Bodrum, Turkey, with baby
Federico F - Father and avid traveller,
January 8, 2016
Turkey it is this time. Bodrum, to be more precise. Bodrum is a district and a port city in Muğla Province, in the southwestern Aegean Region of Turkey. It is located on the southern coast of Bodrum Peninsula, at a point that checks the entry into the Gulf of Gökova, and is also the center of the eponymous district. The city was called Halicarnassus of Caria in ancient times and was famous for housing the Mausoleum of Mausolus, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Bodrum Castle was built by the Knights Hospitaller in the 15th century and that in itself may justify a visit to the city, unless you could not care less about the Order of St. John (originally known as Knights Hospitaller) and the centuries of (sometimes only political) fights against the Knights Templars, another Order in search of the Holy Grail and closely related to the Crusades (by the way, the Order of St John won the fight since a French King -Philip IV, if you ask- in 1307 ordered the killing of all Templars’ knights (some of them painfully burnt at the stake) and the confiscation of all the Order’s assets (castles, land, religious treasures, etcetera) which was very handy because, coincidentally, Philip IV was deeply in debt to the Templars Order).
If you do go for a walk across the supposedly pedestrian Bodrum’s Riviera, from where you can see (and also enter) the castle and which serpents the coastline filled with big boats on the sea side and shops and play-ground areas on the land side, please take care of speeding motorcycles, bicycles, trucks and cars, all coming from both directions but without following any straight line. Here, the concept of giving priority to pedestrians, no matter on board of what vehicle you are and even less matters whether you are circulating on a pedestrian path, is replaced by the law of power: namely, if I am bigger than you, or at least my vehicle is bigger than your two feet, then I naturally deserve to pass first. There is no apology, no sign of guiltiness or of shame from the perpetrator. Quite the opposite, they look at your as if you are deliberately obstructing their way. I was frantically trying to protect my children from being run over by these rolling meteorites coming from everywhere but the sky and was struggling to enjoy the walk.
It is the second week of April and the temperature is twenty three degrees Celsius. It is difficult to spot a cloud in the sky and the mild breeze feels like God’s hand gently caressing your face. The sea water enjoys a Caribbean colour that goes from deep blue to turquoise nearer the shores. The water temperature, however, is not so Caribbean. It is cold and my bravery or lack of it did not allow me to go any deeper than my knees (I am quite tall, if it helps, although it did not help my son who joined me holding hands).
To find hotels with heated outdoor pools is a challenge or rather mission impossible (save for Amanruya Resort which has a private outdoor heated pool in each room) but one might then have to go to the indoor pool, normally where the spa’s are located. Clearly, you won’t mind if you come over in the middle of the summer, where temperatures go up to thirty five degrees or higher and the word ‘rain’ is taken out of the Turkish dictionary until November when the rainy season begins and last well into March or early April.
Kempinski Barbaros Bay Bodrum
We stayed at the Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, where we were received very warmly. We arrived just after the last guests of the Easter holiday had left, for a hotel with around 150 rooms, there were only a bunch of guests -I suspect- since the swimming pool was empty, the spa was empty, the beach was empty and at the only open restaurant, we were the only table having dinner. Although a nice feeling that of having the hotel all for yourself, it also gives an eerie atmosphere to your holidays. Admittedly, the sense of loneliness lasted only two days since afterwards newcomers started filling the emptiness of the place. And, typically human nature, I did not welcome it either, the main reason being that they did not bring enough children whom my five year old son could play with.
April is low season in Bodrum and you notice it. Perhaps at the centre of the Easter season things become more lively but otherwise all hotels see their high season between May and August, stretching it to as far as September for some of them. Many five star hotels are even closed during the winter.
Due to my wife’s work, we had to inspect the most luxurious hotels in the area and so we went to see Amanruya Resort (from the Aman Resort chain), the Bodrum Palace and the Mandarin Oriental, all of them curiously having opened their doors recently (and there are some more high market hotels coming, like the Four Season Resort to be opened in a couple of years). Each of them have pros and cons but it is worth highlighting the level of flashiness and luxury seen at the Bodrum Palace, formerly known as Jumeirah Bodrum Palace. Even the toilets and everything inside (yes, everything) are gold painted. For those that are looking to park their kids into a Kids Club and forget about them for as many hours as possible, Jumeirah Bodrum Palace will be your preferred choice as the Kids Club has everything your cubs could wish for and perhaps -depending on how spoil they are at home- even more. And not just the Kids Club (which is virtually always in-door), there is also an outdoor swimming pool with slides and games for children, which awoke the child that is in me pushing me to raise my hand and scream for my share of the fun. But none of that happened because this hotel is opening in May 2015 and while we were touring the facilities there were a lot of workers putting the last touches to this amazing place. The only big (I mean, BIG) drawback of the Bodrum Palace is its terraced landscape which, although perfect for having a clean sea-view from every room, the roads within the resort are extraordinarily steep and I wonder how would a parent manage with a push-chair going down the roads. Yes, you can call an electric golf cart driven by a member of staff but then bear in mind you will be depending on them for moving from one corner to the other within the resort (true enough, that happens in most big resorts anyway). If your children are older and do not need push-chairs, just make sure they don’t go running down the steepstony roads or they may be in need of dentures.
All that said about the Bodrum Palace, the Mandarin Oriental would however be definitely my preferred choice were not for the fact that the little experience I had with its staff was not very positive. I had the impression that a few people working at the MO felt entitled to be arrogant and pejorative towards my enquiries and requests. But they deserve the benefit of the doubt as my stay with them was only for a few hours at most. Still, I left the hotel with a bad taste in my mouth and that did not advertise well with me.
Amanruya, by contrast, has everything you do not want to see if you are going with children. Steps everywhere, no Kids Club, steep and stony internal roads (perhaps not as steep as in the Bodrum Palace but somehow more problematic due to its many steps which makes electric golf carts not suitable to transport you within the resort -save for a 5 minutes trip to the beach), no verandas where they should obviously be some or surprisingly low ones when it looks even dangerous for an adult. But if you are on a honeymoon or a romantic holiday without offsprings, then this is a great choice of tranquility andrelaxation. It would also be the perfect place if you are planning to accidentally push your other half off the window. Seriously, the place is fantastic for couples and even for children with an appetite for country-side walks, discoveries in the wilderness and love for natural, unspoiled, landscapes. And the word ‘unspoiled’ is literal. This resort was built without cutting any single tree. Everything was built ‘around’ the existent vegetation and all materials used were locally sourced, like the enormous amount of marble used, which is Turkish marble. The architecture and design of Amanruya is a delight to the experts in refinement, in small details making a big impact, in a good and a delicate taste for the low profile but high-standard accommodation.
The Kempinski Barbaros Bay Bodrum is a bit of all that. Neither very luxurious (but definitely good high quality on most corners all around the hotel) nor without charm, it is a hotel that requires updating in some areas (e.g. the play-ground near the beach) while still enjoying its prestige, allowing you to relax and have some fun at either one of the two private beaches or the (indoor and outdoor) swimming pools. The Kids Club is … discrete. Not horribly bad or even bad, but equally you will definitely not feel you have arrived at Disneyland. Or even at the local Fun Fair that stays two weeks in your village. It is worth mentioning that staff at the Kids Club did absolutely every imaginable effort to entertain our son, although this happened only after I made a comment to the Guest Relationship Manager about the lack of activities seen for children even though there was an Activity Programme for every day of the week. I presume that due to the low level of guests they did not initially pay too much attention to the activity schedules, but when it was raised to their attention the management became very alert and attentive. However there were plenty of amenities for the children in the room, from baby cot to steriliser, toiletries, changing mat, you name it. My son was very excited with the welcome treats for the children in the room.
Welcome treats at the Kempinski Barbaros Bay Bodrum
The room service for lunch and dining is fantastic, providing good quality food. The restaurants, although due to being low season only two were opened for dining and three for lunch if I include the one at the beach, offer high quality meals, very nicely served and with a nice eye for details in the plate decoration. The variety of options in the menu were alright for a week's holiday unless you are a high-demand, high-maintenance gourmet. During high-season, the Kempinski Hotel has seven restaurants open. We stayed in a one-bedroom suite -all rooms have sea view- with a large balcony furnished with an out-door sofa nicely cushioned, chairs and a table which, together with the cool breezewrapping your skin, it made any attempt to go down to the pool a ridiculous effort.
Room Service at the Kempinski Barbaros Bay
I found the Turkish people generally very friendly and eager to please (the tourist). You should not take it for granted that everybody speaks English. Most don’t. But they will more often than not say yes to what you have just asked even though they do not have a clue of what you are talking about.
Our holiday in Bodrum was one where quality-time with my children was the order of the day. Not having the best Kids Club in the world has its benefit. Me, I am only thinking how best can I stop the time from passing. I see my daughter with her nine months in her growing little body and my son, already a charming little human being, and I see growth, development, future, potential, love, tenderness, challenges and so many other things. Their infancy reminds me of mine, now archived in some dusted file into the cupboard of my memory.