Set on the Gulf of Antalya, and considered the gateway to “the Turkish Riviera”, this rapidly expanding city enjoys a fantastic setting, overlooking a wide stretch of beach and backed by the towering Bey Mountains. Stuart Wadsworth reports.
Antalya offers something for everyone – sweeping beaches and blue surf, cultural attractions such as museums, galleries, bars, restaurants and clubs – but also the ancient, walled old quarter of Kaleiçi, whose fortifications once defended against attacking armies but which now keep out the traffic and preserve the old way of life – markets, winding cobbled streets and courtyards bursting with redolent bougainvillea. Compact and navigable, the city is tourist-friendly, and most of the sights are within easy walking distance. Close to historic and natural splendour, well-connected and central, the city is a great base for both families and independent travellers.
Kaleiçi (The old quarter)
At the centre of the historic city is the Roman harbour, now the yacht marina. Restored during the 1980s, it is lined with pleasant seafood restaurants, tavernas and shops. Around it is the peaceful old quarter called Kaleiçi, which features Ottoman timber-framed houses sprinkled with Roman ruins. Many of the graceful old houses have been restored or reconstructed, and this is a great place to try your bargaining skills and pick up an authentic Turkish carpet. Tekeli Mehmet Pasa Camil is one such beautiful building, dating back to the 18th century, featuring intricate inscriptions and decoration. Amongst the Roman ruin highlights is Hadriyanus Kapisi – Hadrian’s Gate – a monumental marble edifice erected during the Emporer Hadrian’s reign. One thing any visitor to Turkey shouldn’t miss is an authentic hamam, and the old town is the perfect place to dive in. The 600-year-old Sefa Hamam and the 700-year-old recently restored Balik Pazari Hamam both offer baths, massages and scrubs for both men and women. Another place to pick up a bit of local culture is the Antalya Museum, containing collections which offer glimpses into the popular life of the region with crafts and costumes displays as well as a wealth of ancient artefacts. For a sunset drink, Castle Cafe-bar has a perfect location atop a cliff and looking out on the harbour. To round off the day, try some authentic Turkish cuisine in a quiet backstreet; somewhere like Hasanaga Restaurant, where you can sit out on the street and watch the world go by, offers mezzes, grilled meat and vegetables and Turkish bread – and copious raki to wash it all down!
Archaeology: Can You Dig It?
For anyone still not satisfied with their fill of history in the old town, Antalya’s environs are busting at the seams with (mostly Roman) ruins, and you don’t have to go too far to find them. Termessos is perhaps the most important, high in the rugged mountains above the city. Termessos is arguably the most spectacularly-situated ruined city in Turkey: the mountain backdrop to the theatre is unforgettable. Set aside a day to see the extensive ruins which are incidentally not Roman but Pisidian. Nearby, Karain Cave offers even more antiquity – stretching back 25,000 years to be precise. Set in steep rock face high above a fertile valley, the cave is one of the first recorded dwellings of early humans, containing engravings and reliefs. Next, Perge, 15km east of Antalya, contains a massive stadium – the biggest in Asia Minor, and this enticing spot with its walled city and collonaded street will keep you busy for an afternoon or more. 7km further east is Sillyon, which is smaller but just as well-located, this time on a table-shaped hill. Finally, there is Aspendos, 10km further along the coast-road, whose theatre is probably the most well-preserved in Asia Minor. Fully restored, it is a particular delight to visit at sunset, or in the evening when it is lit up and utterly awe-inspiring.
Antalya is superbly located, and you can spend days getting to know its picturesque surrounds. Once you’ve spent a while on one of its many wide sandy beaches such as or Konyalti Plaji, why not head further afield to Side, a bustling ex-Hellenistic port with plenty of bars and cafes and some splendid beaches. If it’s sun, sand and surf you’re after, this is the place. Duden Falls, 10km north of the city, is a cool and relaxed spot on a hot afternoon. There is an upper falls or a lower falls and you can either take a two hour cruise along the coast or a dolmus (mini-bus) to get there, depending on which you prefer to see. If you like to go marine, you can lap up more fun at Beach Park with its aquariums, restaurants and shops. For the more adventurous, boat trips along this part of the Mediterranean Coastline – dubbed the ‘Emerald Coast’ – are a must. Kaş and Fetiye are two popular and picturesque old fishing ports to visit, as is Kekova Island – famous for its underwater sunken ruins. Oludeniz is a spectacularly-located beach surrounded by a lagoon in this region. Olympos Village, 80km south of Antalya, is famous for its Roman ruins and mysterious ‘chimaera’ – eternal flames burning from the cliff – and is a favourite haunt for travellers, with quirky treehouse residences available should you choose to spend a night in this enchanting place.
You can book Antalya flights with Thomas Cook Airlines from a total of seven different airports in the UK: London Gatwick, London Stansted, Birmingham, Glasgow, Bristol, Newcastle and Manchester. Fares can be as little at 40 GBP per person per flight (one way), even during summer, although they do vary depending on availability. The early bird catches the deal, so better to plan in advance whenever possible… and save some extra money for that rug!