The Surreal British Clone Towns Taking Over the Turkish Coast - Atlas Obscura
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The Surreal British Clone Towns Taking Over the Turkish Coast

Inside the town that brought the fake British high street to Turkey.

“Selfridgez” in Hisaronu, Turkey. (Photo: Courtesy Matthew Hopkinson)

Along a road that snakes down towards the sea in the ancient Turkish province of Mugla is the village of Kayakoy. Here, women sit on stools rolling dough for the flatbread snack, gozleme, and vacationers sip dark coffee at outdoor tables. Part of Kayakoy is known as the “ghost village” because its Greek population, fearing persecution, fled after World War I. Their houses, now in ruins, remain.

Nearby is a town quite unlike its neighbor. Built on pine tree-covered hills overlooking the white sands of Oludeniz beach on Turkey’s Aegean coastline is Hisaronu. It’s here where, for much of the year, voices from Newcastle, Liverpool or London are as common as those from Istanbul or Ankara.

Codswallop, an obscure British-slang word for nonsense, is a popular restaurant in Hisaronu. This establishment, as advertised on its Facebook page, specializes “in fish chips and mushy peas..lots of traditional English dishes including our famous english breakfast.”

If you were to list British dishes characterized as being the most stereotypical, Codswallop serves them all: roast beef, Yorkshire pudding, jam roly-poly, apple crumble, sticky toffee pudding and custard.

You’ll find Anglicized holiday resorts like Hisaronu dotted around Turkey. In these alternate versions of Britain, the food, drink and entertainment offerings are similar to those found in suburban malls in the U.K.

Eat at “McDowell’s.” (Photo: allen watkin/CC BY-SA 2.0)

Travelers to Hisaronu might fancy a bite to eat under the golden arches at “McDowell’s.” Or Del Boys—an eatery named after a character from one of Britain’s most beloved television sitcoms, Only Fools and Horses. Del Boy is a wheeler-dealer, cockney geezer from South London who drives a three wheeled yellow van.

There’s a shop called Marc Spenger, named after the department store Marks and Spencer; Nexst after the clothing brand Next, present in every shopping mall in the U.K.; and Azda, after Asda, a low-cost supermarket.

Over the years, Hisaronu has morphed into a bustling vacation town, built curiously in Britain’s image. Here, the stereotypical British abroad tourist—skin burnt red, clutching a pint of lager beer and wearing a soccer shirt—enjoys familiar-seeming pubs, restaurants and sun loungers.

It’s not to say that Hisaronu excludes all the elements of the Turkish diet and culture, but, as one regular visitor sums up, it comes close to it. “The mosque and food is the only thing truly Turkish in Hisaronu,” says Jenny Connor, who has been coming to this part of the Aegean coast for years.

Mass tourism from the U.K. to Europe for “package holidays” took off in the 1950s, when cheap, charter flights made flying affordable for working people. Until then, the only reasonably priced mode of transport was a coach, impractical for a week’s vacation on the continent. With the expansion of cheaper air travel, you could get a holiday, flights and accommodation included, for between 20 to 30 pounds. 

“Nexst”, after the British brand Next, and “Marc Spenger” after the department store Marks and Spencer. (Photo: Courtesy Matthew Hopkinson)

Much of the tourism boom was centered around Spain, where holidaymakers got a helping hand from an unlikely source. General Franco, the dictator of Spain until 1975, waived visa restrictions in 1959 to encourage visitors and to give a boost to the economy. A year later arrivals had increased by 500 percent.

“A country considered the antithesis of postwar European values,” writes Sasha D. Pack, became “the epicenter of one of postwar Europe’s largest mass rituals, the beach holiday.” Places like Benidorm, once a sleepy, impoverished fishing village, eventually became the epitome of a vacation hub for Brits enjoying plentiful booze, nightclubs and cheap thrills. In austere, devoutly Catholic Spain, British tourists even convinced the mayor of Benidorm to overturn a national ban on the bikini.

Back in the 1950s and ‘60s going to Europe was, in relative terms, quite an adventure. Travelers had three fears when they ventured into the unknown, says Dr. Susan Barton, a research fellow at the University of Leicester who has written about working class holidays: “Flying, foreigners and food.”

It might have been the first time you got on a plane, ordered a pint of milk in Spanish, or laid eyes on a squid. It’s why these first resorts incorporated British food and drink into the experience; to make people feel more at home.

And, as you can tell from Hisaronu, this custom never fully went away. Spain set the mold for this type of “Britain with better weather” vacation, but soon dozens of places similar to Hisaronu appeared in Greece and Turkey. By the 1980s, Turkey was viewed as a getaway destination with plentiful “sun, sea, ancient history and exotic orient” writes Arzu Ozturkmen, a historian at Bogazici University, as well as a cheaper alternative to the Spanish coast. 

Some of the ruins in the nearby town of Kayaköyü. (Photo: Public Domain)

A country like Turkey may not feel as foreign as it once did to visitors, and a place like Hisaronu provides a base to travel more “off the beaten track.” Yet when it comes to food, the Brits are not always the most adventurous. According to a survey carried out by a large British supermarket chain, they still have a fondness for home cooking. In 2014, one third of Brits claimed they preferred eating their own cuisine on vacation. Another 1999 survey found that half of British tourists snub local fare in favor of fish and chips and an English breakfast.

Clutching to routine and ritual like a safety blanket extends beyond food. This same survey found, rather hilariously, that 34 percent of British tourists take an umbrella on vacation with them, and one percent take their own tea bags. (As a Brit, I can certainly attest to the last point. Tea, as every British person knows, never tastes the same beyond the British Isles.)

Hisaronu and Britain now have something else in common, beyond an affinity for the English breakfast. Soon, neither will be a member of the European Union. During the bitter “Brexit” referendum, the “Leave” side dangled the threat of Turkey joining the European Union as a strong reason to vote no. It was argued that Turks would soon be arriving at the English border seeking work. Not only is Turkey’s membership of the E.U. a distant prospect, but more Britons currently travel to Turkey than vice versa.

Some 2.5 million British citizens travel to Turkey each year, reports The Daily Telegraph, but fewer than 200,000 Turks visited the U.K. in 2015. And despite the fact there has been a steep drop in arrivals amid security fears in Turkey—a result of bombings and a failed coup—Hisaronu appears to have a loyal following. Visitors like Conner say they will keep coming back.

Sweatshirts for sale at the weekly market in Hisaronu. (Photo: Ian Law/Shutterstock.com)

Not everything in Hisaronu is Anglicized; guests can still find their fair share of traditional kebab houses and menus delivering aubergine-based delights. For the ardent shopper, there are plenty of souvenirs to be bought that can’t be found in a British department store.  

Dotted along the main drag in Hisaronu, tourists can find counterfeit treasures galore. Rows of fake soccer shirts, stacks of Armani handbags, “Roy Bands” sunglasses and other sweet deals on merchandise fill shop fronts. You might buy that “Prada” purse at Selfridgez, rather than Selfridges, the London department store.

Conner, the longtime Hisaronu visitor, believes proprietors of venues like Azda or Marc Spenger name their shops after British cultural references as a joke, rather than a bald attempt to draw in visitors.

Just the name Codswallop – a frankly hilarious thing to see on vacation – is entertaining for British guests in Hisaronu. In addition to its fish and chips, the menu revives some of the summertime eating traditions normally reserved for trips to the British seaside.

As Ruth Letts, one happy Codswallop customer says, “If we were staying longer I would be trying out the afternoon cream teas too.”