Harvest Kaplankaya: The Exclusive Retreat and Community That’s Sprouted On Turkey’s Shore
A HIDDEN GEM ON TURKEY’S AEGEAN
Harvest Kaplankaya is a new kind of nature and wellness retreat that brings together entrepreneurs and activists for a shared purpose and meaningful experience. Through mind-opening talks and hands-on activities, the exclusive group of Harvest-goers are inspired to find new ways to effect change in their lives, communities and the world.
The setting is the world-class Six Senses Kaplankaya hotel, situated on the shimmering Aegean Sea and featuring Europe’s largest spa. You probably haven’t heard about it, because until now, you’ve really had to know someone to get in.
Lucky for you, we got the invite.
— HARVEST KAPLANKAYA —
GROWN FROM THE LAND
It's not a short hour-long drive from Bodrum. Winding and at times dizzying, the road to Six Senses Kaplankaya takes you up pine-crested hills and down through ancient, dusty olive groves. While waiting for cattle to cross and being teased by fleeting glimpses of the Aegean, I chatted with Dennis Karpes, a Dutch entrepreneur working between Amsterdam and Africa on water and agro projects.
We were en route to Harvest Series, a bi-annual, part-wellness, part-nature retreat built to bring bright, like-minded activists and entrepreneurs together to create change and push for progress on both fronts. It wasn’t until that evening when I was reviewing the Harvest app’s itinerary that I realized I had shared a ride with one of the weekend’s influential speakers. It set the tone for the entire weekend: unpretentious and accessible.
As we approached from the top of the hill, the hotel disappeared into the landscape like a mirage. Seemingly carved right into rock that holds it up, the OAB-designed property finally unfolds when you step into the lobby. Contemporary and naturalistic, the tiered building purposefully frames the sea from every level as you saunter down, a gentle reminder as to why you’re there.
The landscaping you see peeking from the roof of each level further camouflages its presence, simultaneously hiding a recycled-water irrigation system and naturally cooling the building. Here, architecture and sustainability go hand in hand, and it was already easy to see how the idea for Harvest Series was grown organically from this place.
“Kaplankaya isn’t just a place you holiday for two weeks. You live this. And you don’t stop when you go home,” explained Kaplankaya’s owner Burak Öymen, who, before anything commercial was even built, happily lived on this land in a cabin with his family.
It was just after ten in the morning when we sat down together, but the air was already thickening, evaporating the sweet morning dew and leaving behind a dry salty breeze. In between sips of piping coffee, Burak spoke about his life as the child of a diplomat. How laid back Turkish summers felt innately like home. How tourism is changing the shoreline. How him and his partners wanted to build something differently, something that kept sustainability and culture at the forefront.
So, Harvest Kaplankaya sprouted as an extension of the property’s ethos, first as Harvest Wellbeing in the fall of 2018 and then this summer as Harvest Nature — a conference of sorts. Emphasis on ‘sorts’ because nothing about this weekend felt like your typical hotel-ballroom-conference, simply because it wasn’t.
A New Way of Doing Things
— NOT YOUR TYPICAL NATURE retreat —
All of the talks were given on the manicured lawn, bean bags and plush chairs framing the stage and perfectly placed under the shade of fluttering white umbrellas or olive trees. If the wind blew the right way, you could even listen in on a talk from your beach lounger or one of the two infinity pools.
When not attending — or listening in — on a speaker slot, Harvest goers were squeezing in morning spa sessions and breaking with salty Aegean swims and beach-side barbeques. There were also a lieu of hands-on workshops to bolt off to, including Six Senses resident chef Celia Lam’s no-waste cooking and cocktail classes where we pickled discarded watermelon rinds and learned how to turn that souring bottle of wine in the fridge into vermouth.
But the talks were really why we were there, and when a speaker took the stage, the otherwise chatty crowd grew intently quiet.
Over the next three days I watched world-renowned oceanographer Sylvia Earle captivate what felt like all two-hundred Harvest-goers while speaking about safeguarding our ocean ecosystems. Modern-day explorer Kingsley Holgate re-lived some of his epic African adventures for us while Mike Nixon taught us about learning some of life’s hardest lessons while mounting the world’s Seven Summits. Sheelagh Antrobus brought us to tears with tales of her fight against rhino poaching and challenged us to help bring these creatures back from the brink of extinction. Six Senses’ Jeff Smith dove into the changing travelscape and the shifting focus on giving back while seeing the world’s wonders. And tech expert Peter Read brought us up to speed on how quantum computing could help fight climate change.
Despite tackling some of the toughest topics facing our planet, each and every Harvest Nature speaker found a way to leave us inspired and empowered to effect change. Sun-baking like a lizard or hitting the spa after a talk wasn’t to gain the strength to go onto the next, but instead, to digest and internalize the message.
— BRINGING TOGETHER A COMMUNITY —
Under The Turkish Stars
By the end of each day I felt both wide-eyed and restful, my freestanding tub with a sea-view trying to entice me when I got back to my room. But on Friday, I was easily tempted back out by the promise of cool sundowners amongst glamourous people. Plus, I had already gotten a peak at the dinner set up — long, linen draped tables lined with flickering candles.
It was here, under the stars each night of Harvest, that we saw just how bright Kaplankaya’s hospitality could shine. Intimate drinks and dinners brought together a diverse group and forged a community. While you might have walked in with the people you knew, at dinner you found yourself across from someone else — a jewelry designer, a music producer, the founder of a tech start-up or an activist. Someone with a different perspective but shared values and interests.
All day Saturday there were whispers of a surprise. And just as the afternoon sun set into that lazy evening glow, I was told I had less than an hour to get ready before a yacht would whisk us off to dinner at Anhinga beach. So I ran to my room, slid into a blistering-hot rainfall shower, tousled my hair and draped a silky blouse over my sun-kissed shoulders.
When I got down to the dock the boat was brimming with Harvest-goers who had traded in linen pants and sundresses for stilettos and collared shirts. I wondered if everyone else forgot to reapply sunscreen that afternoon, too, or if it was the veil of sunset that made us all look like we were blushing.
Hurtling around the bend, seaspray tickled my skin and the wind made me squint. When I opened my eyes enough to look around, I realized everyone on the back of the boat had gone silent — the couple across from me intertwining their fingers in secret, the pair of friends to my left stealing an excited glance.
We were greeted at the Aningha Beach Club with pink and gold cocktails and the DJ spun hypnotic, rhythmic tunes as we mingled and waited for the other guests to arrive. Already drunk on anticipation, the night crept up on us suddenly, the darkness allowing the stage and the whites of our eyes to glow. Iranian-Parisian opera singer Ariana Vafadari glided into place, when she sang the words seemingly hung from her lips, heavy and hauntingly beautiful. Her voice brought a shiver to the surface of my neck, spreading fierce and quick like a fault-crack down my arms and spine.
And just when we thought the surprise entertainment for the night was over, Roman Carel, Harvest organizer and Athena Advisers partner, grabbed the mic. With an encouraging wave and smile he invited his colleague, Clayra, up to sing for us. None of us knew how good she’d be, how her raspy voice would tug at our heartstrings. It wasn’t until later that night we learned she had no idea she’d be called on stage, and that she improvised the melody and lyrics that she surprised us all — and I think herself — with.
Songs were still ringing in my ears as we arrived to dinner, the tables blissfully monochromatic in beige and green. Flowers adorned the napkin holders and old tree stumps served as the boho placemats of my dreams. As we ate, candles flickered and dripped onto the cloth, as did speckles of wine that were enthusiastically-sloshed in animated conversation.
Somewhere between travel stories and pretending I understood anything about football, I noticed the dinner tables had thinned and glasses of wine had been traded-in for espresso martinis and the dancefloor.
Under the stars I swung my hips to eclectic beats and watched everyone’s faces change color like chameleons under rainbow lights. Funnily enough, before I left for this trip, I thought I might be like this elusive creature myself at Harvest Series — camouflaged into the background, watching as the weekend unfolded.
But I wasn’t a spectator here. I wasn’t just a writer looking for a story to tell. Harvest Series had pulled me in and taught me lessons about our world and our oceans I couldn’t shake. It introduced me to inspiring people and thrusted me into new experiences. Harvest highlighted sustainable measures I could take home and challenged me to keep important issues at the front of my mind.
If anything, I had blended into this place and this community, not the background.
Special thanks to the team at Athena Advisers for arranging our visit to Kaplankaya and weekend at Harvest Nature. Tickets are now available for Harvest Wellbeing 2019, October 11-13.