Villa Mahal – a boutique resort on the Lycian coast with just 13 rooms – rests on a hillside amid olive groves and lime, fig and frangipani trees, all overlooking the glittering blue Bay of Kalkan. Beyond its natural good looks – and divine perfume – it has an infinity pool that appears to float, and romantic restaurants. And while the Beach Club may not have powder-white sands, here each guest gets a sunlounger-topped cliff-clinging platform to themselves. Run by an owner with a genuine love for the area and wish to please guests, it’s a rare Turkish confection.
Get this when you book through us:
A bottle of Kavaklidere Inci Damlasi, a Turkish sparkling wine
13, including three suites and one standalone villa.
Noon, but flexible, subject to availability. Early arrivals can laze by the pool or freshen up in an unoccupied room. Earliest check-in, 2pm.
Double rooms from £219.22 (€240), including tax at 8 per cent.
Rates usually include a traditional Turkish breakfast: a spread of breads and pastries, muesli, yoghurt with local honey, fresh fruit and juices, olives, cheeses and eggs any way.
Hands-on hotel owner Ipek Tolbas will happily chat and offer handy nuggets of local knowledge. We’re rather partial to labour-of-love hotels, and Mahal’s is quite a magical story: former graphic designer Ipek fell in love with Kalkan while on holiday in 1982 and despite the remote setting (most materials arrived on boat or by donkey) she had built the villa from scratch by 1987.
Annually from 1 November to 1 May.
At the hotel
Spa, beach club, honesty bar, roof terrace, parking, free WiFi throughout. In rooms: iPod dock, Nespresso Coffee machine, minibar, kettle with a selection of teas, free bottled water, air-conditioning and Molton Brown bath products.
Our favourite rooms
We applaud the sociable beach club scene, but honeymooners and loved-up twosomes can seek some alone time in the resort’s only villa, the Cliff House. Bar infrequent visits from the friendly gardener, it’s utterly secluded, set mere steps from the coast and surrounded by aloe vera plants. A private infinity pool appears to run into Kalkan Bay, and there are sunloungers and cushioned banquettes on your terrace for cosy sunset-gazing.
The view from the resort’s 17-metre infinity pool – lime, olive and fig trees descending into the blue of the bay – will make you want to up sticks and pursue the hotelier path on the Turkish coast (much like Villa Mahal owner, Ipek). A Jacuzzi, sunloungers and honesty bar complete the serene set up. The Cliff House and Pool Room each have private pools and guests can jump into the bay from the Beach Club’s floating platforms – a private deck is reserved for each room or suite.
Mahal Beach Spa takes a cue from the Flintstones, offering its decadent treatments (Balinese massages, clay face masks, foot and hand reflexology and crystal healing) in a low-lit stone cave where the gentle swoosh of waves reverberates off the walls. Claustrophobes can choose to take their treatment in a veiled pavilion by the shore.
It depends on the pace of holiday you’ve planned: Kalkan’s hills call for hiking boots, but Mahal’s pools call for a floaty kaftan and a sizzling summer read.
The resort is laid out over the hillside, so be prepared for plenty of steps.
Over-12s are welcome. Extra beds can be added to most room types (except Moonlight Rooms and the Ying Villa) for €50 a person a night.
Water is heated by solar panels, and the ingredients used in the restaurant are locally sourced.
Down a staircase carved into the rock face you reach a platform hovering over the turquoise bay, where staff can set up a lamp-lit table. Kalkan’s glittering lights in the distance and the peaceful lapping of waves make it oh-so romantic.
Barefoot, bikini-clad relaxation rules here, but Mrs Smith may want to slip on a pair of glam Grecian sandals and a kaftan come dinnertime, or tailored shorts and shirt for Mr Smith.
Decorated in Santorini-esque white and cobalt, and positioned for just-right views, Villa Mahal Restaurant is an idyllic spot for lunch and dinner. Dishes are trad Turkish (cheese-stuffed pachanga pastries, Anatolian piyaz bean salad),seafood heavy (rum-flambéed prawns, rock grouper fillet in champagne sauce) and meaty (shish kebab, meatballs with hummus). It’s only open for lunch on Tuesdays and Fridays, but a barbecue’s fired up on the rooftop terrace on these evenings, with mezze platters on the side. Mahal Beach Bar at the club has tapas-style fare, chilled wines and fresh juices; and on Sundays, brunch is served on the waterside terrace.
Sink into a bean bag or laze on a sunlounger at Mahal Beach Bar and sip a home-made lemonade with mint or a signature My Mahal cocktail (rum, Malibu, pineapple juice, blue caraçao and lime). Post-swim snacks include fried courgettes and cheese plates. Trusty Turkish wines (a glass of the Angora or Egeo goes down well) populate the poolside honesty bar – the brave can try a tot of potent Raki (a local anise-flavoured spirit) – and the rooftop terrace is the spot for sundowners.
Lunch at Mahal Beach Bar and Villa Mahal Restaurant runs from noon–4pm. Dinner is served from 7pm–9pm at Villa Mahal Restaurant, except on Tuesdays and Fridays when guests can dine on the rooftop terrace. Both bars run dry at midnight.
The in-room menu runs from fragrant fare (chicken shish with lemon, sage and paprika) to home comforts (burgers, sandwiches and salads).
Villa Mahal sits across a bay from former Ottoman-Greek town Kalkan (a 10-minute drive away), overlooking the Turkish Mediterranean. Its setting is peaceful yet dramatic, with olive groves scattered over cliffs and beaches tucked into the Lycian Coast.
Dalaman Airport is the closest, roughly a two-hour drive. Flights from Europe and across the Pacific arrive via Istanbul; and US flights arrive via Germany or London and Istanbul. The hotel can arrange transfers from Dalaman in a private car (€110 one way), or minivan (€130 one way). Or guests can transfer from Antalya Airport, a three-hour drive away: a private car is €150, a minivan €180.
From the airport, follow the scenic D400 road to the hotel. This twisty-turny stretch of tarmac meanders past Mediterranean vistas, distant mountains, chocolate-box villages and a few Roman ruins; however, its sharp bends might unnerve inexperienced drivers. There’s parking close to the hotel.
Worth getting out of bed for
The resort can arrange kayaking, jet-skiing, sailing and water-skiing; however, there’s a beach in name only. Pebbly, Blue Flag Kalkan beach, next to the harbour, has clear and generally calm waters to swim and snorkel in. Want to feel the sand between your toes? Head to Kaputaş Beach, a gorgeous stretch of gold, blue and green – the 10-minute drive there will make you look too. PADI-certified Kalkan Dive Centre (+90 242 844 2361) at Kalamar Beach Club (a 10-minute drive) ferries divers of all abilities to islands and reefs for underwater exploration (and fish feeding) in comfortably warm waters with excellent visibility. Cast a wider net: hire a Turkish gulet (sailboat) from Kalkan harbour and hunt down hidden coves, or head west to protected, sea-turtle-nesting site Patara Beach (visit in mid–late August for the best chance of seeing some hatchlings), before a trip to the Roman ruins close by. Myra’s rock-hewn tombs are a 90-minute drive away (90 minutes from Villa Mahal by car), and off the coast between Kaleköy and Üçağız, you can kayak amid the ruins of submerged ancient city Kekova.
The Fish Terrace (+90 242 844 3076) occupies the roof terrace of 19th-century pension the Patara Stone House in Kalkan’s old town. The menu is largely sea-to-table, but there are ‘not-so-fishy’ dishes for not-so-pescatarian diners. You’ll need to book ahead in peak season. Close by, we like the moussaka and attentive service at Baharat (+ 90 242 844 3976). For a fleet of tasty sharing dishes, head to harbourside eatery Korsan Meze Restaurant (+ 90 242 844 3622). Upscale Gironda Restaurant (+90 242 844 3136) has romantic bay views and a shaded outdoor seating area.
Hunkar Kebab (+90 242 844 2077) is low key, but lures locals with its excellent shish kebabs – we’re sold.
Botanik Garden Bar has a tropical tinge, with raffia-thatched kiosks, and palm trees strung with lights (+90 535 470 9099).
Surely only certifiable fruit-loops would make a 20-hour round trip to spend just 48 hours in Turkey. But, well, call us fruit-loops, because that’s precisely why Mr Smith and I are Kalkan-bound for Mr Smith’s thirtieth. When I turned 30, I got a regrettable blow-dry, donned a fuchsia minidress and lured a motley crew to a Shoreditch dive bar with questionable cocktails and vintage video games; but that was four years ago, and I want to do things differently for my beloved. In order to distract Mr Smith during the three-hour drive from Antalya to the hotel – a slog which can in no way be considered a birthday present, however optimistic one’s nature – I try to seduce him via the rugged scenery. ‘Look at those mountains’, I murmur persuasively, waggling my fingers at the jagged Toblerone peaks glowering back at us through the car windows. Mr Smith, who hails from the majestic moors of Lancashire, sleepily makes impressed noises; I consider his inner Wordsworth/Heathcliff sufficiently roused.
However, there’s no need for the hard sell when we arrive at Villa Mahal, perched precariously on a cliffside by the glittering waters of the Med. It’s the kind of hotel that graciously unravels itself with more of a whisper than a bellowed ‘Hai, guys!’. Its lo-fi-luxe rooms and sea-view restaurants sprawl across untamed green grounds, abundantly planted with vivid orange and scarlet blooms. Slices of dazzling aqua surprise you at every turn – along with the occasional skinny kitten, and steps cantilever down to a beach club with sunloungers set on rocky sea platforms – but, we don’t know this yet.
Our room has eye-bogglingly beautiful liquid panoramas revealed through floor-to-ceiling windows, so you can do interesting things to each other while boats bob past, giving a whole new meaning to the phase: ‘his ship has come in’. Hunks of smoky grey-and-peach quartz sparkle by our bed, which is huge and comfy, and dramatic mint-green curtains match the ever-shifting jade-blue hues of the sea. The bathroom is a sleek, shiny, nougat-coloured stone expanse with a rain-head shower and a flotilla of Ren products. Whenever circumstances permit, Mr Smith and I prefer ocean ablutions, so we grab our beach towels and head outside. We canter down the steps – 181 in total, according to the bartenders’ T-shirts – that lead to the sparkling water, parking up on our rocky platform of choice. While Mr Smith swims with vigour, I stake out the barnacled sea steps, lurking in the waves like some kind of subterranean toll-collector. A giant plastic float bobs by – should you strive for feelings of achievement, which is a rarity for me on holiday, I recommend that every now and then you swim out to it, clamber on, lie down, and then get off.
Villa Mahal is dazzling by day; irresponsibly romantic by night. Actually, re-e-wind: the seduction begins a little earlier, at approximately seven o’clock, when the lemon-yellow sun sinks below the elbow-crook of the mountains, and clouds like torn tissue trail across the sky. This is a scene best accessorised with drinks: I recommend two citrus-sherbet Villa Mahal specials, in which gin is jazzed up with lemon. An ‘on the rocks’ approach applies to dinner, which is served as close to the waves as gravity permits. Spotlights cast a soft glow on the stones and water, where fish flit darkly below. A moon like a gilded nectarine hangs ripe above us as we scoff herby grilled fish and sip pear-sweet white wine, while the hotel cats companionably crunch prawn heads like popcorn (and get into the occasional hysterical scrap or two).
Over dinner, we spy the lights of Kalkan, the closest town, twinkling gold, azure, violet and emerald on the ink-dark hillside, like gems on black velvet. We have no problem with utterly ignoring Kalkan beyond this sighting. Our intentions are to move no further than the spa, which is sublime, by the way, starring an impressive, lipsticked lady who athletically kneads my laptop-induced hunchback in a bohemian, thatched-roof massage shack by the sea. We discuss Kalkan: I say something about not going and she emphatically cries ‘Chocolate!’ in an excited manner, while jiggling and hopping around. Though I briefly question her sanity – but never her massage skills – a little bit of post-spa detective work reveals that Chocolate is in fact a Kalkan nightclub. Do go if you feel lively.
Throughout our stay, Mr Smith and I do not feel lively. We feel the very opposite, i.e. flagrantly immobile. We are much like two fat sea lions who have managed to flop their way into a very good bedroom; enjoy view-toting, open-air breakfasts of cheese, cured meat, fresh fruit, pancakes and jam, coffee and juice; and then slide back happily into the sea, where we truly belong. The most activity Mr Smith achieves is going Rambo on the local mozzie population one night; the most I achieve is disattaching my eyelids from some dubious fake lashes (the legacy of Mr Smith’s UK birthday bash), which attempt to go blindingly AWOL during breakfast. Sadly, all good things must come to an end, even inactivity. Duty/Gatwick Airport calls, and Mr Smith and I must hark it. But, there’s a spark of optimism left in us yet – ‘You’ll be 31 soon’, I tell him, as we leave.