When my feet sank further into the warm slime and the bubbling mass began to rise towards my neck, the giddy frolic started to seem like a very bad idea.
The photographers mimed instructions, laughing their heads off.
Who could blame them, a fair-skinned Irish woman, covered in mud, trying to maintain a vestige of modesty. While I could be rescued, my dignity might not be so easily retrieved, nor indeed my bikini, which was sagging beneath the weight of sludge.
I was on my first visit to Marmaris in Turkey, and the sulphur baths at Sultaniye on Lake Koygeciz would become a highlight of a great week. It was October, at a time when Turkey was very much in the news for anything but a welcome winter break. But I was to discover the country is a vast area of disparate peoples and while the far eastern border with Syria was, and still is, in the middle of controversy, I was on the beautiful Mediterranean coast.
Marmaris is within a 50 minute ferry ride to the island of Rhodes in Greece, and is a well-developed tourism region.
On the four-hour comfortable flight to Istanbul, I was pampered courtesy of Turkish Airlines. The airline has a particularly civilised mid-morning departure from Dublin. I then flew from Istanbul to Dalaman and was whisked from there by car to my hotel in Marmaris, about an hour and half transfer, arriving around midnight at the Grand Azur Hotel. Top travel tip, always ask for a sea view, they can only say no, or charge, but off-peak most hotels will oblige, I'm so glad I did.
Lake view, Turkey
I awoke in a capacious room with a panoramic view of the Aegean, a lush garden of palms below lay between me and the sea. Cheating our mid-winter damp climate with breakfast outdoors in gentle sunshine is a treat that never fails to make me want to pinch myself. If you are lucky enough to be able to travel to warmer climes in October, it gives you a healthy boost for the cold months ahead.
With school terms dictating the cost of travel, it has been over 20 years since I'd been away in October, making it all the more thrilling to try out Turkey. From the first breakfast of fresh fruit, scrambled eggs, smoked fish and excellent coffee, every meal was memorable for its middle-eastern variety, taste and colour, and the variety of lacations - beaches, mountains, lakes, pine forest or vine-covered pergola.
I spent my first day in Marmaris exploring the bay by boat.
There are several tours available along the quayside which depart at regular intervals and will take you to a lagoon where you can swim before having a simple salad and pasta lunch on board. The lower deck of the boat had fixed seating and tables, while on the deck above, we could sunbathe and admire the coastline. It was an active way to become orientated and to swim safely out at sea. Whether diving or sliding into the water, this is a good ice-breaker if you like to meet people on holidays; for a start, it's hard not to laugh as you splash and take in the breath-taking coastline.
I was the only native English speaker among a motley bunch, mainly Russian, some Bulgarian, Icelandic, Austrian, German, and Turkish of course, and also the only mottled one, having long abandoned the spray tan.
Back ashore, the sun was still shining and there was time to visit the marina, 8km from the centre. This is the largest marina in the Mediterranean with moorings for 1300 boats. If you're sailing along this coast, it is an impressive and very efficient place to tie up and reprovision, while enjoying a few nights ashore. There's even a library where you can exchange the on-board reading material.
Turkey's historic delights
One of the most attractive aspects of the town is the continuous 11km promenade that extends along the beach-front hotels and leads to the quayside, where you will find a warren of back streets. For a very Turkish welcome, try Yunus Cafe and Friends Cafe. The late-night clubs are on the quaintly named Bar Street. This is the old quarter and the atmosphere pulsates around the castle, which was built by the Ottomans in 1522. It is now a museum and well worth a visit just to see the views from its garden. My new Icelandic friends and I strolled one evening in search of a typical Turkish restaurant. We had strict criteria, there should be no English version of the menu outside, they should not advertise the next football match and the waiter should not try and entice us in. Feeling faint with hunger, I was relieved to find a fantastic place called Dost. It's on the beach, it's very hip, the meze is freshly prepared, aromatic, wonderful and inexpensive.
To cool down and take a break from the culture trail, I like a lounger at the water's edge, a parasol and a book. The D-Resort Grand Azur has a very comfortable beach bistro, where you can enjoy tapas as an alternative to the extensive cold buffet at the poolside restaurant. I'm by no means a sun-worshipper but I could have stayed on that beach for a whole week. The stretch of sand to the sea is quite short so there is no overcrowding. The Aegean Sea was crystal clear, none of the viscous surface you find along the Cote d'Azur, no yachts anchored close to shore and best of all no traffic pollution, as the main road lies inland beyond the row of hotels.
Food, glorious food
It's worth tearing yourself away from the beach for at least one day, to explore some of the local villages, either by hiring a car or booking a group tour. You will discover quiet little hamlets by the sea or in the mountains where you can lunch in the shade, and swim afterwards. One village we visited was Selimiye, which is situated on the water and has a tranquil quality with small timber houses lining the beach. We had a great seafood lunch on the terrace of Sardunya restaurant, where we were joined by an expat Englishman, a David Niven type, who told us he had travelled all over Europe to find the best place to retire and having sailed into Selimiye bay, he knew he'd found it.
Though Marmaris is well known as a sun destination to British holiday-makers, within an hour's drive there are historic sites and rural villages worth visiting. Aside from my foray into mud-baking, I really enjoyed the visit to the Gokmen honey farm and museum at Osmaniye, and the produce. This region produces 92pc of the world's pine honey. You can also see how authentic Turkish Delight is made, with all natural ingredients and it tastes delicious. Further afield there is a day-trip for horse-riding through the woods and streams in Datca, the climate in October is perfect for this. The local tourist board is keen to encourage more visitors in the autumn. With competitively priced flights to Istanbul, it is quite possible to tailor-make your own trip with the help of the local specialists. I would certainly recommend the climate and pace at this time of year.
Mudcakes for Deirdre!
After all those exertions, it is good to know the hotel spa is open until 10pm, and it has a very good beauty salon. The blow-dry travel test came in at a very affordable €13, and the manicure cost €15.
You can't leave Turkey without at least one night of local music and dance. We were entertained by a vibrant dance troupe whose finale is best described as Riverdance meets Bellydance, and really good actually. Without going far from your hotel there is plenty to do, particularly getting on to a boat and drifting into the rural hinterland. The local tourist board is keen to promote the area as an artist's or writer's retreat during the winter months. It definitely has the light, the climate and a wide horizon where your imagination can take flight, or indeed where your mind can be at rest, and you can read to your heart's content. I would certainly go again at the same time of year, and lengthen my stay to visit Istanbul en route. For my first time, it was a great time.
The boat gliding across Lake Koycegiz provides an hour to indulge in serenity, before immersion in the mud baths at Sultaniye. These are a natural wonder, located on the fissures of a volcanic fault line. I on the other hand am not a natural wonder. But I cannot resist a natural beauty treatment and so I found myself immersed in sulphuric eruptions. Ferries to the Thermal Springs leave regularly from Koycegiz town.
The ancient ruins of Kaunos date back to the 4th century BC. The Acropolis is built on a 152m high rock with a great view of the ancient city, Dalyan, the estuary and Iztuzu Beach. There is an amphitheatre on the slope of the acropolis, built to hold 5000 spectators and is still occasionally used for performances. Nearby, carved into the side of the mountains are six incredible royal tombs based on a full-scale classic temple front.
Food and Drink
Turkish dishes combine influences from the Lebanon, Greece and local fresh produce from land and sea. At Joya Del Mar Hotel you can dine on a terrace overlooking the bay. In Datca and Koycegiz you can have a late lunch and evening swim. Ekincik Inceler Hotel has a lovely courtyard which backs on to a sandy beach. At Kosem, the owners grow all their own food and you can lunch in the shade of a pergola. Rose wine is served everywhere.
For information on Turkey contact the Turkish Culture and Information Office at: www.gototurkey.co.uk
Flight: Turkish Airlines www.turkishairlines.com
Deirdre stayed at: D-Resort Grand Azur Marmaris.
Address: Cumhuriyet Bulvarı, No: 17 48700 Marmaris | Mugla |
TurkeyTel: +90 252 417 40 50Website: www.dresortgrandazur.com.tr
MARTAB (Marmaris Tourism Union) www.martab.gov.tr
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