When I was first asked to review a hotel in Bodrum, Turkey, I had flashbacks of the last time I was there 15 years ago. Said flashbacks included seedy nightclubs, traumatic haggling over fake Oakley sunglasses and lots of rather rowdy “lads on-tour”. The Turkish coastal town of Bodrum has previously had a bit of an edgy reputation as a package-holiday mecca. But times have changed and although there are still coach tours and all-inclusives, Bodrum and the surrounding coastline have had a seriously glam make-over and the area is now living up to its name as the Turkish Riviera. With a new, more sophisticated look, there are luxury hotels a-plenty, shops selling gorgeous beachwear and restaurants for serious foodies.
We arrived at the Kempinski Barbaros Bay near Bodrum late at night, tired and peckish (why does traveling always make you so hungry?). My apprehension fuelled by those not-so-nice memories of Bodrum was put to rest immediately on entering this beautiful property (no lads on-tour here). The staff were exceptionally welcoming and realising we were probably ready for bed, ushered us to our rather splendid room where there were bowls of fresh strawberries and apricots lying in wait (yummy!). Our room was spacious, with a ridiculously comfy bed and equipped with everything we needed for a happy holiday (including a dental kit which was particularly useful for someone like me who always forgets their toothbrush). There was also the added bonus of a balcony, perfectly sized for morning yoga and with views across the sea to the other side of the peninsula.
After a long, much-needed sleep we awoke to the sun shining through our windows and a view of the turquoise ocean. Breakfast in the hotel is served between 7am and 11am so there is plenty of time to ease into your holiday. And if you need a little more sleep, breakfast can be served on your balcony at any time during the day. As a breakfast-lover I can be a little critical of hotel breakfasts but I can’t find a bad word to say about this one. The morning feast at the Kempinski Barbaros Bay knocks socks off every other hotel breakfast I have ever had. I won’t go on too long as you may not be as passionate about breakfast as me, but this sumptuous selection of fresh, homemade, (mainly) healthy food has something for everyone – Paleo, raw, vegan, gluten-free, lactose-free (they even have lactose-free milk and gluten-free breads) or lovers of a little-bit-of-everything. My mornings kicked off with fresh cherries, cantaloupe melon, strawberries and mint tea followed by a bowl of porridge topped with homemade peanut butter, walnuts, cinnamon and dried strawberries (there is actually a whole area of the buffet devoted to nuts, seeds and dried fruits – heaven!). And men needn’t fear a lack of man-food – there are plenty of eggs, fish and cold meats on offer.
Post-morning feasting, you can make your way down to the enormous pool, the beach or the sun deck. There is no rush to the sun-loungers and sun-lounger booking techniques are seriously frowned upon. Plus there are more than enough sun-loungers to go around and each one has an umbrella, catches a bit of sun and has a sea view. We spent our first morning at lazing around the pool still recovering from “Londoner fatigue syndrome”.
With a little bit more energy in the bank and fuelled by our rather substantial breakfast, we headed to the beach for a sporty afternoon of stand-up paddle boarding. In order to ensure everyone is happy, there are child-friendly and adult-only sections of the beach as well as sun loungers on the sand and sun loungers scattered around the manicured gardens set back from the water’s edge – ideal for those who find getting sand everywhere a little annoying. With its array of watersports (stand-up paddle boards, kayaks, sailing, windsurfing and motorised sports such as wakeboarding), hidden-away hammocks and a bar serving freshly squeezed juices, the Barbaros Bay beach is a perfect hangout for the super active as well as the not-so-active.
Following our active afternoon, we indulged ourselves with a blissful candle-lit massage at the hotel spa. And without sounding cliché, this isn’t your average spa. There is an indoor pool and jacuzzi, two Turkish hammams (one for the boys and one for the girls), saunas and steam rooms (yes, plural), treatment rooms for pretty much every spa treatment you can think of (they even offer underwater shiatsu massage), a hair and nail salon as well as an impressive gym complete with a brand new Pilates reformer machine. In addition, the outdoor deck hosts complementary group Pilates classes in the morning and candle-lit yoga classes one evening every week. I attended one of the Pilates classes and because it was only me crazy enough to get up early on holiday for Pilates in the Turkish sun, the lovely instructor gave me a private class on the reformer machine followed by a delicious ginger tea. If you are in need of a super-detox, the spa also offers “purification packages” for 3 or 7 days which include treatments, fresh juices and personal training. You can also throw in some Pilates and yoga to ensure you come home well and truly detoxified.
When the sun starts going down, you can take your pick from four equally delicious restaurants, all of which have indoor or al-fresco dining (by 8pm it is cool enough to eat outside). The main restaurant, Olives, is a dinner buffet on the same grand scale as breakfast with an abundance of fresh salads, cold and warm options, Turkish mezzes (so delicious!) and fresh fish cooked in front of you. There is also a dessert bar of note, where you can pick and mix mini-desserts or opt for a healthier handful of dried fruit and nuts or even a little dark choccy with a cup of herbal tea. The supper alternatives are all a la carte and include The Saigon Club which serves Asian-fusion food, La Luce, an Italian serving pasta, fish and meat and the Barbaros Beach Restaurant for grilled sea food and salads on the beach.
Pilates, lots of swimming in the sea, snorkelling, paddle boarding and lounging around (which in itself is quite draining when done at 34 degrees) meant come night time we were pretty tired in a happy, healthy way. At the end of our 4 day trip we didn’t want to leave this little slice of paradise and its breakfast-from-heaven and wished we were staying a little longer. My previous memories of holidays in Turkey have been wiped out and replaced by a magical mini-break at the seriously hip and healthy Kempinski Barbaros Bay.
You can fly direct to Bodrum airport from airports all over the UK on Easyjet, Monarch or Thomas Cook. Return flights cost about £200 per person but mixing and matching airlines can save you a few pennies which you can spend on that extra spa treatment! The best times to visit are between March and November, with July and August being the busiest and hottest months. Temperatures either side of the summer are still in the twenties meaning it is the perfect location for a spring or autumn wellbeing mini-break. Nightly rates at the Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay start from around £180 per night, based on a double occupancy with breakfast included. To book contact Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay +90 252 3110303 or visit www.kempinski.com/bodrum.
words by Kathleen Fleming