ANTALYA, Turkey — This sun-blessed city is Turkey’s summer playground on the Mediterranean Sea, the capital of the Turquoise Coast. It is a prime urban destination on the Turkish Riviera, which stretches from Marmaris in the west to the province of Hatay near the border with Lebanon.
Even in winter, the weather in Antalya can be sunny, mild enough to make it perfect for golf and tennis or a weekend break.
The best nearby skiing — at 6,560 feet in Saklikent, 31 miles northwest of Antalya — is from January to April, but in March and April ,it is possible to ski in the morning and then drive to the coast for an afternoon swim in the Mediterranean. White-water rafting is available near Antalya.
It is the bright sun of summer, though, that draws the crowds. Most people come for holidays on the beach and to visit the numerous historical sites, but many are devoted to sailing the blue voyages along the Mediterranean coast.
Location — seaside but cliff-top and on the edge of a fertile alluvial plain — has been in Antalya’s favor for centuries. The Karain Cave, about 16 miles from Antalya, has yielded artifacts dating from 30,000 B.C. The area probably has been inhabited continuously since about 50,000 B.C., in the Middle Paleolithic period, but Antalya is much younger.
The city’s founder was Attalus II, king of Pergamum. One day near the end of the second century B.C., Attalus charged a scouting party to find the most beautiful place on Earth. The party returned and told the king they had found it, and he ordered a city built there. He named the city Attaleia, now known as Antalya. Some say he built the city because he needed a port for his inland base.
Antalya is on the northern end of the Gulf of Antalya, and the province of Antalya wraps around the city in a crescent. Nearby are major archaeological sites, especially the ruins of Perge, Aspendos and Side. The ancient site of Termessos, at 3,500 feet, is west of the city, while Phaselis is to the southwest.
The modern Antalya airport is the busiest on Turkey’s southern coast and offers flights to Western European cities as well as other destinations in Turkey.
The one-hour, 15-minute flight from Istanbul mostly is over mountains, including the awesome Taurus range north of Antalya. In their descent, planes fly over a long green valley that leads into Antalya’s alluvial plain. From the air, passengers can see the agricultural plots, many planted with citrus trees, but the area also produces other fruits, plus vegetables and cotton.
Closer to the airport, the large rectangular fields are sprouting other crops as the building boom for the resort city expands. It is not unusual to see a field with a high-rise apartment building rising in one or more corners.
Besides the summer crowd, more people are buying second homes or retiring in Antalya, which has helped boost the population from about 600,000 in 2002 to an estimated 790,000. Summer visitors bring the population to 2 million — and growing.
Among the many new hotels, the 701-room Silence Beach Resort is being completed this month. The hotel, near Side, will have Turkey’s first glatt kosher restaurant, the King David.
Tucked between the mountains and in the plain are harbors and marinas for yachts and larger boats. Kemer, west of Antalya, is a major marina center and a charming town.
Visitors who come for a walk into antiquity are rewarded richly, for this area, like much of the southern coast of Turkey, is dotted with historical sites that can be associated with conquerors such as Alexander the Great, the Persians, Phoenicians, the Ptolmies of Egypt, Romans, the Byzantine Empire, crusaders, Seljuks and the Ottoman Empire. For many years, the coast was plundered by pirates. After World War II, the Allies partitioned the Ottoman Empire and gave Antalya to Italy, but in 1921, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk led Turkish forces to free Anatolia from foreign control.
The southern coast of Turkey was extremely important in the development and spread of Christianity.
The Greco-Roman theater at Aspendos was built during the reign of Rome’s Emperor Marcus Aurelius in the second century A.D. It is said to be the best-preserved theater in the eastern area of the Roman Empire; there is speculation that an earlier theater occupied the site.
The theater’s seating area was built into a hillside, as were many other theaters in Turkey, especially those that have survived earthquakes. It can hold 20,000 spectators at events such as the annual Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival, film festivals and concerts of popular music.
Aspendos is about 30 miles from the city; on the route, a large section of a Roman aqueduct stands in the middle of fields that are still being farmed.
About 25 years ago, Side was a fishing village with wide beaches and remnants of an important city that had a population of 60,000 when it was taken by Alexander the Great — without a struggle — about 333 B.C. Today it is popular with tourists seeking sun, beach and restaurants and with travelers interested in the history of the area.
The charms of Side were sufficient for Marc Antony and Cleopatra to go there for a tryst and perhaps a swim.
New buildings stand between Side’s remains from antiquity, and there are many shops catering to tourists. Side is a peninsula with three bays and fine beaches.
At the end of the peninsula, several columns of the Temple of Apollo have survived. Walking back to the commercial area from the columns, visitors see the Apollo restaurant, its modern front extending into what looks like part of the city wall. They can walk farther into the city and find themselves beside the ancient theater of Side and continue on and see more ruins in this unique combination of old and new.
Northwest of Side lie the spectacular remains of Perge, about 11 miles northwest of Antalya. Like Ephesus in western Turkey and other ancient cities on or near the coast, Perge was built near a river and was an important commercial center until the river silted.
Perge was first mentioned in the fourth century B.C. and thrived because of its location near the alluvial plain and because of its harbor. Then — like Antalya in the region called Pamphylia — Perge was home to one of the oldest Christian communities in Asia Minor.
In the Bible, Acts 14:24-25 records a visit there by Paul and Barnabas:
“And after they had passed throughout Pisidia, they came to Pamphylia.
“And when they had preached the word in Perga, they went down into Attalia.”
Of all the historical sites near Antalya, Perge has the most to offer and is one of Turkey’s major archaeological sites. Its ancient residents believed they were descendants of refugees from Troy.
Perge has a well-defined acropolis and nearby a well-preserved theater and a stadium. The stadium ranks second, at least in its present condition, to the marvelous stadium in Aphrodisias in western Turkey.
Unique to the Perge stadium, though, are what apparently were commercial stalls between the arches that support the tiers of seats above.
Perge also has many rows of standing columns, notably the agora. The two round towers of the Hellenistic Gates of Perge are gems. Although much of them has collapsed, they still tower overhead sufficiently to convey how impressive they once were.
In the Antalyan summer, the sun is powerful and the heat fierce, so smart visitors go to sites such as Perge, Side and Aspendos soon after they open in the morning or in the late afternoon, or they travel in the off-season, when the sites are less crowded.
Some of the sites also have museums, but the Antalya Museum is something special. It may appear smaller than one might expect, but what is inside is choice: From pottery to coins and jewelry, glass objects and sculptures in terra cotta and marble, most of the items are from the ruins of the once-great cities in the area.
The exhibits, from the Paleolithic period to the Ottoman Empire, are arranged in 13 display halls. They are quite informative, and the sculpture, in particular, is displayed handsomely. The museum also has a children’s section that seeks to interest youngsters in antiquity and museums.
It is impossible to select a favorite item in the museum when the selection must be made from a remarkable Roman marble sarcophagus, Roman statues ranging from the deities to a noble sculpture of the Three Graces, or a boy on a horse.
The main tourist attraction in downtown Antalya is an arch built to honor the Roman Emperor Hadrian; near Phaselis is another arch that also paid tribute to the 130 A.D. visit by the emperor.
Antalya’s old town, called Kaleici, is the most interesting part of the city. It has narrow streets, boutiques, an occasional Roman ruin amid the buildings built of wood in the late Ottoman style, small restaurants, and interesting hotels that are quite different from the newer high-rises that surround the city.
One of these small establishments is the Marina Hotel, although it has two restaurants and two bars and has been refurbished to reflect its Ottoman heritage. The Marina’s swimming pool is unique: A picture window at the deep end enables passers-by to look at guests swimming, and the swimmers can stare back.
For travelers who don’t want to go a mile or two for a store or restaurant, the Marina Hotel is an ideal location, not just for the small shops and restaurants, but also for larger stores and the tourist office, if needed. The hotel is about 300 yards uphill from a small beach and about a mile from a beach that is large but covered with pebbles.
Among the large beach hotels west of downtown is the Hillside Su, a member of the Design Hotels group. A review on the Guardian newspaper’s Web site says this about Hillside Su:
“It might be second-generation sensational in its overwhelming whiteness, but it certainly takes up the baton with conviction. White is quite simply the only colour you’ll find in the entire place until you venture as far as the basement restaurant. Here the walls are blood red. And so are the chairs, tables and napkins. The hotel’s architect, Eren Talu, is Monochrome Man.”
There are touches of pink, however, in the lobby, where large mirrored balls sparkle overhead, and in the corridors leading to the guest rooms, which are, yes, all white. Even the TV set is white. A view from the window yields the blue of sea and sky.
My room reminded me of a friend once fantasizing about having a party in a white room for which all the guests must wear white and one would only see hands and faces.
The buffet restaurant is on ground level, but it is as red as the Guardian described — more intense, if possible, than the delicious Turkish tomatoes. The food is excellent, not your ordinary buffet. The many salads and cold appetizers are varied and made of the freshest ingredients, such as tomatoes, cucumbers, eggplants, lettuces, carrots, eggs, chickpeas, fresh herbs, delicious thick Turkish yogurt and tasty olives. The breads are delicious, as are the apricots, cherries and figs. Choices are not easy because the spread is so large — from salads to desserts.
Grilled meats are prepared outdoors near the entrance to the restaurant.
Hillside Su’s lap pool is surrounded by a wooden deck with reed umbrellas; the mattresslike lounges are covered in white. A walk near the pool area leads to the beach and water sports in the Mediterranean.
The hotel has free Internet access, and keyboards may be converted from Turkish to German or English alphabets.
East of the city is a hotel completed more recently than Hillside Su, although it looks much older in architecture. Kempinski Hotel the Dome is in Belek, an area that is a mix of homes, farms and golf courses.
This hotel, built of pale yellow stone, looks expensive. Its main entrance is monumental, an arch carved by artisans familiar with the architecture of the Seljuks, predecessors of the Ottoman Turks. This could be the entrance of a thousand-year-old temple, but it leads to 157 stylish rooms and 18 private villas. Aqueduct-like arches run between two wings at the back of the hotel.
The lobby is spacious and comfortable, quasi-monumental. The oversized sofas, chairs and tables define “designer”: The labels — more like 2-by-6-inch plaques — affixed on a side of each chair, on an end of each sofa, and equally conspicuous on tables say it all: Fendi.
Aside from that, the Dome is quite tasteful in a world of pleasing neutral colors. The bathrooms are terrific and spacious; the mattresses are pleasantly firm. Most of the rooms have balconies with views of the spectacular complex of tiled pools, and the poolside bar is embedded with thousands of those Mediterranean icons, the evil-eye glass beads to ward off the evil eye. Another building houses the Kids Club. The restaurants at the hotel are excellent, offering dishes from traditional Turkish to international.
Guests have priority access to the fine Antalya Golf Club and its two 18-hole courses, the Pasha and the Sultan. There are three tennis courts.
Whatever accommodations travelers choose, they can find friendly people, comfort, good food and plenty of sun in this capital of the Turkish Riviera. Thank Attalus II for getting it rolling.
More than 20 airlines fly to the Antalya airport; most are budget airlines, but they also include large international carriers such as Turkish Airways and Russia’s Aeroflot. The flights from Istanbul take about 11/4 hours.
For information about Antalya — including hotels, historical sites, museum, mountains, food and national parks — go to www.antalya-ws.com/english.
The official Web site of the Turkish Ministry of Tourism is www.tourismturkey.org, but information, including Turkey’s visa requirements, is also available from www.visitturkey.com. Visas may be obtained before departure from the embassy or upon arrival in Istanbul.
Information also is available from the Turkish Tourism Office, 2525 Massachusetts Ave. NW, Suite 306, Washington, DC 20008; phone 202/612-6800.
For the Marina Hotel in Antaly’s old town, go to www.kesit.com/antalya/marina.htm.
Go to www.hillside.com.tr for information about the hip Hillside Su Hotel west of Antalya.
Visit www.kempinski.com/en/ hotel/index.htm for information about Kempinski Hotel the Dome in Belek near Antalya. The hotel chain also operates the Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, a popular hotel on the Bosphorus with a stunning swimming pool beside the busy waterway.
For information on Turkey’s wide selection of foods, go to www.turizm.net/turkey/tips/storyfood.html.
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