Sky, ocean and pool are trying to out-blue each other on a day rich with the promise of nothing. Deliciously idle hours yawn in the September heat, marked only by the occasional turn of a page, iPod click or popping cork. Maybe a lap or two of the pool. I could definitely get used to Bodrum.
But where is Mr Smith? And why this sudden obsession with viewing Casa dell’Arte’s latest exhibit? Since when was Mr Smith interested in Turkish wrestling? How can photographs of well-oiled, muscular, brooding Turks, dressed only in their glistening, black leather ‘kisbets’, possibly compete with these other, gentler, charms?
Kisbets and wrestlers apart, Casa dell’Arte is extraordinary. Not extraordinary in the superlative, glossy brochure sense. It’s simply unlike any other hotel the Mr Smiths have ever visited. Originally conceived as a family home for a wealthy istanbullu to house one of Turkey’s largest private art collections, the plans were diverted to boutique hotel before the building was actually completed. The result is a curious hybrid: part-hotel-part-gallery, sitting loftily by the water’s edge at Torba Bay on Turkey’s Bodrum peninsula. Essentially a modernist box which cleverly incorporates 19th-century masonry from Turkey’s Cappadocia region, Casa dell’Arte’s street entrance is curiously discreet, save for date palms and vintage cars (sleek black Mercedes and 1964 Ford Mustang convertible) that stand sentry and, combined with the exquisite inlaid doors, hint at the exotic within.
Twelve suites, each named for a sign of the zodiac, are arranged around a central open courtyard, above which seven magnificent vintage chandeliers are suspended like a glittering highwire act. ‘What happens when it rains?’ I ask Sarah, Casa dell’Arte’s charming Australian general manager. ‘It gets wet – very wet’ was the response my question deserved, but somehow in a hotel where nothing is quite as it seems, I was expecting a retractable roof at the very least. Some suites have ocean views and some are duplexes, but all share the remarkable collection of contemporary Turkish art that gives the hotel its name. Book-lined, cathedral-like public rooms (lounges to the left, dining room to the right) open up to the hotel’s rear dining terrace, which in turn gives way to a private deck and the cerulean Aegean.
Mr Smith and I are occupying Libra, one of the hotel’s two Dome suites. Dizzying in its scale, our cool, neutral suite boasts a canvas by Turkish artist Nese Erdok, crystal ‘sputnik’ pendants and a crystalline ‘tree’ lamp, which to my design eye, owes a debt to the Brazilian Campana brothers. There are L’Occitane toiletries in an adequate bathroom with a powerful shower. There’s a cowhide rug and a cinemascope flatscreen which panders generously to Mr Smith’s other great obsession: Fashion TV. There’s no view to speak of (because we’re at the side of the building), but there are LED lights in the ceiling above the bed that twinkle like the night skies of our childhoods. There’s a splash of Dubai in this room, a hint of Palm Springs and a touch of Las Vegas. My inner caption-writer screams ‘eccentric luxe’ and the phrase sticks.
After Turkish wrestling, Fashion TV and our ongoing research of fine wine, Mr Smith and I love to eat. At Mimolett Ege, Casa dell’Arte’s alfresco, beachside restaurant (essentially a pop-up by celebrated Turkish chef Murat Bozok), we enjoy just-caught prawns on tagliatelle; local sea bass on tabouleh with feta, and fragrant basil crème brûlée, delicately served in an eggshell. Breakfast is a more robust affair with a traditional spread of breads and pastries, meats and feta, fresh fruits and yoghurt. But at a little restaurant called Gonca Balik, just a few metres away by the water’s edge, Mr Smith and I feast on delicious and inexpensive calamari; kibbeh; stuffed zucchini flowers and a divine pudding of warm semolina and almonds, served with ice-cream.
Casa dell’Arte’s restrained theatricality is perhaps its shtick, as evidenced by the vertigo-inducing glass stairs beneath which a grand piano sits silently on the marble floor and an impressive subterranean (but oddly quiet) gym, spa and cinema. In late September there’s a meditative calm that belies the clamour of the summer months. And art, millions of dollars’ worth of it, is as ubiquitous as the books which speak of it. The works on display demand attention. They cross genres, from street art to landscape. They’re challenging, controversial and intriguing. The aforementioned wrestler photos are an exhibition by Turkish photographer Bennu Gerede, each image incorporating Swarovski crystals to feminise the posturing machismo of the pehlivans (wrestlers).
Perhaps it’s the way an editor’s mind works, but my memory stores images and vignettes, Pinterest-like, for posterity. Casa dell’Arte delivers in spades. The chandeliers suspended trapeze-like above the courtyard; brilliant blue and orange tables and chairs on the Torba waterfront; and artist Robert Montgomery’s haunting billboard installation which illuminates Casa dell’Arte’s garden: ‘The people you love become ghosts inside of you and like this you keep them alive.’ Memories operate in much the same way.