What started with a friendship, twenty-five years later, two Brits and a Turkish entrepreneur turned their dream into a reality.
Turkey’s first eco-friendly and sustainable retreat hidden away in the mountains welcomed its first guests in 2019. The dream – a place to escape the hustle and bustle of everyday life and enjoy time in tranquil, natural surroundings – was made possible through the trusted friendship of the trio, patience and a shared vision. Turkish-born Çağlar Bozkurt tells us how it all began one sunny day back in 1998.
I first met my partners, Merrill and Gordon, when they visited the quiet, sleepy seaside village of Akyaka on the southwest Mediterranean coast of Turkey. It was 1998 and I was running my parents’ holiday villa complex in Akyaka. Returning each summer, my friendship with Merrill and Gordon grew over the years.
As a young and ambitious villa manager, witnessing Akyaka turn from a quiet, sleepy seaside village into a bustling holiday resort, I began to dream of owning my own place far from the crowds. A natural hideaway where traditional customs and culture were part of the experience and our traditional way of life was woven into the ethos. I spent hours talking with Merrill and Gordon. We started dreaming of a peaceful, sustainable holiday destination, something we could create together.
The Dream was Born
I grew up on my parents’ farm in an agricultural village in the mountains behind Akyaka. To this day, the traditional country way of life thrives. With the help of my family, I started looking for land in this area. An idyllic location to build our dream getaway. Hidden away in the mountains where the air is pure and the only sound was the birds singing – I found the perfect place in an overgrown valley.
The land came with many challenges, being divided into 7 plots each were owned by a different member of the same family. Negotiations to buy the plots began taking nearly a year to finalise. As non-citizens, Merrill and Gordon were prohibited from owning farmland. The trust in our union was sealed when they agreed to the land being registered solely in my name. We became proud owners of a 40,000 square metre (430,500 square feet) valley of farmland in 2007. In the beginning we had no building permit, no electricity, no water and no road access. Our haven of tranquillity surrounded by stunning scenery, an almond orchard, pine trees, lovely dry-stone walls and wild tortoises was the perfect place for us to turn dreams into reality.
Creating our Vision
We reached a huge milestone two years on when we were granted permission to build on our land. Naturally over this time our dream took on its own life and our project became much larger than we originally planned. Sharing our paradise with like-minded people took on a whole new vision. The luxury of time meant our original idea had flourished to include an 11-bedroom hotel set in gardens with a large lake and 10 individual cottages scattered around the hillside.
Our aspiration to build in a sustainable way using traditional local materials and repurposing wherever possible was the foundation of the build. Stone walls that previously separated the farm fields became the restaurant walls. Discarded roof tiles from demolished houses and olive wood beds made from groves repurposed as core materials of the build. We recycled, upcycled and made every effort to design, construct and create accommodation that would blend seamlessly into the mountain landscape.
Our aim was to disturb as little of the natural setting as possible throughout the build. Rescuing living mature trees before they could be cut down and replanting them across the property. These are now thriving in the garden around the lake, one of the most peaceful places where guests love to while away the hours. Just as we had dreamed they would.
And so Yenice Vadi, was born and began to blossom. We had many debates about what we should call our place and decided to simply name it for what it is –Yenice (which is the name of the village below us) and Vadi (which means valley).
Treehouse to Hotel Building the Foundations
The Treehouse was our first foray into building. I had been designing it in my mind for years. I found four old telegraph poles which were the ideal starting point for the floor supports as an engineer I knew the importance of structural stability but also the aesthetic.
By this time we had a team of carpenters on board using traditional methods, using their expertise to create our vision. We had the luxury of designing a bespoke Treehouse working fluidly with the material we had available and in keeping with our aim to repurpose.
Our excitement grew when The Treehouse had its first guests – Merrill, Gordon and their son Lyndon – who moved in to welcome in New Year 2015. It was a wonderful moment in our journey and the memory of that day brings back feelings of pure joy for us all.
The Treehouse was driven by solar and wind power. However, a 12v circuit could not support the luxuries of a fridge, TV, kettle, phone chargers etc. No internet ensured that The Treehouse residents were at one with their surroundings, another philosophy we live by to this day. We did realise that while our guests would be happy to be surrounded by nature, they would also want to enjoy the trappings of modern life! The Treehouse stood in glorious isolation until 2018 when we broke ground with our new excavator.
The hotel, pool and gardens grew majestically in stone out of the empty field. In 2019 we invited our first real guests for an exciting and slightly nerve-wracking “test drive”. By now we had also added electricity and the internet. The showers all produced hot water, the heating system produced warmth, the kitchen produced delicious food and the bar produced cold beer. We celebrated mightily our dream had arrived.
Farm to Table
Once the hotel was functioning, we then turned our attention to the land. Our quest was to be self-sustainable, grow our vegetables (organically of course) and shop locally wherever possible. The greenhouse yielded its first crops in summer 2020. Paddocks and pens were built to house our goats, sheep, horses, donkeys, cow and chickens. Today our chickens consume all our kitchen waste and in return lay a plentiful supply of eggs, so nothing is thrown away. We are actively avoiding generating plastic waste by providing glass bottles which we refill with purified water. We have refillable toiletries in the bathrooms so we can provide a little luxury whilst reducing plastic waste at the same time.
Guests can now enjoy our delicious produce in the restaurant and they are always welcome to take a walk and meet the animals along with helping out on the farm.
Welcoming Guests to Yenice Vadi
We planned our launch for 2020 when COVID-19 arrived. This was possibly the worst setback to have ever hit the hospitality and travel sectors and our business faced huge challenges. The last few years have been testing and rewarding in equal measure. The open space and fresh air at Yenice Vadi provided a welcome relief from the crowded cities. Our guests initially came from all across Turkey but in the past year we have been very excited to introduce and welcome our international guests. With global travel restrictions lifted people are looking to take holidays once more looking for something different. Turkey offers a wonderful opportunity for travellers.
We continue to develop Yenice Vadi, recent additions include a yoga shala, spa and hamman follow us to see our journey to bring guests closer to nature with the benefits of modern amenities.
Yenice Vadi has been the realisation of a dream. Our partnership is based on trust and friendship, and we extend these core values to the team who we consider part of the Yenice Vadi family. Our dream would not have been possible without the fantastic people who are involved in the building and running of Yenice Vadi. Our best advice to other businesses is to recruit a team of people who share your values and philosophy and see you as more than just an employer.
Escape to Yenice Vadi and relax at our eco-oasis where guests are made to feel at home from the moment they arrive.