Istanbul - The Bay of Marmaris is bathed in a golden glow as the speedboat heads for home at the end of our sunset cruise. We’ve explored hidden coves and marvelled at the soaring coastline on our two-hour trip and now, as the sun dips below the mountains, we’re savouring one final glass of champagne.
My wife Alison is at the wheel, looking tanned and relaxed with the wind in her hair. Skipper Serdar laughs with her (keeping a discreet eye on the throttle) before beckoning the young woman sitting next to me to take the helm.
her husband looks at Serdar anxiously. “You do realise she once drove her car into the front of our house!” he informs the skipper. Cue laughter all round.
But if Serdar is remotely alarmed at the prospect of handing over control of tens of thousands of pounds’ worth of precision marine engineering to someone who doesn’t know her brake from her accelerator, he doesn’t show it.
“She will be a very good driver,” he tells the husband. And, of course, under his reassuring guidance, she is. Serdar impressed us all with his friendly, unflappable attitude, but then so did all the staff at the Suntopia Marmaris Imperial hotel in south-west Turkey. In fact, few places do “chilled out” better.
Key to this is the Marmaris Imperial’s fabulous location at the opposite end of the bay to the town. Rare for a Mediterranean hotel, it is set amid a lush pine forest, on a narrow peninsula jutting out to sea. It was no surprise to learn that it has a Travelife Gold award for promoting sustainable holidays.
The bougainvillea-draped villas are built on the hillside leading up from the shore; ours was cleverly situated so we weren’t overlooked. Our living room opened on to a balcony where, each evening before dinner, we relaxed with a glass of wine while taking in the views.
The other reason for the all-pervading sense of calm is that the Marmaris Imperial is for couples only. This means you can relax undisturbed by the pools or on the private beach and enjoy meals without interruption from overwrought children or their stressed-out parents.
We travelled with Thomson, the only tour operator to feature the hotel, and staff went out of their way to suggest activities. Strictly speaking, there was nothing remotely “active” about the Turkish bath, foam massage and chocolate mask peel we enjoyed at the spa, or my Turkish shave - although watching in the mirror while the resort’s demon barber swept his cut-throat across my neck certainly had me sweating. But if we couldn’t be self-indulgent in this place, then where could we?
We tried our arm at archery, hit the gym on a couple of occasions and spent an exhilarating half-hour parasailing.
Ours was an all-inclusive package so at mealtimes we headed to the Olympos restaurant which, along with the Breeze Bar, is the focal point. Guests are also allowed dinner once a week at the Gunes aÌ’la carte restaurant while a third restaurant, the Harmony, right on the shore, is open for dinner on Saturdays.
The food was fresh, plentiful and excellent quality - fantastic fish and meat grilled in front of us by the chefs, sumptuous salads, mezes and flatbreads, the local honey and mouth-watering desserts such as baklava and kadayif.
If the food was good, the surroundings were even better: we enjoyed candlelit dinners on the terrace, gazing out across the bay towards the mountains and the distant twinkling lights of Marmaris. Utterly blissful . . . and made all the sweeter by the knowledge that back home it was chucking it down.
It’s easy to while away the days without venturing out of the hotel, but a trip into Marmaris should be on everyone’s itinerary. It is a 30-minute hop by water taxi, direct to the marina, where you can’t help but be impressed by the yachts of the rich and famous.
The road along the beachfront is lined with restaurants with proprietors standing outside urging you to look at their menus. It’s easy to be intimidated, but a polite “Later” will get them off your back.
Sometimes the banter can take a bizarre turn. “Computer say No,” quipped one owner after I’d rather haughtily ignored him. I chuckled - the catchphrase from TV’s Little Britain was spot-on but, in his thickly accented English, also quite surreal.
It’s worth noting that restaurants away from the harbour tend to be cheaper and many places also offer a fairly hefty discount if you pay in sterling or euros.
There’s interesting shopping, too, with plenty of bargains if you look beyond the usual tourist fare. Most of the designer- label clothing is fake but very cheap and surprisingly good quality - certainly better than just up the road at Icmeler market, where you could buy 25 pairs of socks for £10 (about R150) and the traders’ exhortations included such memorable lines as “Cheaper than Primark”, “Cheaper than eBay” and “Cheap as chip shops”!
For those wanting to venture further afield - to Ephesus, perhaps, or on a jeep safari into the mountains - tours can be arranged at the hotel. But you’ll find a bigger selection on offer in Marmaris. These range from swimming with dolphins in the harbour to all-day boat trips to the Dalyan river delta, the ruined ancient harbour of Caunos and the beach where giant loggerhead turtles lay their eggs. Most are very reasonably priced.
Marmaris really comes to life at night when tourists throng the beachfront bars and restaurants. We enjoyed dinner and a few drinks but as the hardcore party animals made their way to the clubs on Bar Street in the old town, we caught the water taxi back across the bay.
As the boat got under way and the lights and music receded into the darkness, we couldn’t help feeling very grateful that we were staying at the Marmaris Imperial. And just a little bit smug. - Mail on Sunday