|They’re too old for theme parks, too cool for cagoules – how to holiday with your ‘adult kids’ one last time before they fly the nest? Shane Watson has a hot idea|
There comes a moment in the lives of every family….when the annual summer holiday becomes ‘probably the last one ever’. For us, with two at university and one in the throes of GCSEs, holidays are no longer as simple as piling into the car and heading for the south coast. The ‘kids’ have their own mates and their own plans, which no longer include cowering behind a windbreak or surfing in horizontal rain in Constantine Bay year after year. In short, they (Harriet 22, Tom 20, and Guy 17) are at a tricky stage – too old to be entertained by waterslides, too indolent to drag around the Alhambra – so I may have my work cut out if I’m going to find the holiday that works for all of us.
I didn’t just stumble on the idea of renting a villa on the Lycian Coast of southwest Turkey, then. For a couple of years I’ve been hearing from a friend about this glorious stretch, and the hillside villas around the harbour town of Kalkan. Now there are recommendations – and then there are recommendations from picky mothers of four boisterous teenagers. So when this friend says somewhere ‘is perfect for older kids’, you pay attention. When she shows you snaps of a Cliffside villa you’re sure you recognise from a Versace shoot, you think: lucky for some.
But these are exceptional circumstances. We do the sums: yes, it will cost nearly double the house in Cornwall (roughly £6,000 a week, including flights and transfers); but the villa does come with a pool that you’ll actually use (average July temperature is 34C), and restaurants, nearby you can afford to eat in (this being a euro-free zone). That’s the two of us sold – now for the kids. We tell them Turkey has a total sunshine guarantee and they’re suspicious, but interested. We give them an online tour of a glamorous villa with its own jetty and kayak, and they’re on board. Better than that, they really want to come – and they cancel all other arrangements for two whole weeks in July.
Expectations are high. We’ve booked two properties, the week one villa for its proximity to the sea (we’ve seen the photos and can picture ourselves diving straight off the deck at the bottom of the garden into deep blue water). The week-two villa, further up the hill, we booked for its preposterously James Bondian looks – all glass and marble and vodka-martini cool. An easy 90 minute transfer from Dalaman airport and we’re there, sweeping around the mountain road and bearing down on the harbour town below.
Form this angle, Kalkan does not disappoint. Rows upon rows of wooden-shuttered, whitewashed stone houses cling decoratively to the cliffs surrounding the bay. Somewhere to the west lies the Aegean; behind them, to the east, rise the Taurus Mountains. A Turkish town with Mama Mia charm, sparkling in the late evening sunshine – so far, so postcard-perfect.
The eldest one’s verdict? ‘This is straight out of The OC’ she says, drifting around her bedroom – whirlpool tub on a raised platform, white muslin curtains billowing through French windows onto a polished wooden first-floor terrace, like the viewing deck of a ship. One down, two to go. By now it is 6pm and the sun is still blazing – time for the two boys to give the infinity pool a go. An hour-and-a-half later they haven’t come out, and the sun still hasn’t gone in. Result (as they’d say).
Closer inspection of the villa reveals that the shower is a dribbler and the loos don’t take paper, while the deck at the bottom of the garden is reached via a dirt track and 181 steps down to the bottom of the Villa Mahal beach Club. (The shower’s better in the more glamorous Villa Ruya, our hideout for week two, although, being higher up the cliff, the water’s even further away). But we’re certainly not complaining. In both villas we have our own private water cooler (inspired: otherwise we’d have spent most of our days ferrying water to and from the town). We have a 360 degree view of the bay. We have neighbours, apparently, but thanks to sensitive landscaping, we can’t actually see them. Kalkan - by this stage of the evening a mass of twinkling lights – barely intrudes. We are blissfully unaware of any other life apart from the odd passing gulet boat as we sit sipping cocktails on our balcony, soaking up the rare sound of familial harmony.
That night we set off armed with restaurant recommendations from the visitors' book, and the expectation of hassle and plastic garden furniture if we stray off-piste. We needn't have worried. Kalkan turns out to be the Mediterranean harbourside town you think you remember from the '70s: steep,. narrow cobbled streets winding down to a picturesque harbour; Ottoman-carved wooden balconies draped in bougainvillea and fairy lights; prune skinned old women in black headscarves weaving baskets; and rosily lit shops selling amber and silver by weight, on scales that look like they date from the Middle Ages. You won’t find any mega-pubs or signs advertising all-you can-eat full English here - a sports screen outside a bar on the main drag is the one reminder of what might have been.
Yes, there are waiters on every corner pimping free starters and happy hours. And music does spill out of the bars into the street, but it wafts rather than pulsates across the cobbles. This is Muslim country where alcohol is tolerated, and that combination seems to bring out the best in its many British visitors. It’s lively enough to give the young and single a good time without alienating families. This is what makes Turkey such a revelation and Kalkan such a smart option for a holiday with young adult children: they discuss the possibility of a late night out on the town, and not for one moment do you think it will end badly.
In the meantime, there's dinner to be had, and the food in the Kalkan area is one of its great draws. There's plenty of lamb and hummus, but also a rich variety of local dishes – goat stew was an unexpected favourite - and wonderful fresh fish, too. You can eat as well here as you would in a good Turkish restaurant in London for roughly f10 a head with wine, and there are plenty of chic waterfront bars where you can sip Mojitos and pay a whole lot more. As a general rule, the restaurants with rooftop terraces have the edge because of their sea views and the bonus of a cool breeze. Our favourites: the Olive Tree (don't bother to order starters: they produce them anyway, as well as a Turkish version of profiteroles for dessert). Also the Korsan Fish Terrace, the twinkliest restaurant in town and the only one specialising in fish. Returning to our villa we watched the lights from our own rooftop terrace and waited for the strains of Cee Lo Green to carry across the bay; but, beyond a very distant murmur, there was little to interfere with the hum of cicadas.
lf Rule One of the Friction-Free Family Holiday is a great pool, then Rule Two is a beach in close proximity which doesn't require getting into a car or loading up with towels and drinks, and which is, ideally more than just a strip of sand. The Mahal Beach Club (a 10-minute walk) has no sand, but sunbathing terraces cut into the rock - oases of loungers and hammocks with ladders into the sea and jetties for diving into deep turquoise water. Days pass as the boys play cards, lounging on giant blue cushions under thatched roofs supported by olive trees, and their sister stretches out with a fresh lime juice, head supported by a white towelling pillow. Lunches are halloumi and aubergine salad or fresh local fish in the shade of the restaurant. There's waterskiing, doughnut-riding, and a kayak for turtle-hunting (spotted only once, alas). Part of the beach club - the most popular in Kalkan - is open to the public for a modest day rate, but it's worth noting that the hotel's private club (open to Exclusive Escapes villas) only takes children over the age of nine; so, while it isn't an intimidatingly cool adult environment, it is always peaceful. But while man can live by beach club alone, by day four, women and adult children need a little more to sustain them.
Fortunately, the town has some surprises up its sleeve. First, the shopping. Kalkan, it turns out, is the 'holiday replica' capital of the Med, and B&G is, according to Mahal guests, the best place to pick up a 'classic' Chanel 2.55 bag (retail price: £2,000) for a very reasonable £75. Resist if you can. I managed until day five, when the pull of 'Prada' purses became too much. (Christmas is coming; there's a recession; they're f10.) By day six, even the boys are getting into it, checking out lorryloads of 'Fred Perry', 'superdry' and 'Ralph Lauren' in the Thursday market, and parting with jealously guarded pocket money for a pair of 'Ray-Bans'.
There are, of course, more legal highs. The males of the party get ready for the weekend with a trip to the cheesily named but nevertheless traditional Turkish barber Sweeney Todd's, complete with cut-throat razors and immolation of nasal and ear hair. And we all enjoy the ministrations of a tiny man in a loincloth in the hammam at the Kalkan Regency Hotel, where we are lathered, pummelled and drenched in a' family' Turkish bath.
An even more ancient tradition had its home in these parts, though. Kalkan is slap-bang in the cradle of civilisation and by week two we are craving some culture. By now we are staying in Ruya - a circular, all-white villa with floor-to-ceiling windows (we feel like we're living in a Martini ad) - which has worked on our youths like a narcotic. All they want to do is loaf in its many landscaped chill-out areas, taking pictures of themselves for their friends back home.
Rule Three of the Friction-Free Family Holiday is: don't force almost-adult children to do anything they really don't want to do. So it is their father and I who drive the 20 minutes to Xanthos, the ancient capital of Lycia, to walk its wide Roman roads and sit on the stone seats of its remarkably well-preserved amphitheatre, watching the sun go down. (Note: we came loaded down with guidebooks and maps, and the spirit was willing, but it is a struggle to move from sun lounger to bar stool in these temperatures' let alone scramble around classical sites in the heat of the day. So start late in the afternoon, or stick to sites close to the water).
A few days later we manage to slip the kids some culture disguised as a day out on a private motor cruiser. The trip follows the coastline from Kalkan to Kas, takes in the sunken city of Kekova, where we cruise close to the cliffs and make out the outlines of buildings that slipped beneath the waves in the fourth and fifth centuries. The kids a suitably impressed, but mainly, I suspect, by a day spent sunbathing on the prow of a speeding boat, not unlike Cags and Millie in Made in Chelsea, in their new reflecting ‘Aviators’. Even better, according to them, is a final day on a gulet, a cross between a pirate ship and a rec room, with hammocks on deck and a good-humoured crew. We spend a long and lazy day at sea, chugging from cove to inlet, stopping for swimming, snorkelling, the catch of the day cooked on board and mud baths on the beach.
Did I mention we played parlour games every night, and that our offspring read voraciously, like children in an Enid Blyton novel? Or that the pool-sized TVs in both villas were never switched on? Or that they never did opt for that night on the town – happy, it seems, to hang out with us? Perhaps it was the heat – locals claim it hit 40 degrees. But it takes something special to detach a 22-, 20-, and 17-year old from their laptops, video games and friends back home. There was something about Kalkan that worked its magic. We’ll be going back, for sure. And I’m pretty sure they’ll be coming with us.
This page contains information from The Sunday Times Travel Magazine. Return to view all press »
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