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Bodrum Is Place to Be on Aegean

October 15, 1989|BEVERLY BEYER and ED RABEY

BODRUM, Turkey — A 15th-Century crusaders' castle crowns a hill beside the blue harbor here, but down below a crusade of a different sort has been going on for years.

The latest wave of faithful is secular and consists in the main of young people who have made this their beachside capital on the Aegean Sea, getting up just in time for an afternoon of sun followed by an evening of cafe hopping until dawn.

So popular has this town of 13,000 become that its population rises to about 100,000 between April and November. New construction to accommodate tourists has been so frantic that the recently elected mayor ran on a sole platform of "no more building" during his five-year term.

In addition to being one of the prettiest and liveliest resort towns on the Aegean today, Bodrum has a modicum of antiquities and ruins to interest those seeking to combine a seaside holiday with a bit of history.

Getting here: Take British Airways, KLM, Lufthansa, Pan Am or SAS to Istanbul, then Turkish Airways to Izmir. From there it's half a day bus ride to Bodrum, but many visitors sail in with a cruise line, Turkish ferry or the increasingly popular gulet, a private-hire sailing vessel right out of the Middle Ages.

How long/how much? A day will do for the sights of Bodrum, but many linger on for a week or more. Costs for accommodations from moderate downward, with superb Turkish food for a pittance.

A few fast facts: The Turkish lira recently sold for 2,200 to the dollar, about .00045 each. Visit any time between April and November, but between July and September the town is crowded with Europeans and the harbor is choked with yachts and gulets . Taxis are cheap, dolmus (communal cabs) even cheaper.

Settling in: Hotel Ayaz (Gumbet Bay; $42 U.S. double, half-pension) is owned by Huseyin Ayaz, whose family has held land in these parts for 400 years. It has its own beach with a fine pool, gardens, lively beachside bar and every possible water sport.

Bedrooms of moderate size have private balconies and contemporary furnishings. A big plus for the Ayaz is its site on a bay behind the main harbor, away from the noise and bustle of town. And the owner has a six-cabin gulet with all the amenities of a yacht, just in case you'd like a cruise down the coast.

Otel Park Palas (Gumbet Bay; $40 double, half-pension) is next door to the Ayaz and duplicates most of its virtues.

The beachside garden is a cool haven of green lawn, banana and eucalyptus trees, and bowers of flowers. The gigantic pool sits beside an awning-covered terrace restaurant and American bar. There's a very friendly owner here who grows tomatoes, eggplant and herbs in his garden for the dining room.

Hotel Serthan (Gumbet Road; $39 double, half-pension) is a small and sparkling white place of local architecture that's perfect for families, many of which seem to come back yearly to go fishing with the owner.

Only 31 rooms, it's built around the pool and is only a two-minute walk from the beach. Bedrooms are simple but beautiful, with balconies spilling bougainvillea. The pension meals are excellent.

Regional food and drink: All along this coast you'll find plenty of fresh seafood, but it's usually about twice the price of meat and vegetable dishes. Look for fresh sardines, anchovies, swordfish, sea bass, red mullet and bream, plus whatever is running at the time.

Two things that caught our fancy fast were ezo gelin , a lentil and rice soup spiced with tomato, mint and red peppers, and midya dolmasi , a cold meze (hors d'oeuvre) of mussels in their shells and stuffed with rice and pine nuts. The last was probably the best dish of the trip.

Another meze you'll enjoy is the patlican salatasi , a heavenly paste of eggplant pureed with yogurt, which you dip onto pide (pita) bread. Mezes go well with raki (anise liqueur) or ayran , yogurt mixed with water, a Turkish favorite.

Good dining: Restaurant Han (just off the main shopping street) is built around a tree-shaded courtyard, its walls lined with colorful carpets. You dine at communal tables on kebabs, kofte (spicy lamb patties) and fresh prawns. The most expensive thing on the menu is $6.50. Evenings are festive, with Turkish folk dancers and the ever-present belly dancer gyrating away.

Amphora (on the quay at the edge of town) is a pretty place where you may dine indoors or on a cool terrace rimmed with potted oleanders. A broad menu gives you a choice of 20 mezes , two dozen kinds of skewered meats and several koftes . Again, you'll find carpets decorating the floors and stuccoed walls.

Eren (near the main square on the quay) is entirely open, with rustic tables and a menu of no-frills Turkish specialties. A lamb brochette goes for $2.25, fresh sea bream for $6.50. There are half a dozen similar cafe-restaurants along this front, so pick and choose.

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