Isobel Finbow looks beyond the bars and beaches to find the real Marmaris

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Standing at the front of the ship, arms spread-eagled, head tipped back and mouth gaping to drink in the air, I felt a joyous sense of disorientation. Then as the pirate-like wooden vessel lapped over the water, I faced the harbour and remembered that I was, after all, in Marmaris.

Yes, the Turkish town Marmaris, best known for sunloungers, beaches and not much else. Although there’s no denying the presence of McDonald’s, baseball caps and bargain beers, scratch the surface a little and there is evidence that the town, where the Mediterranean Sea meets the Aegean, has not lost all its tradition and culture. Rural Marmaris might well be one of Turkey’s best-kept secrets.

An hour and a half’s drive from Dalaman, its gateway airport, Marmaris’s reliably good weather and cheap hotel beds – there are more than 60,000 of them – have long been a pull for British tourists who, until recently, have largely been herded in and left to their own devices.

But hoteliers are upping their game and beginning to develop higher-end, boutique options that leave the tacky three-star stereotype in the dust.

There’s more to Marmaris than meets the eye – so don’t let your clients miss the boat.

ISN’T MARMARIS JUST SUN, SAND AND SEA?



Once visitors go off-piste in Marmaris, there is a whole host of sights and activities available that will leave them with a real taste of the region, and some fantastic photos to boot.

Half an hour’s walk from the hotels that stretch along a segment of the coast is the marina. The seventh-largest in the world, the marina is flanked by bars, cafes and the odd kebab joint – though the doners here are a million miles away from your average British takeaway.

Gulets are perfect for a bit of nautical escapism. Available for day trips and longer expeditions, these large traditional wooden sailing boats are typically equipped with a bar and sunloungers. The ship on which I found myself having a Titanic-style Jack and Rose moment passed hidden coves and billionaires’ super-yachts. We even stopped to have a dip by Roman Abramovitch’s liner. Turk Yacht has a fleet of varying sizes available for private charter.

But the real treat is when you get out of the town. Hire a car to wind up through mountain roads, where every corner reveals a new vista of the coastline – and these will be even more accessible with new bike routes being added in April. If clients prefer not to drive, Attraction World offers a day-long Ecoventure off-road safari from £28 per adult and £14 per child.

The further from town, the more rustic the scenery: you might see tethered goats, horse drawn buggies or blue beehives stacked on the roadside. Beekeeping is a key part of Marmaris culture, and the honey museum in the village of Osmaniye is well worth a visit. Entry to the honeycomb-shaped building is free, but don’t miss the yoghurt and honey served at the museum’s cafe: so good it’s sure to take the edge off any sting.

Follow in the footsteps of the mythical maiden at Kizkumu who, according to local legend, is said to have stained the sands red with her blood and left a perfect pathway of shallow water across the bay in a tragic tale of lost love, before heading to Selimiye for lunch. This village is the jewel in the crown of the Marmaris coastline, its huge horizon, quirky cafes and restaurants lining a shore of clear water. It’s known locally for the longevity of its residents, who commonly live well into their 90s, supposedly due to high oxygen levels from the pine trees and a Mediterranean diet of fresh fish and olive oil. There are plenty of restaurants, but the traditional feast of fried squid, octopus and grilled mushrooms at Sardunya restaurant makes a great accompaniment to the awesome coastal backdrop.

 Marmaris

AREN’T HOTELS CHEAP AND CHEERFUL?



While there are countless value options in Marmaris, several chic and quirky hotels are making waves. Within the town is the glitzy D-Resort Grand Azur. Decked out more like an Abu Dhabi shopping mall than a five-star hotel, Grand Azur has recently opened an upper roof level, complete with Argentine-inspired steak restaurant. The style-conscious owner takes regular trips to London to suss out foodie trends, which is evident in the wide tables and iPad menus.

Twenty minutes from the town is Marti Hemithea Hotel, nestled in a pine-enclosed marina. Looking over the ruins of a Byzantine church, the hotel has fabulous harbour views and offers a five star dining experience, as well as infinity pools and Jacuzzis.

The Dionysos Estate is, if you can stomach the hairpin bends to get there, the most stunning and secluded spot in the region. With an infinity pool that appears to plunge into the ocean 100 feet below and a view framed by cacti, the vibe of the place is very much “mi casa es su casa” and you’re likely to find yourself chatting with fellow guests and hotel staff at the poolside bar. Children under 14 were not allowed until recently, but the peace is upheld by the disarming owner, who bribes little ones into submission with ice cream.

ISN’T IT JUST A SUMMER HOTSPOT?



Summer might be when it’s most sizzling, but for active and more mature travellers, spring and autumn work equally well. Even in late October, temperatures hover around the low to mid-20Cs and, crucially, the hordes have gone.

This is ideal for activities such as hiking and cycling, which are far more pleasant in the shoulder seasons, but it works for sightseeing too.

A river boat trip from Dalyan passing by the Royal Tombs – elaborate temples built improbably into the hillside – is much more enjoyable in the cooler weather. And to cap it off, the boats call at Iztuzu Beach via a rickety jetty, famous as a seawater turtle breeding ground, which in October is impressively empty.