By David Barclay | May 17, 2023
Today’s blog post focuses on the second half of my recent two-week trip to Türkiye (also known as Turkey). For our second week, my wife and I, along with a few friends, chartered a Turkish gulet to sail the Turkish coastline and visit many of the islands dotting the Aegean Sea.
If you haven’t read Part 1 of my trip, about an overland experience in Turkey, please be sure to read my blog post
Türkiye By Land (Part 1).
There are several places in the world known for chartering moderate sized sailing boats due to their calm waters. The British Virgin Islands (BVIs) and the Dalmatian Coast of Croatia are well known for sheltered coves, smooth seas, and many small islands to visit. Although historically overlooked by travelers, the coastline of Turkey from Bodrum to Gocek provides a similar experience and is gaining notice from international travelers. While the BVIs and the Dalmatian Coast are known for chartered catamarans, Turkey is the land of the gulet, hand-built wooden sailing vessels. If you’d like to learn more about gulets, the types of gulets that can be chartered, the process of chartering a gulet, and rough costs, please read my blog post Chartering a Turkish Gulet.
This post will focus on our weeklong experience on board our gulet and whether it lived up to our expectations. Gulets are usually chartered for a 7-day period, from Saturday to Saturday. Itineraries can vary, but typically a gulet will sail between Bodrum and Gocek, or a round trip departing and returning to the same port. For our week, we departed and returned to Bodrum.
Our experience started when we landed at the Bodrum airport and were met by a representative from my Turkish partner Sea Song Tours. We were quickly escorted to our luxury vehicle and began the drive to the harbor in Bodrum (about one hour). Along the way, our guide from Sea Song provided an overview of the area. I was surprised to learn how large Bodrum is, I had expected a quaint little seaside village. On our drive we learned that Bodrum is a city of 200,000 people and can swell to over a million in the summer with tourists. While that sounds like a lot, the area by the harbor didn’t feel overcrowded. Due to the large number of tourists, Bodrum has a large number of restaurants and many stores looking to tell Turkish goods to visitors (which we visited at the end of our trip).
Upon arriving at the dock, we were escorted to our gulet, the Primadonna, where we met the crew (and met up with one of our friends, who lives in Turkey and arrived the prior day to scope things out for us). The Primadonna had 3 cabins, capable of accommodating 6 guests, and a crew of three. Our crew consisted of our captain, our chef and a deck hand. We quickly stowed our bags in our cabins (or I should say, our crew quickly stowed our bags for us). Although we had a tentative departure time planned, one of the nice parts of chartering a gulet is it sails when and where you want (within reason). Because the full-board meal package we had arranged didn’t include alcoholic beverages (common for gulet charters), before we departed Bodrum we wanted to stock up on some supplies. Luckily there is a very nice store, Meyland Exclusive Wines & Spirits, located right on the harbor promenade. However, the benefit of convenience comes with a price. Because of the location (and high taxes on alcohol) the prices for wine and spirits were not that much different from what we’d find in Chicago. We didn’t find any bargains like we’ve become accustomed to when visiting Europe, but prices were still reasonable compared to back home. We weren’t sure what we might find in the smaller villages along our planned itinerary, so we stocked up for most of the week, but later learned we could find supplies as we traveled. In smaller villages, we found local wines which were good but not overly complex and local beers for meaningfully better prices. For our friends who preferred cocktails (requiring hard alcohol), the prices tended to be equal to or higher than Bodrum. My advice to anyone chartering a gulet and wanting some libations would be to stock up on a good supply in Bodrum, but know that you can resupply as you travel so you don’t have to overbuy at the beginning.
We departed Bodrum in the early afternoon for a short 45-minute cruise to our first overnight anchoring location, a beautiful little cove on a nearby island. We swam before dinner, even though it was September the water temperatures were still in the mid-70’s (warm for those of us accustomed to Lake Michigan water temps) and very pleasant. That night our chef delighted us with our first dinner, including a whole grouper baked in a salt crust. In the evening we went to the seating area at the bow and stargazed while enjoying a nightcap.
The next morning while we slept, our crew woke at 6am and sailed our gulet to a large cove outside the ruins at Knidos Antik Kent. Our chef produced a delicious breakfast which we enjoyed in the pleasant morning sun. As you will see in my description of our week, we were very well fed. Each meal, even breakfast, consisted of multiple courses. The picture below was a typical example of the first course of our breakfast, with breakfast pastries/breads, fruits, cheeses, and tomatoes. Also, we always had slices of deli turkey, apparently this is common in Türkiye. As part of our second course, we’d typically get some type of meat and we loved it when our chef served a spicy fried sausage, which he did for several breakfasts. We were always asked if we wanted to add eggs or some other more traditional American breakfast item. I typically did get an egg with my breakfast, and whether I requested poached, fried, or scrambled, they were always delicious and perfectly prepared. For this particular breakfast our chef also prepared crepes!
After breakfast we boarded the gulet’s small motorboat to go explore the nearby ruins and take in the amazing views. After a good hour or so of hiking, we returned to our gulet for a late morning swim. You will see that water activities are also an important part of the gulet experience. While our gulet didn’t have any motorized water toys, there were plenty of other options for us to use including kayaks, paddle boards, and snorkeling gear.
Our lunch that day was also delicious. I forgot to take a picture of the full spread, but we did become accustomed to our daily fruit platter at lunch. Watermelon and the yellow Turkish melon became a staple of our lunches that we looked forward to every day. After lunch we relocated to a secluded cove near the Palamut Marina. We were the only ship anchored in the cove and had a private, secluded beach all to our own. We swam again and after reboarding our chef surprised us with afternoon tea and a delicious chocolate cake (I mentioned before we were very well fed on our gulet!).
Our third day offered the first opportunity to visit a local town, in this case the small town of Datca. We started our morning at our overnight anchoring point, had breakfast and swam in the warm Aegean waters. Then a lovely 1.5hr cruise to reach Datca. Our crew expertly pulled our gulet into a dock slip and we ventured into town to sightsee and shop. Back to our gulet for another delicious lunch, then we had to say goodbye to our friend Oguz who joined us for the first two days of our trip but needed to return to his home in Izmir. Early afternoon, back into town for more exploration. We left Datca in the late afternoon to arrive at our evening anchoring cove and had a wonderful dinner, including a beautifully made apple tart for dessert.
For our 4th day, we planned an early breakfast and departure so we could visit two different seaside villages (Orhaniye & Selimiye). We set our alarms so we could watch the sun rise over the nearby coastal islands. Orhaniye Bay has a unique natural tidal formation called “Kiz Kumu” (Maiden’s Beach). We also found a selection of ice cream novelties as we wandered the beach side restaurants and stores, all costing less than $1. Selimiye Village is a very popular spot based on the number of visiting ships anchored in the harbor and tenders shuttling visitors to the dock. There were numerous cute shops and many lira left our wallets to purchase gifts for family and friends back in the U.S.
Day 5 started with our first cloudy morning. We had another delicious breakfast (and had a number of wild goats pass by us on the shore while we ate) and then decided to move to a great swimming cove near the village of Bozburun. By the time we arrived the sun had banished the clouds and we spent the late morning and early afternoon swimming. Our cove was a popular spot with many gulets anchored to allow their guests to swim. We had a Turkish towel vendor pull his small boat alongside and sell us a few more towels. And in the afternoon, the ice cream novelty boat came to sell us treats! Then a quick trip into Bozburun to explore the village. At the suggestion of our captain, in the late afternoon we sailed two of the 5.5 hours needed to get to our next destination (the longest repositioning of our trip) so we could break it up between the two days.
Our 6th day was a very leisurely day. The crew got the ship underway a little after 6am and sailed for ~3hrs while we slept. We woke to see our arrival at another picturesque bay. After breakfast we swam and lounged and then the crew sailed us a short distance to where we’d anchor for the rest of the day. We had another fabulous lunch and returned to lounging and swimming. I took the opportunity to read while resting on one of the sun beds, making great progress on the novel “Cloud Cuckoo Land”. This day reminded me of a “days-at-sea” on some of our past cruises, with nothing to do but slow our pace, forget about all of our daily obligations, and simply enjoy life! And given we were on vacation, I may have had a glass or two of wonderful local wine while relaxing on the day bed.
Day 7 was our last full day on the Primadonna and in Turkey. 😢 A little more wind that day, which meant the crew could finally put up some of the sails (the Primadonna needs strong winds to travel only on sail power). We anchored for the afternoon near Bodrum (and were entertained by some of the day trip boats) and entered the harbor in the late afternoon (our request since we had a very early departure in the morning). This gave us time to explore and shop in Bodrum. We watched the sun go down in the evening and the lights come on around the harbor, for our last picturesque views of Turkey. And our chef surprised us one more time with his creativity.
The Verdict? Our gulet charter was everything we hoped for and more–amazing views, great food, beautiful waters, and fun adventures to see ruins and quaint little sea side villages. I’ve commented on the food several times, but I have to say it definitely exceeded our expectations. Prior to boarding our gulet, we had expected to eat least a few meals on shore at a restaurant, just to break things up and because we thought we might become bored of the food on board. But after our first few meals, everyone agreed we weren’t eating our meals anywhere else. Our chef created unique menus for us for each meal, but also adapted to meet our requests (he made a very delicious grilled calamari/squid that we requested several times, it was a favorite of the group). One of our party members couldn’t eat fish, so our chef prepared alternative main courses for that friend, and I’m still not sure how he managed it all and always delivered our meals exactly at the agreed upon time. Our crew was wonderful and took care of us 24/7. When we got creative with the fruit juices and our liquor supply to create some “unique” tropical drinks, our deckhand paid close attention and easily replicated the ones we liked for the rest of our trip. I’ve sailed on many luxury cruise lines and I have to say our crew was as professional and diligent as the crews on those lines.
If that isn’t enough to say how wonderful this trip was, I asked my wife to rank it vs. all of our other trips over ~20 years together, and this trip ranked in the top 5. That’s saying something as over the years we have taken many wonderful trips. If you haven’t been to Turkey before and are looking for an exciting and moderately exotic vacation, I highly recommend a visit. And if you can convince a few of your friends to go along, I very highly recommend chartering a gulet for a week and enjoying the truly luxury experience that it provides.
Owner, Barclay & Company Travel
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