Former British tourist now local of Türkiye’s resort town Marmaris

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Jenny Orhan poses in her house in Marmaris, Türkiye, Sept. 4, 2022. (AA Photo)

Jenny Orhan poses in her house in Marmaris, Türkiye, Sept. 4, 2022. (AA Photo)

While the Mediterranean resort town of Marmaris is an ideal vacation destination for English tourists because of the town’s combination of entertainment, accommodation and sea all intertwined within the city, it is also home to many foreigners. Jenny Orhan, who now describes herself as a Turk, is just one of them.

With its five-star accommodation facilities and natural beauty, the southwestern Muğla province of Türkiye has welcomed millions of foreign visitors annually, especially from the United Kingdom, over the past 10 years and more. While some have become yearly regulars, others have chosen to settle in Muğla’s touristic districts of Bodrum, Marmaris, Fethiye, Datça and Dalaman.

It was 25 years ago, Orhan, 62, and her friend, Janet, decided to travel to Marmaris after coming across a newspaper holiday advertisement with “a picture of a boat and a blue sea saying: ‘Come and have a holiday in Türkiye and be on a boat.’”

“Neither of us were sailors, but it was one of those gulets and so we came and had a week on that. I think it was from Fethiye to Bodrum, or somewhere and we had a really lovely time. We didn’t know the other eight other people on the boat or anyone in here but we had a lovely, lovely time,” she told Anadolu Agency (AA).

With the heavenly sea and sun on their mind, Jenny and Janet decided to return to Marmaris two years later in 1997 for a two-week holiday, touring 10 villages in Marmaris.

After spending 24 hours at the then-small Selimiye, Orhan said no other villages “captured” them like it did.

Compared to today, Orhan said Selimiye was then much more modest in size and had fewer residents.

“But, as we walked around, we said: ‘Oh, let’s give up London and come and live here.’ And you know, who knew then 25-30 years later, that’s exactly where I would be,” Orhan said through giggles.

It was not only the sun and the nature of Selimiye that captured Orhan but also “destiny” or “kader” in Turkish, she said.

“I met my husband here. He was a friend of my girlfriend’s husband, Hakan. He was a carpenter back then,” said Orhan.

After Janet and Hakan got married and left for London, Jenny stayed on her own in Selimiye for two years.

“The village was much smaller, then, and I was very friendly. I mean I am still very friendly, with everyone all the time. It was then when Metin (her husband) and I slowly became more than just friends,” she added.

“He had a boat, so we used to go out on the boat and it was so very romantic,” she said, laughing as she recounted the memories.

With her heart and mind on Selimiye, Orhan began to visit the small town in March and stay until November or early December.

“I think I’m very lucky in that my Turkish family has taken me on board and they were really happy for me and Metin to get married,” Jenny said, adding that the couple had a son in the years to come.

With residents of the village taking Orhan “under their wing,” she said they had “all helped me and supported me and been happy for me to be here.”

Orhan is known as “Jenny Yenge” – meaning “Aunt Jenny” – around the village.

“I think in those days, it was a much slower pace of life and things were a bit different,” she said, acknowledging that she would have had to adapt to the village had she come from London today.

Orhan said that despite the language barrier, she has adapted to the lifestyle, the living and the cooking in Selimiye. Her cakes are now famous among villagers.

“When I first came here I was making cakes – the ones that we didn’t have like the ‘yaş pasta’ that you have for birthdays and stuff. If someone was going to Marmaris, they might get one but there were few and far away.

“So I’d make my chocolate cake with chocolate sauce on it. And it was a great treat for everybody,” she said. “A bit of food makes everyone happy,” she added.

Though she maintains her British roots, Orhan said: “I do think of myself as being Turkish, in a funny way.”

“I haven’t converted to Islam and I’m still a Christian … but I think one day I will because I want to be buried here I don’t want to be buried in England. It is an awful thing to be talking about, but I don’t want to go to the cemetery in Marmaris where all the ex-pats are, you know? I want to stay here,” she explained.

She encouraged foreign tourists not to “hesitate” to come to Türkiye saying: “Come and see, it is a beautiful country with beautiful people who are kind and welcoming.”

Praising the hospitality of local residents, Orhan said “they’re so interested in understanding and (getting to) know about you. The memories are so good. You go to a shop in Marmaris and two years later, you’re back again and he’ll remember and he can’t be joking and making it up.”

“The memory is amazing,” she said, adding that Selmiye has “a lovely atmosphere” with “kind and friendly” people.

Orhan had a different life in England, where she served the late British Princess Diana of Wales.

“My final job was running the Kensington Palace Orangery. So, I saw Princess Diana and I did a supper for Prince Michael of Kent to surprise (him for his 50th birthday),” she said.

Orhan said she had “worked closely with his wife, the Princess Michael, who’s a very formidable woman. A week later, I bought a copy of Hello (magazine) and there was a picture of us in Hello carrying his (Prince Michael of Kent) birthday cake.”

Jenny, who saw Princess Diana often at the time, said that before she was married to Prince Charles of Wales and still lived in Kensington, the late princess exercised and went for runs in the park.

“And she wore a baseball cap and stuff and so you didn’t really know who she was. But … we knew who she was.”

“It was probably before she divorced (Prince) Charles. We did a function for her for the Royal Ballet. She was the patron of the Royal Ballet, and they came and had a reception at the Orangery and I met her there. A very tall lady, beautiful but very tall, beautiful clothes and very polite and she was just lovely,” Orhan added.

Whether she would consider a return to London with her family one day, Orhan said, “No!” before adding: “How could I manage the weather?”

“You know, it’s good to be warm and sunny all day.”


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