For our honeymoon, my husband and I tried something new and embarrassing: a package holiday. I’d always thought package holidays were the travel equivalent of ordering your steak well-done and then asking the waiter to cut it into bite-size pieces, but this was before the wedding had sapped me of all organizational mojo. Post nuptials, I dropped my backpacker snobbery and decided that any spoon-fed sunny trip would do, so long as it didn’t involve chiffon, chapels or boutonnieres.
We booked a week in Ölüdeniz, a resort on the south-west Aegean coast of Turkey that’s famous for its lagoon and vivid turquoise waters. Like the photogenic student who’s always in the campus brochure, Ölüdeniz appears on the cover of every other Turkish guidebook. It’s immediately recognizable: the lagoon a pure, resonant blue amidst green mountains, divided from the sea by a sandspit that curves off into a long and pale beach.
Images like this are dangerously distracting, and really should be covered up in the travel catalog until people have read all the accompanying text. I didn’t pick up on one key prepositional difference until after we’d arrived: Ölüdeniz is a village of hotels, which isn’t the same as being a village with hotels. The resort was wedged between the mountains and the sea, and consisted of about fifty stubby little hotels all jostling for the best beach view. A single, pedestrianized shopping street ran down the middle of this tourist toytown, offering open-air dining, bright beach paraphernalia and — due to some happy legal loophole — quite a lot of genuine Viagra.
Ölüdeniz beach had neat rows of pay-per-use sun loungers and faded parasols dealt out along its length, but the sea was clean, calm and just as turquoise as promised. There was none of the menace of more spectacular destinations — no white-caps, undertows or flickering shoals of jellyfish. No drama. Even James Bond would find himself sitting down on a Union Jack towel, here, reading yesterday’s imported newspaper and eating an ice-cream.
Walking half a mile down the coast and around the nub of the ‘sand nose’, we came to the lagoon. Due to planning regulations, there was no development on its banks, and it was quiet enough to make the mild-mannered main beach look like Copacabana. Toddlers paddled in the shingle, tree branches dipped down into the water, and the gentlest approximations of waves rippled through.
The only tangible risk at this resort was of being squashed by a rogue paraglider — Ölüdeniz is one of the best European locations for throwing oneself off a mountain and using a kind of parachute to ride air currents down to the ground. At least ten different companies offered tourists tandem paraglides for near-identical fees; diligently, my husband and I walked around each one getting quotes, eventually taking the wine list approach and choosing the second-lowest price. We would’ve got the cheapest, but discount paragliding is probably more hazardous than house white.
The 6500-ft peak of Babadag mountain was in the midst of being paved, and was currently half rocky outcrop and half construction site. The wind shoved and bullied us as we climbed into inelegant flying suits, and each tourist was coupled with a pro paraglider. Once safely strapped together, the pairs moved in a four-legged tangle to the jumping point and stood very still; the pro stared out into the misty air with a sagacious expression, watching for something imperceptible, and the tourist looked like a commuter trying to remember if he’d turned off the coffee machine. Behind them, four male attendants held up the fanned-out canopy, lending the proceedings a surreal, ceremonial air. Wait. Wait. Wait.
I had expected a slow drift down, but instead we were yanked upwards, spiraling several thousand feet higher on thermal currents so tangible you could practically see them curling and bellowing around us like Chinese dragons. Far below, the lagoon appeared in perfect facsimile of all those guidebook covers: the blue of deep meditation and unwashable inkstains, spilling from the Aegean into the mountains. I took several careful photos, all of which prominently featured my feet. As we swung lower, the dust-colored grid of hotel roofs and swimming pools came into focus; we wheeled closer and closer until our feet were almost grazing the tiles and then we landed, like all the other tourists, on a small lawn by the Chinese restaurant.
Nightlife For Honeymooners:
Evenings in Ölüdeniz began with a vaguely Passeggiata stroll of couples to their hotel dinners, and ended down by the waterfront. Here, a few casual bars catered to the paragliding crowd, and others provided rooftop drinks and quiet terraces — quiet, but not dull, thanks to the romance of moonlit waters and nuclear-strength cocktails. The beach thronged with high-backed beanbags, all set out to face the silvery sea like a silent theater audience. Oil-drum bonfires warmed the few drinkers out there and, as per universal law, it wasn’t long before a hippy started to play a guitar.
Ölüdeniz was safe, sunny, and as tame as its lagoon. It was also as sanitized as an American shopping mall, but apparently that’s what people prefer on their package vacations. We could have been almost anywhere else on the Med, but Ölüdeniz — with its distinct lack of high-rises, touts and other hassles — was a great place to spend a lazy week. Admittedly, it didn’t have to be quite so lazy; the resort offered excursions to market towns, Butterfly Valley, ruined Greek villages and the rock tomb of King Amyntas, all of which we planned to do Tomorrow, right up until Tomorrow turned out to be the day we flew home.
But you can daytrip til you drop — there’s no denying that staying in a hotel village and saying you’ve experienced Turkey is liked shaking a snowglobe and pretending you’ve been in a blizzard. Would Ölüdeniz suit non-honeymooners with an appetite for adventure? I’m not sure, but it’s worth a shot. Try the discount paragliding and a strong dose of Viagra.