Turkey’s Hillside Beach Club is a high-end resort that aims to deliver all things to all people. Even reluctant 30-somethings. Olivia Palamountain reports
Resorts. Not exactly the groovy go-to holiday destination of choice for solo Millennial travellers are they? We want adventure! Spontaneity! Moonlit encounters in random backstreet bars! Not programmed entertainment, all-you-can eat buffets and a kids club.
With this in mind, it was with judgemental trepidation that I signed up to visit Hillside Beach Club, a five-star resort on Turkey’s turquoise Dalaman coast. Located just 60 minutes from the airport of the same name, transfer time is swift – a big plus in my book.
Luxury today can mean pretty much anything. At Hillside Beach Club it means laid-back barefoot vibes, pristine nature and excellent amenities rather than gushing service and hushed tones.
The resort spans the staggeringly beautiful Kalemya Bay, a vast expanse of sweeping beaches and pine-covered slopes, adorned with tiered accommodations that hug the hills in shades of terracotta. It’s a very special spot.
While my room is on the smaller side, it’s a square and pleasing space (I’m tempted to say that the Feng Shui is on point but that’s not cool), with a separate loo and shower set off the generous covered terrace. A seating area with fabulous views over the coast looks ripe for sundowners. I like it.In late October, while the rest of Europe shivers into winter, Turkey is serving 25 degrees and sunshine on tap.
Chic, tall and tanned European families stride around the resort, en route to anything from a tennis lesson, flyboarding, water polo or an art class, proving an up-close-and-personal reminder as to why Brits abroad have a hard time.
The first thing I do is head to the fitness centre. If you can’t beat them, join them, right? There’s equipment for an army, plus an outdoor gym with wooden weights to facilitate a Flintstones-style work out. A host of free classes are on offer too, from pilates and yoga to Zumba and table tennis.
Refuelling here is too easy. Not quite all-inclusive, Hillside works to “Full Board +”, which translates as a buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner, bottled water at your table, house wine, soft drinks and draught beer (at the Main Restaurant at least).
There are three primary restaurants to choose from – the main buffet-style spot, an Italian and a Mediterranean joint – and further options such as a beach barbecue, pool bar and burger shack. Oh, there’s also an ice cream bar and a coffee shop: hunger, it seems, is forbidden.Every day and at every meal it’s as if an Ottoman Sultan has called for a victory feast to be prepared for the masses.
Endless food stations pump out global flavours; barbecued meats drenched in pomegranate molasses sit alongside delicate fillets of seabass with fat rustic chips and great vats of steaming stew.
Groaning platters of local vegetables jostle with a million mezze dips and fronds of leafy herbs, while rotisserie chickens rotate on spits and the sweet spiced smells of the Orient meet and mingle with wafts of fresh baked pastry. It’s all delicious.There’s pudding too. Lots of it. Plus chocolate and cheese. And that’s just lunch – in just one of the dining venues.
Suitably sated, I toddle off to flop on the beach. But with four options, which one to choose? Main Beach and Pasha Beach are family friendly and border the heart of the resort, meanwhile Silent Beach and Serenity Beach (also accessible by a cute boat ride) are a stroll away and open to adults-only.I fancy a bit of peace and quiet so Silent Beach it is, a gorgeous little cove situated at one end of the resort that’s also home to the Sanda Day Spa, a series of Balinese-inspired treehouses set in the hills and built around a waterfall (one of two spas at Hillside).As I navigate the resort, it’s evident that there are new discoveries to be made at every turn; from the fabulous floating sundecks that dot the sea and in-room pillow menu to a seriously sexy boutique selling a mix of local and international designer pieces. You can have your picture taken – and developed – at the Photo Bar or head to the secret bbq at Serenity Beach.There are neat, practical surprises too. As a serial phone charger-forgetter, I’m thrilled to find a complimentary charging hub in the middle of the resort and free wireless Internet access that actually works. The resort has invested in its own app too, but the less we say about that the better.
No visit to Turkey would be complete without a visit to a hammam. On arrival I’m directed to change then parked in the sauna like a toddler at nursery. More babying awaits in the bathhouse, courtesy of a diminutive local woman aptly named Minnie.
Exfoliation’s answer to Steve Redgrave, she powers a scratchy mitt up and down my body with smooth, practiced strokes, sloughing off a summer of burning it at both ends in the process. This makes it sound unpleasant. It is not. In fact it’s incredibly satisfying, as is the amount of junk that sloughs off my skin.
I emerge squeaky clean, revitalised and ready for drinks. Bevvies on the beach? Yes please. As I get stuck into a Kamaliye, the house concoction of gin and elderflower, something strange happens.
A stage is being erected behind the main pool, joined by high-beam spotlights and various props. Families begin to bag seats in front of the activity. Theatrical music starts to play.My initial thoughts are to run for the hills but I stick it out long enough to witness a professional-grade musical rendition of Frozen come to life, just one of a host of after-hours entertainments, including a movie night on the beach, all of which are delivered in style, with no expense spared. I’m mesmerised.
Fast-forward a few hours and Frozen has turned into a full on rave. A throbbing crowd of 8-80s are getting down to a banging DJ set and I’m delighted to report I’m one of them. Full disclosure: I’m girating on the stage like it’s 2005 and absolutely loving it.
A whiff of holiday romance hangs in the air – if I’d come here as a teenager, I’d have been in heaven. As it happens, a youth shimmies up to me for a dance floor flirt, which signals my cue to leave. I don’t want to embarrass the poor lad by revealing that he’s dancing with granny.
I’m only at Hillside for three days but the quality of the activities, food and location – plus the warmth and charm of the staff – make it an easy win for a week or more. I’m told the guest retention rate is so high here, that Harvard University has designed a study around the resort. If you fancy getting off property, the boat tour is great. The e-bike tour comes recommended too, as does a trip to Kayaköy, an abandoned ‘ghost town’ that also takes you past some pretty impressive carved rock caves. Not quite Petra, but you get the gist.While you’re out and about you must make time for a trip to Senit, a farmstead-cum-cafe serving a dreamy traditional Turkish breakfast made from homegrown produce.
Back at the ranch and the sun is setting on another life-affirming day in some sort of paradise. I’ve danced. I’ve indulged. I’ve sweated it out and I’ve recharged. Did I mention I’m not into resorts? Well, I’m into Hillside Beach Club.