Morning gilds the forest, dusts the sky with gold. Uninhabitable islands rise darkly out of a mercury sea. The air is so still you feel like the world is holding its breath. A boat curves across the bay, the widening V of its wake the only sign that time has not stopped. As in a dream, you find yourself at the Datça Peninsula without knowing quite how you got there. It is so jagged, ragged at the edges like a feather, its shoreline sidewinding and disorientating, a maze of channels and coves and countless tiny islets, that it is impossible to know which way the real world lies and which way is the open sea.
There’s a temptation to compare it to Thailand’s Phang Nga Bay – with its James Bond Island, the over-touristed setting for The Man with the Golden Gun – but Datça has a wild beauty that’s all its own. On Turkey’s Turquoise Coast, it is the point where east meets west, Mediterranean meets Aegean, Europe meets Asia. The stuff of Greek legend – it is said that Zeus created this peninsula, and that at the ancient ruins at Knidos his daughter Aphrodite was born from the foam of the turquoise waters of nearby Palamutbükü cove, still so clear you can count the fish swimming beneath your toes.
Stretching into the Aegean between party-central Bodrum and cheap-and-cheerful Dalaman, the Datça is what the Turquoise Coast once was, before Mick and Bianca came in the 1970s, and certainly before the developers descended. Though just 20 miles away from either, it feels remote and isolated. Around its shores, sleepy fishing villages such as Orhaniye and Datça itself only recently became connected by road. Swathes of the peninsula are protected, designated national park, originally in an attempt to preserve the endangered Anatolian leopard that once roamed wild in the forest. It may be too late for the leopard, but it has, at least, saved much of the peninsula itself, and its incumbent bears, wolves and golden eagles, which locals say live in its pine forest, from the development that has blighted other beauty spots along the coast.
The place to stay is D Maris Bay (dmarisbay.com), a pocket of six-star luxury, which sits on its own in acres of untouched coastline. Originally built before development laws came into place, the hotel sits alone on a clifftop, pine-forested headlands curving away to either side, the land dropping down to a string of white-sand beaches. Steps lead down through umbrella pines, lemon trees and date palms, and a leather-upholstered boat will whisk you from one beach to another, across the bluest waters. Widescreen views – from the lobby, the breakfast terrace, the suites, the outdoor yoga shala, even the bath – take your breath away every single time.
Wellness is a focus here – how can it not be, surrounded by so much natural beauty? – in an extensive spa that features Bodyism programmes for the serious and Balinese massages for the idle. And so is happiness; the half-dozen restaurants include an outpost of the Cannes beach club La Guérite, where lunches of the most exquisite sea bass and fat chargrilled octopus tentacle – the freshest you will ever taste, fished straight out of the waters the terrace overlooks – and the estate’s own wine give way to afternoons of dancing on the tables, kaftans and bare feet. Here, Istanbul’s smart set mingle with billionaire yacht owners coming ashore for lunch, then dozing it off in cabanas on the sand.
Yet despite the glamour, the designer slides and sunglasses, in some ways things haven’t changed all that much since Istanbul’s intellectuals first took the Blue Cruise in the 1920s. Swimming, sailing and sociable seafood lunches are still the order of the day. The sea, not money, is the lifeblood of Datça and it always will be.
D Maris Bay, Hisarönü Mahallesi Çubucak Küme Evleri No:80 Marmaris,Mugla, Turkey; dmarisbay.com
Laura Fowler is a freelance writer and editor. Follow her on Instagram here @lady_fowler