Anyone inspired by last week’s Ryder Cup coverage may be relieved to learn there are plenty of, dare I say more exotic, destinations other than Bonny Scotland known for their golf courses. One of those is Belek in the Turkish region of Antalya, home to no fewer than 15 courses, 10 clubs and some pretty swish resorts alongside them, too. Although, it’s one of the most visited destinations in the world, there’s more to Antalya than flat caps and plus fours – including beaches, sites of natural beauty and incredible Ottoman archaeological heritage…
Kaleiçi (Old Town)
Eastern and western cultures straddle Antalya’s old town, Kaleiçi. Off the main stretch of modern shops and bars, tucked behind one of many of the region’s ancient ruins, visitors will find Hadrian’s Gate, which was built by the Roman Emperor of the same name in 130AD, plus a maze of narrow streets with a distinctly Moorish flavour.
Along the narrow streets is a smattering of bars and restaurants, full of tourists and local residents soaking up the atmosphere, and shops selling the usual tourist fodder of fridge magnets and Turkish delight as well as the occasional T shirt baring a quirky representation of a slightly out of place world leader. A more familiar figure in this setting is Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, Turkish President from 1923-1938, often credited as the founder of Modern Turkey. Tributes can be found by way of plaques and even a museum, Ataturk’s House Museum (Işıklar Caddesi, Antalya, visiting hours: April – October from 9am-7pm, November – March from 8am-5pm), across the city. Another museum within the Old Town offering a decent, entry level exploration of the city’s rich history, is the Suna & Inan Kirac Kaleiçi Museum (Barbaros Mah. Kocatepe Sok. No:25, Kaleiçi 07100 – Antalya).
A short stroll from the heart of the old town is a private beach, packed out during peak season with local people hoping to escape the relentless heat. Not far from here, the old town harbour has traditional-looking vessels adorned with Pirates of the Caribbean paraphernalia and sub-woofers blaring out European dance-music.
Whether you fancy a relaxing sun-soaked cruise or an Inbetweener’s style foam party (Antalya caters for all, so it’s probably worth checking exactly what you’ve signed up to) a boat trip around the coast offers incredible scenes of the region’s diverse landscape.
Although dotted with resorts, this has been done sympathetically in places to preserve the coastline’s natural beauty and there are still plenty of untouched areas, too. On a hazy day, you could almost miss the impressive mountain range lying just behind Antalya’s bright blue Mediterranean waters and, depending on the route, you might also pass by waterfalls, cliffs, and even stop off at some of Antalya’s famous ancient cities.
A day-trip on a boat around Antalya typically includes lunch and refreshments and the opportunity to take a quick dip or two, to cool down. Specialist diving and surfing boat trips can also be booked in person at the harbour with individual tour operators (or book online in advance with Impulse Travel).
As well as experiencing Antalya’s rugged mountain range from the coastline, exploring the mountains is an activity in itself. The Bey Mountains lie north to south along the western shore of the Gulf of Antalya, with some peaks ranging between 2000-3000 metres in altitude.
Home to an impressive array of flora and fauna, including the odd grizzly bear, the mountains provide opportunities for trekking, mountain biking, and if you’re feeling particularly brave, even paragliding, throughout the year. If you do hit the mountains during the winter or early spring, the Saklikent Ski Resort 50km from Antalya city centre, is the place to go for skiing and snowboarding. Meanwhile, Antalya’s caves, national parks and waterfalls (including the Kurşunlu, cascading from 18 metres high against a backdrop of lush greenery) are ideal for nature walking and observation.
A region rich in history and important archaeological sites, Antalya’s mountains are also home to one of the region’s many ancient cities. High on Güllük Mountain and at an altitude of 1050 metres, you’ll find the ruins of the Ancient City of Termessos, some of which is staggeringly well-preserved due to its surrounding pine forest, which has protected it from weather damage. Among the still identifiable ruins are the city wall, agora, temples, cemetery and an impressive theatre.
Approximately 17km east of the city centre, lies the Ancient City of Perge (Perge, Aksu, Antalya). Founded at the end of the Trojan wars, in 1275 BC, but only discovered through excavations made by the University of Istanbul from 1946, the scale of the site at Perge is mind-blowing. With rows and rows of columns lining what would once have been a street, not to mention a 15,000 seat theatre, it’s hard to imagine the site having gone undiscovered so long. Incredibly well-preserved artefacts such as mausoleums, statues and smaller objects like pottery and coins can be found in the Antalya Museum, which holds one of the best archaeological collections in the country.
Some of Antalya’s ancient ruins still even have functional roles – the Aspendos Theatre (Aspendos ruins, Serik, Antalya), around 48km east of Antalya, still hosts live performances, including the annual Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival. While the opera might not hit quite the right notes for the most discerning of opera fans, the setting alone is worth the ticket.
Return flights from London Gatwick to Antalya, with Turkish Airlines, start from £197.44 including taxes and fees. Radio Times stayed in Antalya as a guest of the Turkish Culture & Information Office. For more information on things to do in Turkey, visit their website at www.gototurkey.co.uk