Tucked away on the Turkish Riviera, Hillside Beach Club is built, terrace-like, into the hills and overlooks the most unbelievable turquoise waters. Verdant pine trees and tumbling fuchsia-pink bougainvillea disguise that the fact that the hotel is even there. If you happen to be sailing past on a yacht, you could blink and you’d miss it.
To get there by road, however, you’ll pass through a working wharf shipyard just outside the town of Fethiye. You’ll go past the bones of half-finished towering ships; vast vessels mounted on stilts their carcasses exposed for all to see, and scrubbed-bare yachts, yet to be varnished. It’s a sign of how important the sea is to this glorious stretch of coastline found close to Dalaman in south-west Turkey.
Fethiye has long beckoned visitors from afar to arrive by boat. Most notably – apart from modern day tourists, of course – were the ancient Greeks who arrived in the 5th century BC, to make this their home, naming it Telmessos.
Since then much has changed… or maybe very little… At the resort, which presides over the pretty Kalemya Bay, all is quiet, apart from the splish-splashing of the waves and perhaps the faint tinkle of laughter of someone giving paddle boarding a go. It may have 330 rooms, but you’d never know it. Created like a village, the pink roofs of individual rooms peeking out from the trees and spread out across the bay, you never realise how many other people are staying there at the same time. In fact, the hotel celebrates the charm of its surroundings so much that one of its three beaches – so called Silent Beach – is, well, just that – silent, so that you can truly appreciate its beauty with no distractions.
You get there by mooching along a winding pathway cut into the cliffs. You’ll wander past floating sun-platforms bobbing in the water, and a little ‘beach library’ found on the path – a cabinet filled with books for you to borrow. All the while, you’ll be mesmerised by the changing colours of the Med – one minute it’s sapphire-blue; the next it’s like clear-cut emeralds, which then transform suddenly into precious lapis lazuli.
No children are allowed and no phones either at Silent Beach. So when you get there, it’s just you, a cold Spritz and the wind rustling in the trees. Bliss.
Behind the shore at this eastern corner of Hillside, you’ll find another adult sanctuary – the Sanda Nature Spa. It’s like you’ve fallen asleep in the sun and woken up in Bali. Built over a running stream, the spa is tucked away in the forest and has teak, open-air therapy rooms lined with sea-grass matting and with pebble floors. Here, Asian techniques are married with Aegean customs. The Aegean Seeds Massage, for instance, combines a Balinese massage-style with locally-sourced essential oils of grape, fig and pomegranate extracts. It taps into the past for a local way to escape for a few hours. Another must is to book in for a traditional Turkish hammam, which will leave you with baby-soft skin and fully invigorated.
Hillside Beach Club’s ‘ode’ to the sea continues with the activities it has on offer – from diving to sailing lessons; snorkelling to windsurfing. When you feel like it, you can also hop on a traditional sail boat which will take you across to Silent Beach or Serenity Beach at intervals during the day. At the latter, you can grab lunch from a simple, laid-back menu – “Today, we have grilled salmon or spiced chicken skewers,” you’ll be told (there is no menu which is its low-key charm) – and there is also a cocktail bar for a refreshing Margarita or two. You can also get to Serenity by following a nature trail. Your reward for hiking along the cliffs in the Turkish heat is the thought of a delicious dip in the sea when you get there.
One of the highlights is the sunset tour. You set sail on a traditional Turkish, two-masted, wooden gulet boat which takes you to secret bays and hidden beaches. Once moored at Aquarium Bay, you can dive into the deepest ocean, and, later, enjoy a glass of fizz as the sun dips down.
Back at Hillside, your all-white bedroom is the perfect cooling sanctuary after a sun-baked day. Family suites have a separate room for children, a walk-in wardrobe and an al-fresco living room with views over the bay. There are flat-screen TVS, but the truth is you’re never really in your room long enough to even want to switch it on.
You can begin your day here with morning yoga on Silent Beach followed by a traditional ‘Kahvalti’ breakfast of cured meats, local cheeses, borek pastries and eggs served in a copper skillet known as ‘sahan’.
In fact, the choice at Main Restaurant is so vast you can have whatever you desire – from just-baked breads spread with local honey to freshly made omelettes or, indeed, the complete works with a ‘full-English’.
The feast-like offering continues at lunch and dinner. A variety of expert chefs preside over different ‘stations’ so you can have dishes conjured up before you. A favourite were the zeytin piyazi salads – chopped up Gordon Ramsay-style while you wait – and made with diced tomatoes, sliced scallions, chopped parsley, dill, thyme, lemon juice, red chili flakes and olive oil.
A stone-baked oven delivers different just-baked delicacies every day – so you might find bite-sized donuts, hot out of the oven and rolled in sugar, or the Turkish flatbread Gozleme, stuffed with herbs and minced lamb. The fish counter, meanwhile, is another tempting corner with its vast array of freshly-caught local fish – from Eskina to Bream; Cipura to Bluefish – after you’ve chosen what you want, it is freshly grilled and delivered with Lahmacun bread to your table.
Many of the dishes tap into local cuisine – so you can create your own mezze selection, with haydari (garlic yoghurt with mint), patlıcan salatas (aubergine salad); stuffed vine leaves and ezme (tomato salad with lemon juice and pomegranate molasses). For dessert, there are handmade Turkish Delights; baklava oozing syrupy sweetness and melt-in-your-mouth pistachio cakes. Try the Künefe dessert, made with spun pastry called kataifi, soaked in attar syrup, and layered with melted, unsalted cheese.
Away from the Main Restaurant, you can also dine at Pasha, which brings an Ibizan-vibe with its neon-white building, DJ playing chilled tunes and a locally-influenced tasting menu with sharing dishes– think feta and fennel salad; freshly-grilled mullet; prawns in chilli and tomatoes; and herby flatbreads served with hummus and spiced-yoghurt dips.
The Italian Restaurant on the beach, meanwhile, sees you dining by candle-light, with incredible sea-views. It’s the essence of romance. The seven-course menu changes according to what produce is available – but you might be offered home-made focaccia, misto fritto, artichoke salad with local herbs and Bodrum mandarins; Linguine with lobster tail and seabass cooked with thyme and rosemary and Aegean vegetables. It’s enough to sweep you off your feet.
From art workshops to tennis; nightly shows to daily football matches – there’s a whole line-up of activities and events for guests to dip into. Just finished, for instance, is the annual residency by the BFI – which sees cinematic experts present film screenings of new and old favourites. This year’s festival was musical themed so West Side Story and Singin’ in the Rain were screened. Included in the week are also interactive workshops and talks to both adults and children who are interested in the world of film. (It will return next May but regular film screenings occur year round at Hillside).
Next up is the Classical Music on the Sea (5 August) which for one hot day in summer sees the resort’s bay transformed into a floating stage to host a classical symphony orchestra. Then, the London Jazz Festival (29 September – 2 October) follows in the autumn. The capital’s largest pan-city music festival promotes cultural diversity through world-class artists and rising stars in the music industry.
Activities are not all resort-based at Hillside, for the resort encourages guests to tap into local culture. It is all part of the ‘Hillside Outside’ scheme – so, you can borrow an e-bike to explore the bazaars of Fethiye or book a guided tour of the ancient city of Kayaköy (known as the Ghost Town due to it being uninhabited since the Greeks left Turkey in the great population exchange of the 1920s).
But the best bit of Hillside is the ‘golden hour’. As the day ends, and quietness descends across the bay, you should sneak off alone to watch the sun say goodbye, streaking the sky with fingers of pink, lilac and amber. As your damp hair dries in the balmy evening air, you’ll see the resort begin to light up as night creeps in. It’s a little slice of Turkish magic.
Nightly rates at Hillside Beach Club start from £192. Rates based on two people sharing a standard room on a full board plus basis.