Although more than a million tourists flock to its beaches, boutique hotels and clubs each summer, Bodrum (Halicarnassus in ancient times) never loses its cool. More than any other Turkish seaside getaway, it has an enigmatic elegance that pervades it, from the town's grand crowning castle and glittering marina to its flower-filled cafes and white-plastered backstreets. Even in the most hectic days of high summer, you can still find little corners of serenity, in the town and especially in its outlying coastal villages.
Only in the past few decades has Bodrum come to be associated with pleasure, paradisical beaches and glittering summertime opulence. Previously, it was a simple fishing village, and old-timers can still remember when everything was in a different place or didn't exist at all. Long before the palmed promenades and epicurean seafood restaurants, Bodrum wasn't even desirable: it was the place where dissidents against the new Turkish republic were sent into exile.
All that started to change after one of the inmates took over the prison. Writer Cevat Şakir Kabaağaçlı (aka the 'Fisherman of Halicarnassus') was exiled to sleepy Bodrum in 1925, and quickly fell in love with the place. After serving his time, he proceeded to turn on a whole generation of Turkish intellectuals, writers and artists to Bodrum's charms in the mid-1940s.
From then on, there was no going back: by the 1980s, well-heeled foreigners were starting to come, and today Bodrum is a favourite getaway for everyone from European package tourists to Turkey's prime movers and shakers. But it was Kabaağaçlı's early influence, giving the town its arty identity, which saved it from the ignominious fate of other Turkish fishing-villages-turned-resorts.
Urban planners have also sought to preserve Bodrum's essential Aegean character, which was influenced by the Cretans who moved here during the population exchange of the 1920s. Today, laws restrict buildings' heights, and the whitewashed houses with bright-blue trim evoke a lost era. The evocative castle and the ancient ruins and Ottoman mosques around town also help keep Bodrum a discerning step above the rest.