Destination Adrasan: a richer quality of life

Jon Graham loved Turkey so much when he came on holiday that he went as far as to »»

Jon Graham loved Turkey so much when he came on holiday that he went as far as to do a complete turnabout: He gave up a high-profile career and had a hotel built in Adrasan, a low-profile Mediterranean seaside village.

He discussed with us why he’s here, sticking to his principles while running a successful hotel and about what Adrasan has to offer.

In search of an unspoiled Turkey

Other than the “Midnight Express,” Jon and his wife, Sue, knew virtually nothing about Turkey and its culture when they first came here in 1984. What they did know, however, was that Turkey was an adventure destination and that they were looking for a road less travelled.

“We’d read an article about Turkey learning from other Mediterranean countries about how to avoid having the country ravaged by tourism and that it was protecting its environment,” Jon highlights. “We headed here in search of the unspoiled Mediterranean and the first place we found in brochures was Adrasan. It was too basic back then for a family holiday as our daughters were [aged] 1 and 8. We went to Fethiye instead, which many may find a strange choice, but back then Fethiye was still a small fishing village. Our hotel was right by the sea at one end of the harbor and locals sold their goats in a small paved area opposite. We all enjoyed that holiday, with ‘dolmuş’ rides to Ölüdeniz and Çalış Beach when dolmuşes really were stuffed with passengers and livestock alike. Our overriding impression, having been on holiday to France, Greece and Crete, was that Turks were much more open and friendly people and the range of food was fantastic -- one of the world’s great cuisines. That was the first of many annual holidays here.”

Why move to Adrasan? “We wanted to do something different with our lives, rather than to choose Turkey instead of Spain or France or somewhere else,” he points out. “We were living near Bracknell -- west of London -- and both of us were in high-profile, high-pressure international sales jobs. We were both very successful, but increasingly dissatisfied with a low quality of life. We’d been considering having a house built in Adrasan as we loved the place and had a vague notion that there was potential in Adrasan for low-key, alternative and sustainable tourism. We chose Adrasan because we were struck by the area’s potential and because we knew people we thought would generally give us good advice and help us develop our plans. Above all, we also realized that in Adrasan we could have a higher quality of life. So in 2001, we decided to have the house built, move to Adrasan and see what happened.”

They haven’t been disappointed. “Our lifestyle here means we spend most of our time doing things we love,” he emphasizes. “In summer I take customers on trips to ancient cities and accompany them on activities, and in spring and autumn the majority of guests come to walk on the Lycian Way and I often walk with them. Other than that, the food is great, the Turkish approach to life and general culture is easy to live with once you learn and accept it.”

Can you have your cake and eat it, too?

So Jon and his wife were in search of a more rewarding lifestyle, but could they combine successfully running a hotel for the first time with sustainable tourism? “Sue and I are both experienced business people and we’ve used good common business principles in setting up and running our businesses,” Jon underlines.

After learning the basics of how foreigners can run businesses in Turkey, direct experience became extremely valuable. “Whilst running our horse riding businesses -- more of a hobby than a serious business enterprise -- I met with senior managers from companies like First Choice, one of whom had started his career as the local rep for Sun-Med based in Adrasan,” he explains. “This was a rich source of ideas and information. Having said that, the most important research was talking to people in and around Adrasan to work out what we could do and whether there were any gaps in the market that we could fill.”

The two most difficult challenges have been dealing with bureaucracy and learning the language. “Bureaucracy is highly complex for Turkish people and even more so for foreigners,” he emphasizes. “Next is learning the language and how to use it as Turkish works at a number of levels. To learn the culture and business practices and how to negotiate successfully, you not only need the right words but also the correct level of formality and style of speech. I taught myself from a ‘Teach Yourself Turkish’ book and at the end of each chapter, I practiced at the local tea house.”

So has he managed to stick to his ideal? “As Adrasan isn’t really on the tourism map, it remains a place where local agricultural people also have a small hotel or restaurant; luckily, that doesn’t fit in with large tour operators and mass tourism,” he underlines. “It’s almost exclusively small, independent hotels. In Adrasan, there’s a different attitude to business, though: For example, we work with a number of other hotels and restaurants arranging meals out for our guests.”

Adrasan: Surprisingly interesting and popular

Turkey is often described as overflowing with places of natural and historical interest and Adrasan, a small farming community, is apparently no different.

So what’s the particular attraction of Adrasan? “Visitors tend to be food lovers who want something more than just sun, sea and sand,” Jon points out. “They come because Adrasan is in a beautiful bay and surrounded by [a] national park and forest at the heart of an area of great natural beauty which is rich in history and littered with activities. The Lycian Way, for example, is very important for us as walking holidays extend the holiday season. Visitors have a wide choice of activities and do as much or as little as they want. The only formal program we offer is a one-week walking program. Everything else we do on a pick-and-mix basis: There’s walking, sea kayaking, rock climbing, canyoning [canyon hiking], rafting, boat trips, jeep or quad safaris, mountain biking as well as trips to the various ancient cities and the flames at Chimera. There are also a number traditional local and tourist markets and the chance to visit the summit of Mt. Olympos by cable car.”

For somewhere off the beaten track, Adrasan is popular with a wide variety of visitors. “For example, we get walkers staying for a week of walking on the Lycian Way and other routes in the area,” he highlights. “We get families that want family fun -- activity holidays. Even those who come to relax and chill out tend to enjoy a trip to an ancient site or two, a boat trip or shopping at a local market as well as some relaxing beach time. Most -- 95 percent -- are foreigners who book well in advance; we rarely have last-minute availability. We get a few singles, particularly for walking and our floral study tours in spring, and we have a few regular season singles. In spring and autumn, we get mostly couples but we do get families at Easter and half term. Many long-haul guests want to do a week of walking as part of a longer tour of Turkey, the Med’ or Europe.”

So how does he sum up his time in Turkey? “Over the last 10 years, there have been challenges as well as successes, but it’s been a great practical and social learning experience. We both feel very much richer people for our time here. I think both Sue and I have gone native! Our daughter, an English teacher in İstanbul, is virtually indistinguishable from a local. How have we changed? I would say we’re comfortable being more laid back and relaxed in our approach to life. I think we’d like to sell the hotel in the next few years and focus on arranging and hosting holidays in the future. There’s still a lot of places I’d like to visit in Turkey, so we have no plans to move anywhere else.”



Columnist: THERESA DAY