Review: the beautiful Hillside Beach Club, Turkey
PUBLISHED: 17:21 24 January 2019 | UPDATED: 17:34 24 January 2019
Find out why Turkey's Hillside Beach Club is a worldwide byword for repeat visits and customer satisfaction
The excitement about my mini break in Turkey really kicked in for me as my taxi left the midnight buzz of Fettiye and started to climb. Up and up we wound until we were suddenly at the aptly named Hillside Beach Club, my home for the next four nights.
A speedy, smiley check-in and a golf buggy arrived to whisk me to my room and the first surprise; my driver got out and started to run up an endless flight of winding external wooden stairs with my bag, beckoning me to follow.
I trudged rather more slowly behind, drinking in the heat, the sounds of music drifting up from below and how the apartments nestle between giant fig trees, for all the world like little nests.
Practically at the top – 88 steps up to be precise – and we’d arrived: a vast terrace with a view that made me gasp on waking, a seriously well-stocked bathroom through bamboo screens, to the rear a double bedroom – open the slide doors and the air con kicks in immediately and all is quiet. Bliss.
There’s loads of storage space, everything is very hi-tech, a huge bed beckons beneath a Bougainvillea-strewn duvet.
But sleep could wait. Suddenly ravenous (my flight left an hour late and lunch is a distant memory) I opened the beautifully boxed sandwich I’d been thoughtfully left, cracked open a beer and sank into the sofa. I’m going to like it here, I smiled.
Hillside Beach Club, an all-inclusive luxury resort under the umbrella of family owed Alarko Holding Tourism Group, is fabulous – but don’t just take my word for it. It has become a lecture topic at none other than Harvard Business School, which turns the story of successful world brands into case studies.
Hillside’s own success story, which includes a rating of 99 per cent for guest satisfaction and 68 per cent of re-visiting rates over its 20 years in business, has been analysed by the world-leading university as part of a case study called ‘Offering the Best Family Vacation in the Mediterranean.’
As I was to quickly discover, it’s one of those rare places that works just as well for families with young children as it does for couples, groups of friends and solo holidaymakers. Everyone looks happy, guests and staff alike; there is a palpable air of contentment and calm.
With the sea bringing an intense turquoise and the pine trees clinging to the hills that surround the bay their own soft green, nothing needs compete with nature’s palette.
The beach staff are in neutral shorts and ‘Feeling good’ T-shirts (the resort’s mantra), or all-white in the restaurants.
Loungers are clad in sturdy oatmeal fabric, the copious free towels are putty coloured and stored in big slatted containers of similar hue. The buildings are cream with terracotta roofs, beach umbrellas and bars are bamboo clad; nothing ‘shouts.’
It feels safe, happy, contained – once you’ve got your bearings and realised there are going to be steps, lots of steps, everywhere you go. Which explains the lack of elderly and disabled and why buggies are all at the bottom of the apartment blocks: you wouldn’t want to be lugging one of those up 88 steps.
Hillside is stylishly switched on: your room key is also your ‘energy’ key for all the electrics, you can download an app that enables you to order drinks via the number on your beach umbrella, without having to leave your sun lounger.
Serenity beach (one of two ‘adult’ beaches, the other, Silent beach, is a mobile-free zone) has a gate along the forest walk that leads to it which you unlock with Club Card. Use the same card to buy drinks and snacks and just settle up on departure, avoiding the need to carry cash or cards.
There are three restaurants, Main is the family choice, where house wine is free and the food on offer such a miraculous bounty that ‘buffet’ doesn’t do it justice.
I breakfast there daily (except one very late morning when I feast at Pasha, which does 10am-12pm sittings) and my choices ranged from tangy salad leaves with salty white local cheeses to a granola, yogurt, seeds and berries mix made to my specification that is divinely pink and crunchy. I drink Turkish tea, nibble on fresh figs.
All diets are catered for, from gluten free and vegan to a ‘Baby Chef’ for the littlest diners.
The Italian beach restaurant is where I dine on my first full night with my host Ipek. We feasted on antipasti, mushroom risotto, calamari, shrimp and salmon, followed by a shared panacotta and washed down with a cool local Sauvignon Blanc – right on the beach as the sun went down.
My final night was spent at Pasha, the all-white, achingly cool beachfront restaurant. I chatted to head chef Paulo and his staff and when our language skills failed us, they found a handy YouTube video to show me what I was eating. They taught me to say ‘welcome’ in Turkish, which I certainly felt.
There didn’t seem to be a menu as such so I just agreed to everything, then pointed my preference when trays of dishes were presented to me: salmon on a bed of seaweed and zucchini, olive bread, calamari and prawns with sharp wasabi, a giant sea bass, a trio of rich, sweet Turkish desserts that was nearly my undoing.
I swam every day, Serenity in the morning (walk there, courtesy boat back), Silent in the afternoon when the sun moved round; I snoozed on a floating pontoon. The beaches are pebble, which makes for crystal-clear waters, with jetties and steps down so you don’t stub your pedicured toes wading in to swimming depth.
There’s yoga on Silent beach every morning, but I confess I never saw 8am once, and I was far too cowardly to try any of the (many) activities, which ranged from water skiiing to beach volleyball and archery.
There’s also gentler, arty stuff like stone or glass painting and jewellery design, and parents can relax while their children (from baby to 15) are catered for in different clubs offering fun stuff.
There are periodic tours to the islands in the Bay of Fethiye and to the coves of Göcek, plus sunset tours and private boat rides. The truly adventurous can go mountain biking, trekking or join an off-road jeep safari.
I did have two fabulous spa treatments, the first a full body massage at SANDA Nature Spa, which seems to hang in the pine trees above Silent Beach and is invisible from below. A firm approach to my muscles ended with a startling bit of back slapping, so I left feeling extremely invigorated and ready for a new favourite drink: cold, refreshing ginger Chinese tea.
If I felt clean after Sanda, I literally hadn’t experienced what that meant until my first-ever hammam Turkish spa.
You just have to go with the flow, let yourself be flipped over like a giant fish on a marble slab, cleansed over and over again, first with warm water then the unexpected shock of freezing cold and a brisk massage, finally a hairwash while cradled like a large baby. My skin felt truly alive and I tingled all over.
But I’m leaving the best to last – the reason for my visit at this particular point of high summer was to experience, for one night only, a performance from the Ankara Chamber Orchestra.
With the musicians on a pontoon out to sea and their audience perched on loungers and sitting at the Italian beach restaurant bar, sunset saw the musicians silhouetted against the backdrop of the bay while they played Vivaldi’s Four Seasons as the sun set over the Aegean Sea. Many guests time their annual visits to include this concert, and I can see why.
All too soon it was time to head for Dalaman Airport and my short flight home. Would I return? In a heartbeat. Leaving was the hardest thing.
Find out more
Hillside Beach Club, Kayaköy Mahallesi Belen Cad. No:132 48300 Kayaköy Fethiye Turkey
+90 252 614 83 60 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Sarah flew with EasyJet from Gatwick North, flight time 4.5 hours then a 45-minute taxi drive to the all-inclusive resort.