by the time we exited Turkey.

Six million Russians have been holidaying in Turkey every year but the numbers plummeted to a million when the Turkish air force shot down a Russian plane near the border.  President Putin retaliated by ordering his country's travel agents to not book holidays to Istanbul and Ankara.  

Germans and the English still come but are warned not to join big crowds or book hotel rooms adjacent to the lobby where bomb blasts are more likely to maim or prevent escape.  Preferred rooms are on the third and fourth floors.

In Bodrum, an hour's flight from Istanbul, a harbour choked with unchartered tourist boats conveyed the same message. Our 30-metre gulet, a traditional Turkish wooden sailing vessel, would normally have made six trips by the time our mid-July voyage began, but ours was its first for the season.

Few refugees are chancing the five-kilometre journey from the Turkish coast to the Greek Island of Kos, seeking passage to Europe instead from Libya.  However, the people-smuggling trade has virtually emptied the south-westerly coastline of non-luxury vessels.  There were occasional sobering sightings of wrecked fishing boats on isolated beaches, blunt reminders of this trade in human desperation.

There are mixed emotions in reflecting on this, other people's misery,  while we are on a celebratory cruise but we were moved by the determination of our Turkish crew to ensure the tourists who have chosen to not cancel will have a great time and persuade others to visit this extraordinary part of the world.  

Cem, the guide, lays down just two rules – no footwear on the wooden decks and no paper down the toilets to challenge the fragile sewerage system. No workplace safety lecture on location of lifebuoys or inflatable vests, or practice alarms. "Sunworld-8" has eight spacious cabins to accommodate up to 17 passengers with en suites and airconditioning and ample space to store a suitcase each. The many comfortable sunlounges provided lots of private space on deck and also invited passengers to sleep under the stars if they chose and awaken to a fiery crimson sunrise.


Captain Tayfun (pronounced "Typhoon") lived up to his name just once when a rogue wave tilted the boat sharply sideways, cascading the heavier bodies across the deck. "No more travelling accidents," promised Heinrich,  our on-board  archaeologist. Nor were there.

Heinrich is a German-born archaeologist whose passion for ancient  history and ruins is surpassed only by his love of a lunchtime beer, or glass of wine at dinner. We dubbed his habit of waving away a sixth beer or third glass of wine with a "no, no",  instantly followed by "perhaps one more", the "Heinrich Manoeuvre".

Every meal is a healthy delight. Plump cherries in July for breakfast, along with peeled tomato, cucumber, french toast and fruity home-made apricot or quince jam. Lunch was a colourful array of exotic salad dishes that would have taken two cabin staff a morning of peeling and chopping.

Dinner offerings could be freshly caught sea bass or bream or a variety of meats other than pork. One evening we had dinner ashore at a picture-postcard port restaurant. The amply bare-bellied Turkish owner sat at a corner table, served by his grandson, enjoying the sight of scarce European visitors consuming octopus and calamari. A dessert of melted halva was a shockingly sweet change from the watermelon that usually concluded every meal.

The gulet is a coast hugger ensuring close views of the sparkling "Turquoise Coast". The gem turquoise, first taken  to Europe from Turkey in the 17th century, in fact derives its name from the French "turques" for Turks.

The captain anchored to allow us, with access via a wharf or rubber dicky, to explore fortresses, with their amphitheatres and semi-circular tiers of seats surrounded by ancient olive trees.

He met all my brother's requests, except the impossible task of finding a sandy beach. But with fine weather, duck-egg-blue cloudless skies, mostly smooth sea, multiple coves and inlets, each with its own chapter of history – no-one complained.

 It's always a short swim to shore, although the sharp rocks and spear-like grass are discouraging. 

The sea is so warm and salty there is little need for buoyancy noodles even for feeble swimmers, and kayaks are available for the more energetic. Our host loathes shopping and is disinterested in archaeological sites, or "rocks" as he calls them. He rearranged the original itinerary cutting out resort towns and a long day sail to Ephesus. As I had been to Ephesus a few years ago I had no complaint, but for first-time visitors to this part of the world I would say that this jewel of the ancient world is a must.

We therefore spent more leisurely time under full sail and at anchor in glorious inlets, swimming, playing Scrabble, sketching, reading, dozing in the sun and visiting alternative archaeological sites not so commonly visited by tourists. One such ancient settlement is Knidos, first inhabited in 300BC but not seriously excavated by Turkish archaeologists until 1996.

It is a setting of great natural beauty where it is said that 50,000 people once lived on the slopes surrounding an isthmus between two harbours. Its relative inaccessibility by land meant  most of the stonework remains, although the statue of a lion was actually rescued from a local farmer using it as a part of a fence.

My niece, who owns an interior design business in London, pointed out the egg-and-dart pattern on the cornice of part of the altar to Apollo, a style again in vogue in trendy Mayfair salons. Her brother was more interested in the location of Knidos on the route between Asia Minor and Greece-Rome and the claims it was once the party capital of the ancient world, an equivalent of Spain's Ibiza today.

On the morning of our last day at sea we learnt, via reasonably reliable Wi-Fi, of the massacre in Nice when a truck mowed down tourists celebrating Bastille Day. Suddenly, the Aegean looked like one of the safest places on Earth. But that very night, we were woken with news of a coup against the Turkish president who was holidaying at Marmaris, a  coastal resort 100 kilometres to the east of us.

The crew looked ashen, aghast for what it might mean for their country and fearful that this would further damage the tourist trade coming on top of so many cancellations of late-September-October bookings. Heinrich was in constant contact with colleagues via mobile phone and considered booking us on a ferry to Kos and rescheduling our flights ex Athens.

However, the rebellion – so bizarre it prompted sceptical suggestions it was staged – was quickly put down, but not before hundreds were killed.

By 9am, we anchored at Bodrum and walked to our hotel, with the luggage following by taxi. Hotel Su, with its brightly coloured rooms around a large rectangular swimming pool, was the perfect walled sanctuary to await the news of likely disruption of travel plans 

The  loudspeakers of the city's mosques had broadcast a message that morning that was different from the usual call to prayer, causing some unease, validated when we learnt it was rarely used and traditionally only to honour martyrs.  

Half our group is London based, with direct flights from Bodrum, and were able to leave the next day.

The Australian contingent was booked via Istanbul but fortunately not for a further two days, during which time flights resumed, the coup leaders were arrested, soldiers imprisoned, most of the judiciary sacked and President Erdogan talked about restoring the death penalty.

It was he who ordered the country's nearly 85,000 mosques to encourage people to take to the streets to protest against his enemies.  Which they did in Istanbul and Ankara in frightening angry numbers. Yet in Bodrum, we were able to walk the relatively empty streets at lunchtime the next day as shopkeepers and restaurant owners earnestly beckoned us inside.

Australians traditionally spend just under three weeks when travelling to Europe, with Turkey a popular destination. That timespan easily accommodates Bodrum, an Aegean cruise and spending time in Istanbul to visit the wondrous  Blue Mosque, the Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and perhaps to take a trip up the Bosphorus. 

However, Istanbul is currently a city with real travel risks.  Access to Bodrum, though, is possible via direct flights from London, Paris or Frankfurt, allowing a holiday in western Europe before relaxing in the Aegean.




Airlines flying from Sydney/Melbourne to Istanbul with a Turkish Airlines connection to Bodrum are Singapore Airlines, Thai, Etihad, Emirates/Qantas, Turkish Airlines, British Airways, Lufthansa, Air France and KLM.

Easyjet flies direct to Bodrum daily from Gatwick or Stanstead

There are seasonal flights to Bodrum once a week from Paris and Frankfurt

Bodrum airport to Bodrum is a 40-minute, 110 Turkish lira trip by taxi

Turkey requires a 90-day visa, which costs $US60 and is available online.


Peter Sommer Travels ( offers gulet trips to Turkey, Greece and Italy from April to October. An eight-day cruise south of Bodrum with archaeological guide costs £2225 each, with a single supplement of £615.


Bodrum's Hotel Su charges €120 for a double room, including breakfast. It is a seven-minute walk to the shop-lined harbour. A good bottle of red wine sells for 80 Turkish lira and a standard beer costs 12 Turkish lira. A dinner with multiple meat and seafood courses costs 60 Turkish lira.

Roy Masters travelled at his own expense.