Sarah Chalmers from the Daily Mail visited our Sea Garden Resort in Bodrum with her family
Unbeatable Bodrum: Family feasts, banana boats and little emperors in tempting Turkey
By Sarah Chalmers
By the third day of our holiday near Bodrum, on Turkey's Aegean Coast, our four-year-old son had settled into a routine that would befit a small emperor.
Wakened by birdsong and the lapping of the turquoise sea against the pearly-white beach, he would help himself from the breakfast buffet, while away the morning building sandcastles and hurtling down the slide in the kids' pool - before more food, the ice-cream counter (open for two hours from 2pm sharp), then an afternoon of activities laid on by professional children's entertainers and carers. A tea of nursery favourites and a Disney DVD brought the thoroughly satisfying day to a close.
With three pre-school children in tow (the four-year-old and twins aged two) we had plumped for a fully-catered Mark Warner holiday and headed to their newest acquisition, the four star all-inclusive Sea Garden Resort, near Bodrum, 'the pearl of Turkey'. We soon found out why so many families with children opt for the company. Everything from the transfer times to the dining options seems to have children in mind. Our flight from Gatwick was at the civilised hour of 1pm (the return an equally manageable-with-small-children 11am). On arrival we were checked into inter-connecting rooms complete with the requested travel cots. When we awoke the following morning any fears we may have still harboured about a jolly holiday camp atmosphere were quickly allayed.
The site itself is discreet, comprising three-storey blocks dotted throughout a lush, bougainvillea-filled garden, right on the beach. The staff, while friendly and helpful, were thankfully just as low-key.
But the big pull for us was the children's facilities. A paddling pool with giant model octopus and three slides formed the focal point of the youngster's area, set back from the beach and also incorporating a shaded grassy area and sand-filled play-park. We headed there most mornings (along with the beach), as the freshwater outdoor showers, children's toilets and changing facilities made it such an easy option.
Part of the Mark Warner package is three hours of childcare per day for the over twos (under twos is available at a supplement), and each afternoon our four-year-old was thrilled to attend Kids Club where activities included swimming pool games, giant tennis and being pulled along on a banana boat (wearing, of course, a child-sized lifejacket). In the evenings the indoor rooms of the Kids Club are laid out with camp beds and travel cots for the under 5s to sleep in while their parents have dinner. You can drop your children off from 7.30pm where they watch a DVD then lie down if they want to, and you can collect them anytime up until 11.30pm. Children can have their own meal earlier when a junior tea (of kid-friendly staples like spaghetti) is served in the main restaurant from 6-6.30pm.
Breakfast and lunch are served in an open-air buffet (and lunch can also be taken at a hot dog and burger caf? on site which proved a huge hit with our three).
If all the sporting activities or the vigorous Turkish bath at the spa leave you peckish the snack bars are open all afternoon and coffee and cake is available in the outdoor restaurant as well as an ice-cream bar between 2-4pm. In fact, I calculated there were only 90 minutes between 7am and midnight (between 11am and noon, and 6.30-7pm) when no food was available.
A shuttle-bus takes you to the main evening restaurant (if you can't face the stairs or are using the excuse that 'the children love it') and also goes on a further minute to the resort's shopping street. Known as Mini Bodrum the area is modelled on the alleyways of the town itself and includes a paper shop, gift shop, leather and clothes shop as well as tables and chairs where you can dine at the Turkish restaurant Merhaba.
Most meals are taken at the buffet but twice a week you can choose from the a-la-carte restaurants serving Italian, Seafood, Mexican or Turkish food.
Bodrum itself is a 25-minute journey from the hotel. Fifteen Turkish Lira, (?6.36 for the five of us) took us to the historic city, once named Halikarnassos and birthplace of Greek philosopher Herodotus, the 'father of History' (484-425BC). The town's focal point is the castle but it also boasts an impressive marina filled with state-of-the-art yachts and shopping lanes which saw it dubbed 'the new St Tropez' by the New York Times. Bodrum is the most popular tourist destination for Turks and the city can become very busy in high season. Other nearby day-trips include Gumusluk, a tiny fishing port, famous for its seafood restaurants, and the ancient city of Ephesus.
Reached by boat, the port is as restful as Bodrum is bustling. We whiled away an afternoon admiring the view from one of the seaside bars, our peace disturbed only by our four-year-old son asking: 'Why am I not in Kids Club?' We didn't really have an answer.