Why you should consider a gulet holiday in Turkey

By Catherine Leech, Director, 101 Holidays

I may not have found the perfect holiday, but I believe I have found MY perfect holiday – a week on a gulet in Turkey.

Many people have asked me (a) what’s a gulet? and (b) would I like it?

First things first, a gulet is a traditional Turkish two-masted sailing vessel. Crafted in wood, they range from around 14 to 35 metres in length with varying proportions of deck space and cabins. Our gulet, Seyhan Jan, was 39.5 metres long with 10 ensuite teak and mahogany cabins, oodles of deck space with comfy loungers and plenty of shade.

Of course, you can take a day trip (readily available from most Turkish tourist towns) but the week-long voyages take a specific route from A to B – ours was called Gulf of Hisaronu, from Selimiye to Marmaris, sailing close to Symi with Rhodes visible on the horizon. We motored almost all the way – there was very little wind so we were only under sail on one occasion.

(* See our suggested holiday ideas in Turkey).

It helped that the weather was glorious (we were there from 4-11 June). The sea was refreshingly calm and a little cool. If balmy waters are important for you, travel between July and October.

Spending a week on board a boat, with very little shore time, means you are living in a virtual community. Gulets accommodate from 6 to around 24 people (15 years and over, unless you do a private charter), so pick your boat carefully. Of course, you could fill a boat with family and friends but if it’s just the two of you, I reckon there’s safety in numbers – out of 17 people (and 5 crew) on our boat, we parted firm friends with some and rubbed along with everyone. We never felt crowded.

Some couples on our week were on their 4th or 5th gulet holiday – it’s addictive – and they spoke both of previous weeks when everyone gelled and others when there were one or two who didn’t really ‘fit in’. What quickly became clear was that the level of enjoyment was directly linked to expectation – in spite of all the detailed brochure and online information provided by our tour operator (Anatolian Sky), some were expecting to be in a different port or harbour every night, stopping off at places of interest every day.

Check your itinerary and ask questions before you book – some gulet itineraries have more stops than others (but note that the final itinerary is always at the captain’s discretion). The harbours charge mooring fees so that puts the cost up – and I preferred to be in a gloriously deserted bay under the stars, with a cool mosquito-free breeze than in the relatively hot and noisy harbours.

We spent the first night in the delightful fishing harbour of Selimiye, moored up in the fascinating gulet-building port of Bozburun on the 3rd night and bustling Marmaris on the last night – we had a daytime stop on an island with church ruins, a donkey and a tortoise, the opportunity to kayak ashore to some of the yachtie bars and an optional (and excellent) excursion in and around Bozburun – for £3 each. Otherwise, it was life on the big blue, surrounded by jaw-dropping scenery.

Food is an important part of any holiday – 3 staggeringly good, freshly-prepared meals were served on deck each day (included in the price). There wasn’t a duff dish amongst them – tomatoes, cucumber, olives, cheese, bread, home-made jam, local honey and a different egg dish each day for breakfast, a vast spread of vegetarian wonders at lunchtime and either meat or fish served with several side dishes each evening.

Our cook (Nimet, the captain’s wife) is rightly regarded as one of the best in the business so perhaps we struck lucky but we met people from other boats and they, too, regarded the food and ambiance of each meal as a highlight. Frankly, had we paid for that quality and quantity in restaurants, we’d have paid almost as much as the entire holiday.

Soft drinks and bottled water are included. Alcoholic drinks were pricey (more on a par with upmarket hotels than restaurants) – £17 for a bottle of (decent) wine, £4 for a large beer, £5 for imported spirits and £4 for raki and other local spirits. We paid £150 each for a drinks package rather than rack up a bill.

Highlights for us, apart from the food and company, included squeals of delight when the ice-cream boat visited, a sneak preview of Roman Abramovich’s new ‘gulet’ (all 145m of it, under construction in a secure purpose-built giant workshop in Bozburun, for a cool €15million), watching silk being spun from cocoons, the first dip of the morning and gut-busting laughter over a couple of spontaneous quiz nights around the dinner table. It’s worth adding that we came home with pleasingly little laundry – swimwear, a cover-up for meals and shoes, a sundress and shorts for shore time covered it.

The downsides were more individual – my boyfriend wanted more time ashore to visit some of Turkey’s amazing ruins, the cabin was baking when we were in port (the air-conditioning was only on between 6pm and 8pm) and there were a few flashes of irritation over one family’s behaviour – but nothing to spoil what was a pretty perfect week. I would do it again, in a flash – my boyfriend would too, but in September (when the fishing is better) and on an itinerary with the opportunity to visit some of the ancient ruins.

Some companies operate themed/cultural gulet cruises with daily shore visits to places of interest (Peter Sommer Travels for example) whilst others offer more luxurious gulets. They are pricier but you get what you pay for.

That said, I think you would struggle to beat Seyhan Jan for value for money – a week full board, with flights and transfers, costs from around £600 to £900 pp depending on your departure airport and date.

We’ve returned home with great memories – and a top tale for the pub. Our last afternoon was wiled away in Marmaris – 4 of us headed out for cocktails, calamari and a spot of retail therapy in the bazaar. As we sipped our Sex on the Beach, the earth literally moved – we watched the promenade between us and the water undulate like a wave as a 4.1 earthquake left us shaken not stirred.

* Catherine paid for her holiday with Anatolian Sky

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