Life is easy at Maçakızı
“The good times keep rolling at Bodrum’s legendary hotel – and now the revelry is a little more socially distanced with the arrival of a sleek new yacht and villa by the sea.”
by Jemima Sissons
Twas the witching hour when we first arrived at Maçakızı, on the Turkish Riviera. The air smelled of jasmine and the sky had turned into an inky black cloak studded with stars. But the scene on Türkbükü Bay, just a few steps in the sand from the hotel, was hardly subdued. Disco lit superyachts bobbed in tune with the thumps of electronic music blasting from their onboard DJs. A trio of women in diaphanous dresses made their way inside the hotel from a long night at the beach bar, sweeping lovely ghosts past creeping bougainvillea and geometric glass sculptures by Turkish artist Sema Topaloğlu.
Having just arrived from London, my husband and I sat observing it all quietly from a table in the lounge when, suddenly, we had company. An English chap plonked himself at our table, ordered a tequila and soda (“Rum makes you fat. Tequila makes you high” he informed the waiter), and began regaling us with his love affair for the hotel. “We are all one family here,” he proclaimed jovially, between slurps. I had long heard the stories about Maçakızı—the supermodels and royalty, the parties that last until morning (sometimes the afternoon)—but to see it in action was another story. The hotel is less a place to stay than it is a lifestyle, where guests are welcomed by the charismatic owner Sahir Erozan and his amiable Australian sidekick, general manager Andrew Jacobs. The next day, at the beach club, a group of Americans were deep in discussion about the minimum length of yacht required for a family of four plus staff (73 feet, apparently). At breakfast, an English couple worked from laptops at their table; they'd been staying there since June, with no plans to leave before the hotel closed for the season in November. By the beach bar, no matter the hour, a group of Givenchy clad men could be found smoking Cohibas. Even with COVID-19, the spectacle couldn't be stifled: Colorful masks and bespoke hand sanitizer in chic bottles were the latest must-have accessories.
I had not come to talk boats or smoke cigars, though. I had come to see the newest additions to the Maçakızı family; A 12-suite pleasure yacht and an exclusive-use villa. That afternoon, we set sail on the 175-foot Halas, 71. Gliding from Cennet Koyu (Paradise Bay) to Çatalada (Fork Island), past mega-mansions and superyachts, the vessel was majestic, if not exactly in the same style as the glistening white showboats we passed along the way. Commissioned in 1912 by the Bosphorus Steam Navigation Company and built in 1914 in Glasgow, Scotland, the ship was, like many back then, repurposed by the British navy for use in World War I. After the defeat at Gallipoli, it operated in Istanbul as a steam ferry, tansporting traders and tourists across the Bosphorus. In 1984 it was again converted, this timc into a luxury yacht, by media tycoon Haldun Simavi, who, with his wife, Çigdem, entertained an impressive roster of guests on board – Princess Margaret, Prince Charles, John Malkovich, and Bill and Hillary Clinton.
Today the Halas 71 is owned by Turkish textile magnate Caroline Koç and managed by Erozan and his team. The boat is available for charter for a few hours or up to a few weeks for visits to the sunken ruins of Simena in Kekova and stunning seaside towns like Bozburun and Göcek. Elevating it to Maçakızı's lavish standards are sailboards, waterskis, and wakeboards, and, coming this season, a dance floor for more of those famous all-night parties.
I wasn't disappointed to find there was no DJ spinning on the upper deck when we boarded that afternoon. There was, however, a perfect breeze and the rhythmic sound of gentle waves lapping against the bow. Our suite, named for Princess Margaret, was decorated with dune-soft silk carpeting, Haremlique linens with toile bed covers, and taupe-and-cream linen curtains. Next door in the library we found Turkish history books and leather-bound Voltaire, and along the corridor below, a Cognac bar and infra- , red sauna. Everything was wrapped in mahogany paneling, and maritime artworks lined the walls.
In the evening, we dined on risotto with bocek, the local spiny lobster, the handiwork of Venetian native Carlo Bernardini, who oversees catering on the yacht and at Villa Maçakızı. The entrée was served alongside locally made buffalo mozzarella, sun-dried tomatoes, and a selection of excellent local wines. There is a movement of dynamic young winemakers in the Urla region, the Tuscany of Turkey, and Bernardi’s intimate knowledge of its biggest stars served us well. The Porta Caeli Ament reminded me of a Bordeaux, and the Kavaklıdere Pendore Öküzgözü was rich with dark-red fruits; both paired nicely with fresh focaccia and pistachio baklava drizzled with honey.
Over the next several days we sailed the Aegean Sea without hurry. We dove into the dark waters to swim laps around the yacht, catching glimpses of its hulking anchor, onc of a few remnants left from the vessel's former life. One afternoon, we cruised past a horizon of humpback rocks to the twinkling village of Gümüşlük, where we shopped for jewelry and ceramics at an open-air market and snacked on a local delicacy, midye dolma (mussels stuffed with a spicy pilaf). On the way to Palm Tree Bay, our mooring spot for the night, watched the Greek islands of Leros and Patmos light up as the sun went down.
A few days later, I was sunbathing on the upper deck when one of my Maçakızı flip-flops took flight, urged by a sudden gust of wind. I watched as it journeyed gracefully across the bay before landing just short of a beautiful white estate, perched above a private boardwalk lined with sun loungers. It was not a hotel, as I had initially thought, but Villa Maçakızı, Erozan’s new exclusive-use rental property. (Turns out that, in its previous life, the estate was a boutique hotel, known as Il Riccio Beach House.) Offering ten rooms, a spa with a hammam, a fitness center, a swimming pool, and a private beach the villa has already attracted a loyal following among the publicity- shy and COVID-wary. All the rooms—soon to be updated with Maçakızı worthy makeovers—have their own balcony or terrace overlooking the pool. The vast grounds provide plenty to do too: There's a garden filled with olive trees, lavender, and freesia (a perfect place for alfresco yoga or a cocktail); cabanas on the edge of the sea; and, of course, a DJ booth for all-night parties. Guests an also arrange private fishing tours, boat charters, cooking classes, horseback riding, and scuba diving at nearby shipwrecks. A tour of the villa had been on our afternoon itinerary, but a last-minute buy out by a Middle Eastern royal family had thwarted our plans—though the views from the Halas 71 from which we could just make out the glistening pool, were enough to convince us to book our own stay next season.
We arrived back at the hotel as aperitivo hour was kicking off. The Halas 71 hail just slipped into the marina when the nightly symphony of competing DJs started up. Guests emerged from their rooms—women dressed in flowing caftans and dripping with carats, men with their top four buttons proudly undone—and we all marveled for a minute as the sun went down. The music got louder, prompting pods of guests to dance, and, as I sipped a tequila and soda, for one brief moment of unmitigated joie de vivre, I understood what that English chap had meant. Maçakızı is a club, and once you're part of it, you want to stay forever.
THE DAILY TELEGRAPHOld Look / New Life
HOTELS ARE GOING THE EXTRA MILE
Hotels looking for ways to meet guests’ distancing needs are thinking beyond the hotel and offering guests new and creative ways of travelling, revamping old modes of transport.
From rails to sails; Bodrum2s jewel of a boutique hotel the Macakizi (macakizi.com) has taken over a spiffed-up 1940s motor watch that harks back to the Ottoman era and has hosted British royals and American presidents. Halas 71 can accommodate up to 23 guests on a bespoke Blue Cruise along the Turquoise Coast of Turkey- on the safe list for holidays this summer- whose seaside treasures remain eternally open.