Turkey’s fastest-growing city, Antalya lies on its southern coast in the heart of what is known as the Turkish Riviera, or Turquoise Coast. Cupped between the Taurus Mountains, snow-capped in winter, and the clear waters of the Mediterranean, this beguiling part of Turkey has been attracting visitors for millennia and is said to have been given to Cleopatra as a dowry by Mark Antony, when the Romans ruled the region.
While the early visitors – who also included Greeks and, later, Ottomans – were not drawn by aesthetics, in more recent years it has attracted the holidaying masses with its captivating mix of ancient history, culture, and exotic cuisine as well as for its glorious scenery and beaches.
With so much to explore, the city of Antalya is very much a destination for those who don’t just want to fly and flop, although for those who prefer to do that it has beaches with hotels alongside. Konyaalti, a pebble beach, is the closest at just 3km west of the city centre, while sandy Lara Beach, 12km to the east, is hemmed in by a pine forest.
Many of the hotels there are all-inclusive, with meals and drinks part of the package – something to bear in mind if you fancy sampling some of the great local cuisine in Antalya’s restaurants or want to kick back in some of its bars.
This is how you can make the most of a week’s stay:
After a long and tiring journey, you will want to relax and wind down. Once unpacked, you can laze by the hotel pool or on the beach, followed by a gentle stroll to take in the wonderful sea views.
Take a taxi to the Mermerli Restaurant (www.mermerlirestaurant.com), at the top of steps leading up from the harbour wall in Kaleici, Antalya’s historic centre. It has one of the best vantage points for a sundowner high up on the cliffs looking out to the mountains across the bay and down to its private beach. Have mezze with your beer or cocktail as you watch the tourist boats cruise back to the harbour, but leave room for dinner.
Stroll round the harbour and go for dinner at the Kale Bar Restaurant (tel: +90 242 248 6591), in a pedestrianised side street above the harbour. Part of the Tutav Turk Evi hotel, its rooftop patio restaurant has superb views over the harbour and the old Selcuk Quarter, but book in advance to guarantee a table. Choose your fish main course and giant prawns for starters from the iced fish counter, and they take them away to cook them.
Explore old Kaleici today, perhaps after an iced coffee in one of the cafes perched above the marina by the main Cumhuriyet Square to get your bearings. This fascinating citadel frames the harbour with some of the fortified walls that still partially enclose it. Within the historic centre, you can explore the maze of narrow streets lined by traditional houses, minarets, mosques and shops selling everything from spiced tea powders to belly-dancing outfits, bangles, bags, handicrafts and, of course, carpets.
Highlights include the Clock Tower, fluted 13th century Yivli Minaret and adjacent multi-domed mosque, and the well-preserved Hadrian’s Gate, dating back to 130AD.
For lunch, have a bite and a beer on the terrace of the Hotel Odile (www.hotelodile.com), with a grandstand view of the adjacent Hirdilik Tower, then walk along the clifftop path through leafy Karaalioglu Park with a glass of freshly-pressed pomegranate juice before returning through Kaleici’s narrow streets, stopping by Ataturk Museum, dedicated to Turkey’s founder.
After freshening up at your hotel, and perhaps a quick dip, head back to Kaleici for sunset cocktails and dinner at Club Arma (tel: +90 252 417 2808), one of Antalya’s top restaurants. Dine on its patio with wonderful vistas of the harbour and minaret-crowned old city.
Your feet will probably be complaining about all the walking yesterday, so give them a treat today. The indolent can just laze by the pool or beach. But the more inquisitive can return to Kaleici’s harbour to take a cruise on one of the numerous gulets moored there.
Trips last anything from one to six hours and take in the rocky coastline, caves and waterfalls tumbling into the sea.
On your return, pamper yourself even more with a Turkish bath. The historic Sefa Hamam
(www.sefahamam.com) is in the Barbaros Quarter of Kaleici and offers a traditional sauna and massage in baths that records show were restored in 1450. If you want a traditional hammam treatment in five-star splendour, that is an option in the palatial Rixos Royal Spa
(www.rixosroyalspa.com) at the Rixos Downtown hotel (www.rixos.com) in Konyaalti, along with luxury Thai, Bali and Indian massages and other treatments.
The wonderful Antalya Museum (www.antalyamuzesi.gov.tr/en) is just around the
corner. If you don’t want to immerse yourself in its fascinating displays now, save it for another day.
Stay in Konyaalti to chill out in one of the beach-side bars of Konyaalti Beach Park, followed by dinner at 7 Mehmet restaurant (tel: +90 242 238 5200), just above the beach next to the retro-chic Hillside Su Hotel (www.hillsidesu.com).
Take a magical history tour today, visiting some amazing remnants of Antalya’s past. North-west of the city in the Gulluk Mountains National Park, the ruins of the ancient city of Termessos lie in a beautiful natural setting. East of Antalya, the Pamphylian city of Perge is among Turkey’s best preserved archaeological sites and was a base for Alexander the Great, although most of the ruins are Roman.
But the area’s star turn for history buffs is the magnificent Roman amphitheatre at Aspendos, 50km east of Antalya. Part of a site also including aqueducts and temples, it is one of the most imposing structures from ancient history still surviving today and is used for open-air concerts, seating more than 15,000 spectators.
Venture further afield, if you want, to visit Antony and Cleopatra’s hangout, Alanya, and the classical city of Side, with its well-preserved Roman theatre and Temple of Apollo, then it’s back to the hotel and some pool time.
A traditional Turkish meal beckons this evening, and what could be more traditional than kebabs? Feast on the best in Antalya at Ali Haydar (tel: +90 0242 247 6430), a little restaurant tucked away near the city’s stadium. They don’t speak English, but just point to what you want on the menu.
Antalya’s founder, King Attalos of Pergamum, named it after himself and regarded the region as heaven on earth. Take a leaf out of his book and explore some of the magnificent natural beauty of the area.To the south-west of Antalya, en route to ancient Olympos, Cerali Beach is a protected area where loggerhead turtles haul up on the beach to lay eggs. Go in September and you may see the hatchlings emerge and scramble to the safety of the sea.
Around 10km north of the city, the Upper Duden Waterfall plunges 20 metres into a pool amidst forested splendour, and you can walk behind the cascade. The Lower Duden Waterfall, 8km from Antalya, tumbles over the cliff into the sea just by the road to Lara Beach, and there are viewpoints on the cliff and above the falls.
Enjoy first-class seafood with amazing sea views at Antalya Balikevi restaurant (Tel: +90 242 323 1823) on the road to Lara.
Golfers will be chomping at the bit to get out on the fairways of purpose-built tourist resort Belek, around 40 minutes to the east of Antalya. There are now 279 holes of golf at 11 clubs in Belek and you can easily fit in a round with some après-golf refreshments and meal on a day trip.
Among the courses to try are the Nick Faldo designed Cornelia Deluxe (www.corneliagolfresort.com), which has 27 holes, and the Colin Montgomerie-designed Montgomerie Maxx Royal Golf Club (www.montgomeriemaxxroyal.com). Both are excellent tests of golf in beautiful settings amid pine trees and lakes. You can rent golf clubs at both. Rental clubs are also available through Turkish Golf Advisor (www.turkishgolfadvisor.
net), although they generally rent clubs by the week. You can arrange transport through Matrix Travel (www.tourantalya.net).
Non-golfers can spend the day soaking up the sun.
Stay in Belek and grab a steak at Moods restaurant and bar (tel: +90 242 715 3525) before returning to Antalya, while those who never made it past the beach or hotel pool can try the Jolly Joker pub (tel: +90 242 316 7515) in Antalya.
Today is your final day, so after packing you can squeeze in some last-minute time on the beach to top up that tan. But why not arrange your airport transfer earlier and stop off at the band new TerraCity shopping mall (http://terracity.com.tr/en) en route in Lara? It is not far from the airport and has 150 shops by brands including Burberry, Massimo Dutti and GAP, so you can grab some designer bargains before you board your plane back home.
Direct, non-stop flights are operated by several charter airlines as well as easyJet (www.easyjet.com) and Pegasus (www.flypgs.com). Turkish Airlines (www.thy.com) operates flights to Istanbul with connections on to Antalya.
Use taxis in Antalya, but ensure they have a meter. For longer journeys, you can take taxis (rates to different destinations are often posted on boards by taxi ranks) or cheap dolmus minibuses. Airport transfers and day trips can be arranged through Matrix Travel (www.tourantalya.net). Antalya also has trams and a new Antray light rail line.
Eat and drink
A mezze in a reasonable restaurant costs around £2 and a beer about £2.80. Dinner can range from kebabs at £5 in a no-frills eatery to around £15 for a steak or fish in a classy restaurant. Wine is pricey in restaurants, typically costing £25 or more a bottle.
Holidays are offered by companies including Thomas Cook (www.thomascook.com), Thomson (www.thomson.co.uk), Anatolian Sky (www.anatoliansky.co.uk), Sovereign
(www.sovereign.com), Classic Collection (www.classiccollection.co.uk) and Mosaic Holidays (www.mosaicholidays.co.uk).
Antalya hotels include the Rixos Downtown (www.rixos.com), Hillside Su (www.hillsidesu.com), Puding Suite (www.pudingsuite.com), Hotel Odile (www.hotelodile.com) and Hotel Alp Pasa (www.alppasa.com).
Turkish Culture and Tourism Office: www.gototurkey.com
All prices and details were correct when published in tlm - the travel & leisure magazine, please check before you visit Antalya.