I’m sitting underneath an umbrella on a terrace in Bodrum, having a Turkish coffee.
This will keep going on for some hours if not days. It’s tasty and strong. Next to me, there’s a mandarin tree. In front of me, there are some fishing boats rocking from left to right. The horizon is scattered with boat masts. From little sailing boats to superyachts and gulets, the traditional wooden sailing boats from Bodrum.
The sun is glittering on the water. Between the masts, the medieval Bodrum castle is prominently present. When I look a bit further I can see the Greek island of Kos. There’s a German shepherd dog keeping me company. It’s a wild dog but she looks like she just came from the beauty salon. There’s not a single cloud in the sky. I breathe the ocean air and observe the relaxed ambiance of the ‘mahfel’, the gathering place.
On the table next to me some old but cheerful men are playing backgammon. I hear their chips clicking. There’s the occasional sound of the steering spoons in typical Turkish tea glasses, and my favorite sound, the constant sound of the sea. People are chatting Turkish around me.
By now I know a few words like teşekkür (thank you), elenize sağılık (To thank the cook), and şerefe (Cheers). I’ve got to work on this. And I will because I’m not going anywhere. I love it so much here, so I decided to stay around and discover more. There’s so much to explore!
3 weeks ago I had absolutely no idea about Bodrum, Turkey. I had never been to Turkey and my image of Turkey travel WAS ‘all-inclusive, sun sea and resorts.’
Friends and family found it strange and worrying that I was going there. Because the news says it’s not the right moment with unfortunate situations and events. Wrong! It’s exactly the right moment. My instinct has not let me down. In fact, it has gone beyond expectations.
Here are some thoughts on what has made an impression so far.
The hearts of the people in Bodrum
The people I have met are so warm and hospitable. They share stories about their life and Turkish traditions with excitement. They are the most generous people who don’t just care about themselves. They laugh, they joke, and they are proud to be Turkish. They invite me for coffee and let me in their homes. They walk an extra mile to help out with whatever. With full attention, they take their time to read your future from the leftovers of a Turkish coffee.
I’m impressed by the efforts made to support each other and the local economy. They live by the rule ‘if your neighbor has it, buy it from them. If the village has it, buy it from them, if the town has it, buy it from them.’ But many people I have met also just grow their own mandarins or olives, collect their herbs from nature or make their own cheese from the milk of a cow they have.
Traditions are preserved and this helps the place to remain authentic.
Getting cultured in Bodrum city
Generally, I’m not a city person, too busy and crowded. I love nature, tranquility, and swimming in the sea. Bodrum has that, without the noise. And more.
The city is a beautiful mix of nature, culture, modern life and history that goes back 3000 years. It’s the fisherman of Halicarnassus that put Bodrum on the map for the artists, writers, culture and nature lovers. Just a stroll through the sokak (street) is like visiting a museum.
If you walk up the hill you can stand in an ancient amphitheater, still in use for summer concerts, and have a magnificent view over the white city of Bodrum, its huge harbor and the bay with the beach.
Bodrum used to be home to one of the seven world wonders: the Mausoleum, of which you can visit the remains and a replica.
There is the Medieval castle which hosts the underwater Archaeology museum with one of the most special archaeological discoveries of time: the ‘Uluburun shipwreck.’ Myndos gate, the city walls, old houses, towers, and structures throughout the city make Bodrum an open-air museum. 200-year-old windmills mark the landscape on the north side of Bodrum.
Domed water systems are scattered through down, used as water catchments. No buildings are allowed to be higher than 2 floors which make it a beautiful scene.
Bodrum also has one of the most impressive maritime museums in the world. A must for every sailor to visit!
The lively street ambiance in Bodrum
I’ve seen him many times now: the melon man driving through the streets screaming in Turkish. He has some HUGE kavuns (melons) for sale. Also the old man in his tractor still happily drives through the ancient streets making you feel like back in the old days.
Elsewhere throughout the streets, soaked almonds are being sold, mussels with lemon (this seems to go on 24/7), and ice cream, loads of ice cream. Bodrum has a thriving art scene with painters, jewelry makers, musicians, galleries, street exhibitions, and performances. It’s a creative and entrepreneurial town. No wonder, in such an inspirational setting. Its streets are typical Mediterranean style: narrow, to give shade. White walls and sunny skies are covered with grape plants, the purple Bougainvillea or the Hibiscus surf flower.
Architecture goes way back and ruins are turned into restaurants, bars, and houses. Most of the houses have blue paint around the windows and doorstep. It’s believed that keeps the scorpions away.
Then there’s the boulevard with hip coffee places, restaurants and cocktail bars with a view. As the sun sets it becomes fully alive with people making a stroll, having a laugh with their friends, making music, showing their artwork, or selling foods. With lounge chairs, chill out music and Nargile (waterpipe), the bars and restaurants make an effort to optimize chillaxing time in the bay. It’s vibrant, outdoorsy and alive.
The nightlife is booming. With live music, hipster bars in old ruins and open-air disco dancings mixing Turkish drama music with European house beats, there is entertainment for everyone. It’s Ramadan. Still, I see as many women as men in the street. I thought I should dress quite modest here. But it doesn’t seem the norm here. Everyone seems to wear whatever they like. It’s a liberal town and as a solo female traveler, I’m feeling completely safe and at ease.
The Bodrum peninsula, in and around.
Bodrum city lies in the Bodrum peninsula. With such a large coastline and islands all around, I could stay here until next year and definitely not get bored. But also inland there are loads to explore. The region is scattered with ancient ruins.
There’s remains to be found from way before year 0. The city of Stratoicea I found most impressing. Here you can get lost in a 2000-year-old ancient town. It’s well preserved but not regulated or protected in any way. May you visit: please don’t climb the 2000-year-olds pillars and stone formations. The backcountry is also where you’ll find rough landscapes, stunning views, local producing and life as the inhabitants have been living for generations.
Impressive are the olive trees, some of them to be believed 1000 years old! The Bodrum region is important for olive and olive oil. I visited an olive factory where the villagers can bring their own olives and get them processed into olive oil to bring back home.
If you want to go off the path in adventure style, check out Outdoor Difference where knowledgeable locals, dedicated to maximizing community-based tourism, give you a perfect introduction to the real Turkey. You can also go local style on yourself and take a Dolmus bus. They can bring you to any part of the peninsula. It’s a fun and an adventurous way to go around. You can hop on the bus in the ‘garage,’ the bus station, or just raise your hand in the street and the bus will stop.
Bodrum, a vegetarian food heaven
The Turkish cuisine is delicious. As a vegetarian, I find the options endless. My favorite is the ‘Mezze’ part of the meal, which is the appetizer and consists of a collection of small different dishes of local specialties. Perfect to try the local foods like smoked Eggplant, stuffed peppers, zucchini, hummus, spreads, and salads. And the olives! The black ones are the best I’ve tasted – ever. Fresh herbs like dill, parsley and rosemary are present in abundance in every dish. The lettuce, tomatoes, and cucumbers taste as they come straight from rich soil, not from a pesticide sprayed modified supermarket wrapped item. It’s delicious and so nutritional.
Eateries go from street food cheap local style to fancy high-end gourmet. I’m more of going local style so by now I’ve tried most of the vegetarian (and often vegan) street foods out there. For example Gözleme, a kind of bread pancake filled with spinach, cheese, or potatoes. Also, Kumpir is a street food not to miss, it’s like a jacket potato. If you want something sweet and not so healthy, try lokma balls!
Other works of art are the bakeries. Try the local Simit, a circle bread with sesame and sometimes stuffed with chocolate, cheese or spinach. Around 5 it’s tea time and you can pick one the coffee bars for a Turkish coffee or Tea with a rose or mandarin flavored Turkish delight. If you pick the local place, it’s really cheap.
The sailing hub of Turkey
I’m extremely happily surprised by the thriving watersports potential I discovered here, sailing in particular. Bodrum has more boats parked than cars. It is the sailing hub of Turkey and for a reason. With so many islands, remote beaches, and turquoise bays, Bodrum is a gateway to heaven. This is the place where Mavi Yolculuk, a ‘blue voyage,’ originates.
It all began with sünger (sponge diving), where the divers started taking their friends out on their diving Gulets. These are big beautiful traditional wooden yachts, still being handcrafted in Bodrum today. Over the years more people have discovered this paradise lifestyle. A blue voyage is a journey to get fully energized in nature. It allows for destination exploration beyond the crowd, multiple jumps in the sea per day, falling asleep under the stars while breathing the fresh air from the sea. And making great new friends sharing the fun. This experience makes you feel 100% alive and excited. For me, it is a must.
With visiting dozens of bays and inlets, blue voyages also provide loads of exploration below the surface. As a freediver, I am particularly interested in the sponge diving. The Aegean is where this underwater art originates 3000 years ago. So I went to look for a diver and found one who passionately explained to me all about it.
Sponge diving, the ‘gold from the bottom,’ is a challenging practice. The sponge has to be cut at depth. It has to be cut correctly in order for the sponge to be able to continue to grow, which takes 3-5 years. The quality of the sponge depends on the depth they take it from. As from 40 meters you can find qualified sponges. The deeper it’s taken from the more soft and expensive they are. It’s a good sponge when they have big holes and go back to its shape after squeezing them. Sponges are still being dived for today but most ’sünger’ man prefer to use their boats for simply blue voyages now.
I’ve jumped in myself and seen the gold of the sea flourishing at the bottom. The waters along the Turkish Aegean are crystal clear. Its underwater geology is spectacular with walls, cliffs, and caves. Also, many shipwrecks are to be found. And strangely enough, ceramic plates. I haven’t figured out yet what’s the deal with that but everywhere underwater there are some plates (Crazy Greek parties?). Let me know may you know. There is not much fish life and this worries me. So does the number of plastic bottles I found on the shorelines. This region is no exception. I see it everywhere in the world and it’s a problem we have to tackle all together. We have got to become part of the solution, and not the problem.
I am happy to get to know the Turkish culture. I have visited more than 40 countries but this place is so unique on it own. And I have only experience an eeny tiny part of this immense country. I feel relaxed, at ease and alive discovering all the Turkish excitement. I feel 100% safe and cultured and energized and still don’t have the plan to leave anytime soon.
I got to go back to my Gulet now. The sea is calling so I’m going on another Mavi Yolculuk (Blue voyage). So much more to explore!
All opinions are my own and no one is paying me to write this. Some accommodation and experiences were provided by the Turkish Tourism board and the hospitable tourism stakeholders of the Bodrum peninsula.
A special shout out to The Blue Cruise that has been made possible by Barbaros Yachting, a professional local Gulet holiday operator which I highly recommend. The value is just amazing. More photos of the sea adventures to be found on my Instagram and Facebook.
Thank you, Inma (A world to travel) for sending me this way. Thank you Turkey tourism for facilitating the trip. Your introduction made me stay. Who knows for how long… And thank you to all lovely people I have met that made my impressions of Bodrum way beyond expectations.
About Suzanne, the author
Suzanne is an ambassador for adventure and advocate for sustainability. With her extreme curiosity for discovering new cultures, places, she has been slow traveling around the world for +11 years now. As an ocean adventurer and advocate, she’s always looking for the next cool coastal town, water play potential and ways to protect the playground, the ocean in particular. With her blog DestinationXploration, she aims to inspire and broaden minds, to make others aware of how they can get the absolute most out of active travel and (long-term) adventures. Not just for themselves, but for the places and people they are visiting, that are in most cases less fortunate than the traveler.