On June 2009, one of the gaudiest and glitziest parties of the year was staged in what was once the budget Turkish resort of Antalya.
Mariah Carey and Tom Jones performed - and Sharon Stone, Richard Gere, Paris Hilton and Monica Bellucci are on the guest list - for the opening of the $1.4 billion 560-room Mardan Palace hotel.
Built by Azerbaijani billionaire Telman Ismailov, chairman of Russia's biggest property developers AST, the opening will highlight one of the few major tourist destinations still experiencing a property boom, not least because Ismailov has plonked his own 40-room, £50million marble and gold-domed mansion in the grounds of his hotel.Visiting friends and family will be housed in five other brand-new villas on site.
It is an astonishing investment in the resort, where more modest properties, with prices starting at £35,000 for a two-bedroom flat, have been rising by ten to 20 per cent this year - a strong market even when the 6.5 per cent local inflation rate is taken into account.
Real estate in Turkey has been booming in recent years, helped by a fast-growing population and a seven per cent growth in GDP every year since 2001. The Bank of America says that Turkish property offers a 'safe haven' during these difficult times.
Last year, nine million tourists descended on Antalya to make the most of a 35-mile stretch of beach that includes the classical site of Side and Belek, a burgeoning upper class family beach & golf resort.
Antalya, a place that has hosted 7 civilizations with over 10,000 year old historical sites, has been transformed into a cosmopolitan city of about 700,000, a fascinating old town, with ancient ramparts dating from Roman times and a pretty port, all of which are a big draw for the tourists.
Retired policemen Andrew Perry and Bob Cotgrove, both 52, were quick to see the opportunity of buying in the area four years ago.
Bob and his wife Nicky bought a two-bedroom villa with garden and shared swimming pool on a new development five minutes from the beach for £40,000, and Andrew, who lives in Leeds when he's not in Turkey, quickly followed.
Sensing that the area was about to take off - their villas are now worth £75,000 each - the pair joined www.turkish-property-world.com to sell Antalya to British buyers.
'Britons were very slow to appreciate this area, whereas the Scandinavians have been buying here for years. Demand is increasing every year,' says Carol, of Turkish Propwerty World, Antalya who has sold 25 properties to Britons in the past year and more to buyers in mainland Europe.
'The great golf courses, cultural history, fantastic beaches and, of course, the prices, have been a big draw.' Nor is it all new-build. There is a maturing resale market, as Phil Rodda, 47, a trainer in child protection, and his wife Lorraine, 53, a dental hygienist, discovered.
They have bought a ten-year-old two-bedroom top-floor apartment in a three-storey block on the Green Apart development in Side. They paid £40,000 in November and intend to use it as a holiday home, while also renting it out to family and friends.
'We were looking in Spain, but were put off by all the problems there and oversupply. We'd been to Turkey before and liked it and were amazed at the prices,' says Phil who lives near Hebden Bridge, West Yorkshire, and flies to Antalya from Manchester.
Phil, who paid just £2,000 in fees, adds: 'The flat has two balconies and used to be part of a hotel that has now been beautifully refurbished as individual flats around a central pool.'
A four-bedroom duplex apartment in Side, an ancient Greek city with ruins on the beach, can be bought for £100,000 and a smaller villa for £80,000.
'Prices at the low end are rising in line with inflation,' says Cotgrove, 'although in some of the most sought-after areas around marinas it's more like 15 to 20 per cent.'
Taxes and solicitors' fees work out at three per cent of the purchase price, and Turkish bank accounts pay interest of between 12 and 14 per cent.
'It helps that the pound has been relatively strong against the Turkish lira,' says Cotgrove, who rents out his villa for £300 a week in high season. He lets only to family and friends, but says he could easily rent it out for at least three months a year, which would give him a ten per cent return on his investment.
The Association of British Travel Agents said that Turkey overtook Spain last year as the most popular overseas destination for UK tourists, and overall tourism has risen 14 per cent to 24 million visitors, according to the Turkish Tourist Office.
With the continued strength of the euro, numbers from the UK are likely to go up again this year.'Antalya is the same flight time from the UK as Tenerife, but property is about a quarter of the price,' says Cotgrove. 'It really is boom time here.'
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