Climate, culture and cuisine are just three of the many reasons to put Turkey’s Antalya on your list of must-visit holiday destinations.
Words: Ashley Pearson
For me, Antalya, perched on the edge of the Mediterranean, has always been something of a no-brainer. It has wide beaches with clean, warm water, is perennially soaked in sunshine, offers a range of lovely, affordable hotels and is only a short flight away. I’m also a sucker for history, and this place still holds echoes of its past: strolling through the old town you can imagine the Roman generals marching through its cobbled streets and conjure up visions of Cleopatra, said to have swam in Antalya’s famed healing waters during her ill-fated romance with Marc Anthony.
On arrival at the airport, I usually jump in a cab. Taxis here are reliable and relatively inexpensive, ranks abound and there are yellow taxi call buttons on most streets. Once in the city, I highly recommend beginning your trip with a meander through the flagged courtyards and streets of the old town, directly above the turquoise waters of Antalya’s picturesque marina. Have your taxi drop you at the ancient clock tower, Saat Kulesi, at the top of the hill and work your way down past the inviting cafés and numerous shop owners entreating you in as many languages as they can muster to inspect their wares.
The shopping is excellent, reminiscent of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar but smaller and with sea views. Here you’ll find some of the best designer knock-offs in the world (my ‘YSL’ handbag was worth the price of the plane ticket alone). Two tips from locals: start the haggling at half the price suggested and always say yes when they offer you tea or ‘chai’ – it’s part of the ritual. As is lunch overlooking the marina. The grilled calamari at Arma restaurant is fresh and delicious, and make sure you ask for coban salad (or shepherd’s salad); a delicious mix of cucumbers, tomatoes, Turkish green peppers, red onion and parsley covered in pomegranate syrup.
I stayed at Hotel Su, one of Turkey’s first design hotels. Reminiscent of the Mondrian Los Angeles, it fairly screams modernist chic, starkly minimalist and with everything nailed down either swathed or painted in white. Most of the guests appear to have stepped off a film set, artfully dressed in expensive-looking linen, and the massive pool surrounded by white daybeds brings to mind something swanky in Miami.
My sea-facing room felt like the kind of place Mick Jagger might hang out – all pure white with hard edges and glass. I even had a wrap-around balcony with a bed outside to admire the crashing waves below. There are film screenings on the beach or by the pool, as well as a great gym, but the hotel breakfast is average at best and served in an off-putting red dining room. I opted for room service and ate on the balcony. However, the sushi restaurant in the lobby bar is excellent; the chef is from Japan and there is a wide range of options, all of them good.
After a few days in town, I decided to venture a bit further afield and check out one of the bustling resorts in the popular seaside destination of Belek. This area, 45 minutes from the airport and city centre, is considered part of Antalya. It’s a place particularly popular with sporty retired Brits, active families and Germans carrying around golf bags. I stayed at the Cornelia Diamond Resort, and first impressions were a resounding success. If you’re after character or charm this is not the place for you, but if you like clean lines and modern aesthetics you’ll feel at home. Besides, it’s the facilities that people come here for, not for the glam. Set on its own 27-hole golf course, the resort has seven outdoor swimming pools and waterslides all within a short distance of the sea.
My spacious room was connected to the pool via a ladder on an outside wooden deck. The pool weaves its way around the giant property and is scattered with Jacuzzis; there’s also an indoor pool and a stunning private beach with loungers and bar service. But for me, the highlight was spending a half-day at the enormous spa, taking in all 12 of the aromatherapy saunas and steam rooms. For younger guests, there’s a kids’ club in a building shaped like a pirates’ ship and a train that can be boarded for a tour of the premises.
With nine à la carte restaurants and 24-hour room service, there is plenty of variety, and a higher standard of food than I expected. The Tai Pen restaurant offers fine Oriental cuisine with Turkish fusion and an excellent teppanyaki grill. I opted for spicy grilled shrimp with Turkish red peppers and Wagyu beef sautéed to perfection. The property is all-inclusive (including alcohol) and it felt fantastic to never get the wallet out.
For those looking for a bit of culture, there are approximately 300 historic sites not far from Antalya, including the ancient Greco-Roman city Aspendos, the Byzantine church of St Nicholas and the ruins of the ancient city of Patara. Particularly worth seeing is Olympos, founded in the 2nd century BC and just nine miles north of the city. The incredible ruins here, just steps from the sea, include an ancient acropolis.
Antalya also has breathtaking waterfalls that are worth a look and hotels can arrange a variety of tours. I opted for white water rafting in Antalya’s National Park – a scenic wonder of a place called Beskonak two hours’ drive from the city centre. A rafting day trip costs £25, including lunch, safety equipment and transport.
Stunning views, a fascinating history, great food, clean beaches and a very manageable price tag, all just four hours from London, probably helps explain the millions of visitors each year. But for me, it’s more than that; Antalya’s rich past is echoed in a present teeming with natural beauty, a feeling of optimism and a gentle nudge to slow things down. Exactly what I need from a holiday.
Need to know:
Thomas Cook Airlines flies daily to Antalya from London Gatwick and four times a week from London Stansted. Flights start at around £90 return. Flight time is about four hours. thomascookairlines.com
July and August are hot with average temperatures approaching 35C. June and September are ideal, and the water is still warm enough to swim in come October.
Hotel Su, Antalya. Opt for a spacious sea-view suite overlooking the Mediterranean. From £83 a night, B&B. sunishotels.com
Cornelia Diamond Resort, Belek. Pool suites sleep up to three adults in two spacious rooms with a shared deck.
£560 per night. corneliaresort.com
For more information on holidaying in Antalya, visit hometurkey.com.
This article was published on 18 July 2016