Boutique resort Villa Mahal, in the lesser-explored Antalya region of Turkey, was conceived in Smith-approved style: owner Ipek fell for the aquamarine waters of the Bay of Kalkan and its dramatic surroundings while on holiday nearby. She built 13 refined rooms and suites, and a few years later Villa Mahal’s an increasingly popular stay, with an infinity pool that seems to levitate over the bay, top-drawer Turkish cuisine served in romantic restaurants and a stone cave that doubles as a spa treatment room. To seek similar enlightenment, we recommend checking in soon.
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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 $228.67 (€204), excluding 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).
Every hotel featured is visited personally by members of our team, given the Smith seal of approval, and then anonymously reviewed. As soon as our reviewers have returned from this boutique hotel in Turkey and unpacked their box of sugar-dusted rosewater-flavoured sweets and flowing kaftans, a full account of their luxury seaside break will be with you. In the meantime, to whet your wanderlust, here's a postcard from Villa Mahal in Kalkan…
It’s likely that resort owner Ipek will be standing there herself – welcome drink at the ready – when you pull up within the leafy confines of Villa Mahal. While the devastatingly beautiful scenery distracts you, your bags will be spirited away to a private, white-walled retreat. It’s like staying with a friend – if said friend had a team of five-star staff at their beck and call. The resort errs towards rustic simplicity with plenty of polish: rooms scattered throughout hillside olive groves have sleek interiors, a stone cave has been earmarked for spa treatments and the restaurants are inescapably romantic. It’s probably why a little eavesdropping (from your sunlounger by the infinity pool high above Kalkan Bay, or from the Beach Club carved into the rock face) will reveal holidaymakers who return year after year.
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