There are hotels with great character, and great characters with hotels. Ipek Tolbas of Hotel Villa Mahal falls distinctly into the latter category – her much loved 13-room bolthole in the southern Turkish village of Kalkan is a true extension of her ebullient self.
I meet her first over an early-afternoon cocktail, which is as jovially presented with carved fruit and curly straws as she is in her wafts of vibrant colour. All the other guests late-lunching in the thatched shade of the waterside bar and restaurant seem to know her. Many because they have been before and are now old friends; others because no one escapes a friendly chat or introduction.
Villa Mahal has evolved slowly over the years, starting in the early Eighties when Kalkan was just a sleepy fishing village beloved by a Bohemian crowd of artists, designers and musicians from Istanbul, among whom was Ipek. At the time, the land she decided to buy – a steep and rugged stretch of barren coast just outside the village – would have seemed a crazy pipedream. Now that Kalkan has expanded to satisfy the hungry demands of tourism, it is like gold dust
Higgledy-piggledy is perhaps the best way to describe the hotel: with a multitude of levels and a lot of steps (‘181 Steps to Heaven’ read the staff T-shirts), this is not a place for small children or the faint-hearted, although a discreet buggy path is underway to help less able guests manoeuvre between the breakfast terrace and reception at the top of the property, the infinity pool midway down, and the restaurant, tiny spa and beach club at sea level. In between are abundant, tightly terraced gardens and the spattering of rooms, categorised in the main as ‘Moonlight’ or ‘Sunrise’. All share stupendous sea views and mostly white interiors with a splash of bright colour. Cliff House is the stand-out suite, which has its own beautiful pool, and there are two villas, Ying and Yang, for larger groups.
When darkness falls, the hotel glows with the twinkle of lights and candles, its waterside stone platforms (used by day for sunbathing and sea access in lieu of a beach) transformed into romantic dining stations. Guests can jump on the shuttle boat to whip across the inky bay into Kalkan itself, preserved at its heart as a quaintly attractive village of narrow streets, shops and restaurants.
Beyond the hotel, there are countless distractions: the Lycian Way, one of Turkey’s longest and most spectacular walking trails, which, near Kalkan, passes the ancient remains of the Lycian city of Patara and its eponymous golden beach; the mountain village of Islamlar, famous for its freshwater trout and tahini; the sunken city of Kekova; and the Greek island of Meis, which is just a short boat ride away.
And talking of boats, Ipek has a new development for her hotel this season – the launch of a three-cabin sailing yacht, allowing guests the opportunity to combine both land and sea. It is a smart move, for these are some of the most exquisite sailing waters in the region; and if the boat is as quirky and as characterful as Villa Mahal, she will be on to an absolute winner.
Pamela Goodman stayed as a guest of Hotel Villa Mahal (villamahal.com) and travelled with Red Savannah (01242-787800; redsavannah.com), which offers four nights at the hotel from £775 and seven nights from £1,060, both B&B, including return flights from London to Dalaman with EasyJet and private transfers.