The start of a beautiful relationship with Turkey

Her marriage didn't last, but Jane Tuna's love of Turkey did. By Christopher Middleton

And so she bought Misafir Evi, a pretty little farmhouse in the middle of the Kaya Valley - an area that has since found fame as the setting for Louis de Bernières latest bestseller, Birds without Wings.

"This was actually the house that my ex-husband had built for his first wife," explains Jane, as we pad barefooted around the cool interior. "Fortunately, his parents and other relatives were all very supportive of me even after we split up; they all live nearby, and I'm still part of the family network. Which helped when I was trying to find builders, plumbers and trustworthy people to maintain the swimming pool!"

Not to mention the many other jobs that all needed to be done if Jane was to turn a rather basic, square construction (Turkish builders don't do frills) into the appealing guest house that she envisaged. As well as creating a series of shady nooks and oriental-carpeted relaxation areas, she had to oversee the creation of eight guest rooms with en-suite bathrooms, plus a 30ft-long raised swimming pool with massage rooms underneath.

"You learn early on that there are a host of planning laws governing what you can and can't do to a property," says Jane, who has made a point of learning Turkish. "You also learn that it can work out cheaper sometimes to break those laws and pay the fine. Personally, though, I decided to do everything as legally as possible. I am, after all, a Turkish citizen, thanks to my marriage."

Jane's property extends over 6,000 square metres and has breathtaking views over both the Baba Dag mountain and the "ghost" village of Kayakoy, an eerie collection of some 1,000 empty stone houses that were abandoned in 1923 after their Greek occupants were forcibly "repatriated" to Greece, despite their families having lived in Turkey for several centuries. At the same time, Turks living on Greek soil were also required to return "home".

The roofless houses remain on the sunbaked hills, providing Jane's guests with a poignant panorama upon which to gaze as they sip their sundowners. Nearly 10 years on from her arrival in the valley, the village still moves her. "I remember the first time I saw this valley," she says. "Words failed me."

Which is not something that often happens to this former social-sciences lecturer, for as well as having put lots of money into the guest-house project, Jane has to invest a good deal of herself. "You have to be a chameleon, and know when guests want to talk and when they want you to leave them alone. Sometimes, it's like being in a one-woman show - as a teacher, I'm used to talking. With a small place like this, the hostess plays a big part in whether people enjoy themselves - and whether they come back."

As it happens, some 35 per cent of Jane's guests are, as she puts it, "repeat offenders" - most of them booking through the London-based tour firm Exclusive Escapes (whose local rep is the English wife of a Turkish man).

It is essential to the success of her business, says Jane, that she appeals to a clearly identified market - in her case, mostly youngish couples without children (under-14s aren't encouraged), each paying £700 for a week's stay, £900 for a fortnight, including flights.

As to how much value Jane has added to the property, she's not sure. "Properties in this valley tend to stay within local families for generations, so not only is it rare for houses to come on the market, but you can pretty much ask what you want," she says. "To be honest, I don't have a clue how much I could get now for Misafir Evi."

A fair amount, if current trends are anything to go by. For, just a 10-minute drive from Kayakoy (albeit over twisting mountain roads) are the sky-blue waters of Olu Deniz, the beach that appears on the cover of virtually every Turkey brochure, and attracts planeloads of Brits every June to September (Dalaman airport is under an hour away). Encouraged by summer temperatures of around 40C, Brits have been buying apartments and villas as fast as they can be built. Ten years ago, the hillsides above Olu Deniz were rocky scrub; today, the twin development areas at Ovacik and Hisaronu are British enclaves.

"I love it here," says Trish Murphy from Chesterfield, who bought a place two years ago with her husband Alan. "But it would be nice to meet some locals!" Not easy when the cheapest three-bedroom flats cost £50,000 - well out of the price range of the average Turkish wage-earner (who might well not want to live in an area where the local watering-holes are called Big Brother, Maria's English Bar, Beckham's...).

So, if a soulless six-bedroom villa by the main road in workaday Ovacik can fetch £165,000, how much more could Jane get for her rural hideaway, the eight-bedroom Misafir Evi, complete with rustic charm, all mod cons and ghost-village vista? The sky's the limit, really - and it's a very blue sky at that.

www.hiddenturkey.com; 020-8605 3500

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