If Sartre was right that “hell is other people”, then heaven, by contrast, must be the bliss of solitude. Some of us like to mix with fellow Britons on holiday, while others go to great lengths to avoid them. I tend towards the latter camp, so there is an upside to social distancing, despite the wholly negative reasons for it.
I’m a single father to Jake and Isabella, aged 14 and 12 and growing up fast. While meeting other families used to be top of my children’s holiday wish list, it is less of a priority now.
For the past few summers, we have done action-packed group adventure holidays. But even if that option were still possible, it is hard work being a teenager. For Jake and Isabella, lazing around in the sun has become far more appealing. They are more content amusing – and occasionally aggravating – each other, meaning my dreams of a truly relaxing family holiday have finally become a reality.
Getting away from the crowds in the Mediterranean is not easy and Turkey’s Turquoise Coast is busy, especially as it is cheaper than the eurozone. I searched hard for a peaceful spot and private retreat Gokce Gemile fitted the bill. Named after the two bays its villas overlook, its setting is hard to beat: a forest of pine, carob, olive and cedar trees.
The project is more than six years in the making, the brainchild of owner Malik Sahin, who has been running boat tours in the region for 30 years.
“I love sailing, finding quiet bays, and this inspired me to create a place of privacy and seclusion in parallel with the surroundings,” he told me. “When I bought the land here, a big hotel would have been more logical economically, but I wanted to create luxury without ruining nature.”
The three houses, which sleep six to eight, each have their own distinctive character. Gokce is the largest and most modern in style, with the most spectacular views from the infinity pool over the bay of the same name. Elmali is the most authentically Anatolian in design, while the Levissi-style Gemile, where we were staying, has perhaps the most attractive interior. The houses were constructed by hand, employing three experts in stone, wood and wrought iron. Care was taken not to disturb nature but instead to harness it; there is a carob tree growing in the living room of Gokce and another splitting the wall around Gemile. Each room is uniquely decorated with quirks such as iron lampshades hanging from a carob branch, a staircase of oak logs embedded in a wall of river stones, and a rock slab on a tree trunk serving as a poolside table.
Pebble mosaics dominate Gemile’s decor – from the bathroom walls and lounge floor to the swimming pool. The jacuzzi is hand-carved from a single piece of granite, while the pool uses a mix of spring and seawater.
From Gokce Gemile, the whoosh of the pool’s waterfall blends with a chorus of cicadas from the surrounding pine forest, while the view across Gemile Bay to the Baba Dagi mountains creates an idyllic backdrop. “This is living like kings,” remarked Jake on arrival as Isabella stared open-mouthed at our home for the week.
Going to breakfast was an adventure in itself, walking through a tunnel to the funicular lift that took us 500ft down the steep hillside to a private terrace overlooking the sheltered bay. The private bay concept may be common elsewhere in Europe, but it is very rare in Turkey. While Gokce Bay is not private property, its steep limestone cliffs and tiny shingle beach keep it reassuringly quiet, with day-trip tourist boats tending to stay in neighbouring Gemile Bay.
There were families in the other two villas, but beyond exchanging pleasantries at breakfast, we mainly kept to ourselves, which suited us fine. We settled into a relaxed routine, dividing our time between the bay and the house. A swimming pool is far more satisfying when you have it to yourself. Swim before breakfast? Don’t mind if I do. Swim after dusk? Good idea in theory but swiftly curtailed as it coincided with drinking time for a couple of bats swooping from trees.
We combined our periods of repose with regular outings, and enjoyed an evening in nearby Fethiye, stopping at the Amyntas rock tombs, which date from the fourth century BC, before having our fill at the fish market and browsing the bazaar for bargains in leather and jewellery.
One of the archaeological highlights of the area is the eerie, abandoned town of Kayakoy. Greek Christians lived in this town, formerly known as Levissi, alongside Muslims from the 14th century onwards until they were forcibly deported following the Greco-Turkish war in 1923. Since an earthquake in the 1950s, the original town has been deserted, leaving more than 300 abandoned homes and two crumbling churches on the hill.
Unfortunately for visitors, Kayakoy, meaning “rock village”, is poorly signposted, with a dearth of information. Hiring a guide is recommended.
Another highlight was a sailing trip with Malik around the bay, pausing to swim in caves and snorkel near the shore. The beach club also offered paddleboards and kayaks, so we explored at our leisure. We even tried our hand at fishing from the jetty – Jake took to it immediately, hooking two catches. This was followed by a Turkish cookery class with chef Ozlem, where Jake learnt how to fry the mullet he had just caught.
As the teenagers prepared aubergine in tomato sauce, bulgur wheat with yogurt and beetroot salad, the sight of my children diligently preparing lunch was a glimpse of a welcome possible future. I can dare to dream.
At the time of going to press, there is no need to quarantine on return from Turkey and all FCO advice against travel there has been lifted. Seven nights at the houses of Gokce Gemile (00 90 533 714 6163; gokcegemile.com) cost from £3,500 based on two sharing, including transfers from Dalaman, welcome hamper, breakfast basket and 24-hour concierge service. Return flights to Dalaman from London Heathrow with BA cost from £262 in August (0344 493 0787; ba.com).