Early evening in the small Turkish village of Orhaniye, and the sun has just dipped below the mountains. Above the jagged peaks, the sky is streaked with vivid golds and pinks, a chorus of cicadas warming up in the olive and citrus trees. As I swim in the pool, the call to prayer echoes out from the mosque behind our villa. It’s a beautiful moment; the kind you want to bottle and keep – and which could be nowhere else but Turkey.
Orhaniye is one of a clutch of sleepy fishing villages that dot the Bozburun peninsula, a jagged hook of land rolling south from the busy resorts of Marmaris and Icmeler. Favoured by the sailing crowd, its spectacular coastline and simple waterfront restaurants have remained relatively undiscovered by mainstream tourism. Most of the people who stay in the small, independently owned hotels or quiet villas are Turkish, giving the area an authentic, unspoilt feel that has been lost in some of the bigger, more mainstream resort.
Our base for the week is the rustically charming Villa Beyaz Gul, tucked away down an unmade lane around a kilometre inland from Orhaniye’s curved shoreline. When we first arrive, I worry we are a little isolated, but the warm welcome by Nur – the delightful Turkish owner, who has stocked the fridge for us with home-cooked dishes and platters of cheese and fruit – soon makes us feel comfortable. Beyond the pool and pristine gardens, the ramshackle village rolls away to the mountains: low-slung cottages, chickens, sheep ambling in the fields behind.
Orhaniye is most famous for the Kizkumu, a 600-metre spit of sand stretching across the shallow bay. Every visitor to Orhaniye walks the Kizkumu, creating the extraordinary sight of a stream of figures apparently walking on water. Further along the shore, a waterfront path links a clutch of small hotels and pensions with tranquil waterfront gardens and restaurant tables where you can dip your toes in the sea while you eat. To my delight, the traditional concept of meze bars – where you simply go and point at what you want from a selection of cold starters – is alive and well, and on our first night we gorge on roasted aubergine, yoghurt rich with garlic and spinach and a nutty, spicy dip.
Fifteen minutes’ drive along the coast lies Selimiye, the most developed of Bozburun’s villages. It’s a relative term – there are no high-rise hotels or big resorts, just a long waterfront, lined with restaurants and bougainvillaea-clad bars, and leafy streets dotted with boutique hotels and small shops.
Driving on the peninsula is an adventure in itself, with small roads cutting through the mountains and swooping down towards the sea. After a lazy day at the villa, we head to the mountain village of Bayir, in the middle of the peninsula, and down to Ciftlik, home to the region’s best beach, on the other side. In spite of its isolated location, Bayir proves to be surprisingly lively, with many of the tables taken in the shady cafés on the village square.
When the weather cools slightly, we decide to explore on foot. The Carian Trail, Turkey’s longest walking route, stretches into the peninsula, with yellow signposts leading to forested trails through unspoilt countryside. We opt for a less challenging route from the neighbouring village of Turgut that leads us to a clutch of small, crystal-clear pools where we dip our feet and munch on crispy borek.
We save Kizkumu beach until our last evening, when we follow Turkish families out along the spit, and stand, half a kilometre into the sea, with the water barely up our knees. I feel I could stand and stare for hours at the flaming orange sky, until I think of a cold Efes and a plate of meze by the sea. We wade slowly back to the shore, for a final idyllic dinner under the stars.
Cool as a breeze: three Bozburun villages perfect for lunch and a swim
At the far end of the peninsula, Sögüt is the most untouched of the villages, stretching for several kilometres from the mountain valley down to the shoreline. A popular sailing stop and for weekend lunch trips from Marmaris, Sögüt has some excellent fish restaurants; if you’re self-catering, this is the place to buy fresh fish and lobster straight off the boats.
Most famous for its shipbuilding – many of Turkey’s traditional wooden gulets began life in its boatyards – Bozburun is relatively undisturbed by tourism, although the picturesque harbour has a sprinkling of cafés and restaurants offering excellent meze and local dishes. Drop by on a Tuesday to see the village at its liveliest, when the market sells everything from fruit and veg to clothes and hardwares.
It’s easy to miss Amos bay, accessed by a winding road down through a clutch of holiday villas, but the beach itself is charming: an arc of soft pebbles, with just one restaurant offering traditional meze and fresh fish, served on a shady terrace. The water is crystal clear and offers great snorkelling, while up on the headland above the beach are the remains of an ancient amphitheatre.