When utopia solidifies, reality has a way of changing directions, and the world once again looks with benevolent eyes on alternative societies. Seen from above, Kaplankaya appears to have been made in the image of the legend of El Dorado — a secret, almost sacred place that’s exclusive to the point of near-inaccessibility. That said, when you disembark at one of the development’s seven beaches, the sense of belonging is all but instantaneous, even for those whose wallet isn’t nearly fat enough to buy a villa for sale in Kaplankaya heaven. The place’s creator— and guardian, mentor and public face — sets the tone for the place by dictating its down-to-earth values and making sure it remains a place rich in everything that money cannot buy.
Born in the Turkish capital, Ankara, to diplomat parents, Burak Öymen, was raised between Cyprus, Madrid and Copenhagen. He studied international business at the University of Philadelphia and lives between Monaco and Prague with his wife, the Czech former model Tereza Maxová. (Pictured on the legendary 1997 cover of Condé Nast Traveller, in which she appears sharing a pool with an elephant, Tereza also heads an eponymous foundation dedicated to helping some 24,000 abandoned children in the Czech Republic.) The couple have three children, ages 19, 11 and 8. A real estate developer who transformed the skylines of several of the so-called “CIS cities,” including Baku, Tbilisi, Astana and Kiev, Öymen selected the heart of the Turkish Riviera to build a refuge, the scale and spirit of which would go completely against everything he built before. “In the whole world, there aren’t even 20 projects like this one — which makes me believe in its force and its singularity,” he said. “The idea was to create a small, responsibly planned and environmentally sustainable city that will come into maturity in some 20 years. More than a real estate project, it’s a lifestyle.”
The project, located just a few kilometres from such historic sites as the Apollo Temple and the ruins of Efesus, transformed a patch of rocky land jutting into the sea into a complex made up of 156 villas; with a future marina — slated for 2020 — by celebrated architect Norman Foster; a Six Senses hotel; three restaurants, including one Italian and one Turkish place, (both of which which, don’t panic, boast plentiful raw and vegan options); and a beach club administered by K-Studio, which is behind Scorpios, one of the trendiest bars on Mykonos. (With prices ranging from EUR 690,000-1.3 million, half of the project’s villas have already been snapped up.) “I hope that 50 or 100 years from now, people will look at what we built here and see it’s timeless,” Öymen said.
His objective was to forge a community that would carry the torch for the best aspects of hippy culture. And, judging by Kaplankaya’s crowd of 40-something global nomads who lead their startups from beachfront bungalow, unwinding with a pre-dinner session in the hammam, he’s reached his goal. “Everyone shares the same mentality — we all regard experiences as the most priceless patrimony — no matter what you do or what you have,” Öymen said, adding, “of course, in order to have all this, you necessarily have to have reached a certain level of financial stability. I’m not naïve.” He welcomes to his private kingdom those who share the values of co-living and discretion: Thanks to the tone set by Öymen and his wife, the vibe is decidedly low key. “We measure success by happiness and inner peace — which are feelings that arise when we protect a place in such a way that our affective memory is activated every time we’re there — wherever that place happens to be,” he said. “The challenge is for us to project this same spirit into the future so that once our children are adults they’ll find the same values here as when they were kids.”
At age 45, the real estate magnate is a prime example of a new generation of global elite that’s abandoned time-honoured spending habits aimed at showing off all they’d acquired and instead set off to find a place — not to call their own, but rather to share the best that life has to offer. “Clearly, there’s a business angle to all this — it is a multibillion dollar project, after all — but financial concerns are not the driving force. We’re not thinking like a traditional investor for whom recouping the fastest return is primordial,” he said. “It might take 30 or 50 years to reach the black, but that’s not our goal. We want travellers, explorers, and interesting and interested people to make their mark here, just as the Greeks, Romans and Ottomans have for the past 2,000 years.” That attitude has sparked countless improbable friendships among people who, if they hadn’t found Kaplankaya may have remained holed up in their palaces and mansions. The eternal quest for a dream world appears to have come to an end — or perhaps it’s just the dawn of a new era.