• By: Dan Donovan

The Turkish Mediterranean — Antalya and the Turkish Turquoise Coast

I have had the great privilege of traveling to many wonderful countries across the globe. Of all my travels, I’m most enamoured with Turkey and the nobility of the Turkish people. They are the most generous, hospitable and friendly people you will meet and the people of the Lycia top that list.

More popularly known as Turquoise Coast, Lycia is home to a large part of the magnificent Turkish Riviera with its dazzling Mediterranean coastline, pristine beaches and breathtakingly beautiful jade waters. Forested, pine-clad and rugged mountains zigzag along and descend to a shoreline of gulfs and coves. It is a boating, sailing and water-sports paradise.

The region is also renowned for its ancient historic sites and ruins from ancient Lycian civilization. Here, you can visit the ancient ruins of the old cities of Xanthos, Tlos and Arykanda which jut out along hills throughout the region. You’ll see breathtaking ornamental tombs carved into cliffs at Pınara and Myra or, and hike a section of the 500-km long Lycian Way — Turkey’s original and most popular hiking path.

Lycia has been at the centre of history for thousands of years. Geographically, it is the nexus point where East meets West and as a result has cultivated a richness that is evident in the heritage, culture, people, food and outlook of the locals who remain the guardians of the many ancient ruins from this historic region.

An entire book wouldn’t be enough to describe the amazing culinary delights found here — the spices, the tastes, the recipes and the remarkable way food intersects with the lifestyle and culture. The seafood is other-worldly, as are the world-famous kebabs, steaks and chicken dishes. Salads and desserts would have to be a separate book. One of the best parts of travel here is to partake in the array of incredible foods served with such artisan flare.

History comes alive as you walk through the many historic archeological sites scattered throughout the region. It is both an archeologist’s and a historian’s dream. With so much to see, you’ll want to map out an itinerary in advance. I suggest touring historical sites earlier in the day followed by visiting beaches and water activities in the hot afternoon.

Antalya is the heart of the Turquoise Coast and is the fastest-growing city in Turkey. Tourists from around the world come to enjoy its fabulous mix of great beaches and traditional Turkish culture — it’s all here and it’s fabulous. Enjoy the architecture and narrow cobble-stoned streets while soaking in the mixture of sounds, smells and the colours. Grab a seat at a café and have some Turkish tea or enjoy a shot of Raki — the national drink, an aniseed-flavoured alcohol similar to pastis or ouzo — and wander off in your mind to a distant time when this place was the centre of the world.

Antalya is home to Hadrian’s Gate, the triumphal arch built for the first visit of the Roman emperor Hadrian in AD 130. It is the only remaining entrance gate in the wall that once surrounded the city and still stands proudly in the old town centre . . . It’s a must-see.

The Kaleiçi— the inner castle of Antalya’s ancient city center — is one of the most important sights of Antalya and is worth visiting for both its beauty and historical value. It is located 250 meters high on a rocky peninsula overlooking the Mediterranean Sea, which protects it on three sides. Although a large part of the interior and exterior walls were destroyed, it surrounds the old part by the horseshoe-shaped wall referred to as “Kaleiçi” by the locals. The walls were built and restored in Hellenistic, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman periods as common work. One of the great things about this place is the local beach . . . Exceptional.

For a unique mix of relaxation, history, and adventure, you can’t beat Alanya. Squeezed between the dazzling Mediterranean and Taurus Mountains, the historical heart of this city sits on a rocky peninsula with an impressive 13th-century castle overlooking its sweeping beaches. It served as home for a succession of Mediterranean powers. Locals say that Cleopatra Beach was named after the Egyptian queen who reputedly swam here during her reign. This region averages 310 days of sunshine each year with up to 14 hours of sunlight per day in June and July. Alanya has numerous attractions, like the vast Seljuk Turkish fortress which dominates the town from its promontory; the tall, octagonal Seljuk Kızılkule (Red Tower); and the Damaltas Caves and the Tersane (shipyard).

The ancient and once prosperous city of Pergein the Antalaya region is the birthplace of Apollonius, the famous mathematician and astronomer. Perge was dedicated to Artemis, the goddess of the hunt, the wilderness, wild animals and chastity. Artemis was one of the most widely venerated of the ancient Greek deities, and her temple at Ephesus was one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. A few remnants of the city of Perge can be seen in this area: city walls, stadiums, gymnasiums, Roman baths, rectangular planned agoras, monumental fountains, and column lined streets.

The ancient city of Aspendos is 50 kilometers east of Antalya. The Aspendos’ theater is one of the largest ever built by the Romans in Asia Minor, and is one of the best-preserved examples of Roman theater architecture. Still used for live performances, the theatre plays host to the annual Aspendos Opera and Ballet Festival. On the morning we visited a group of tourists from China came in and one of them stood in the middle of the theatre and sang an impromptu aria. Everyone stopped and listened — you could have heard a pin drop. Wow. . . what an exquisite moment. Aspendos has other historic ruins including a stadium, a basilica and an agora (central public space). One of two starting points for the St. Paul’s walking trail (one of the longest walking trails in Turkey that follows the trail of the apostle St. Paul) starts in Aspendos, while the second one is situated in Perge.

The town of Side is a pretty resort town close to Antalya (Side translates to “pomegranate" in ancient Anatolian). This small fishing village was once fortified with ancient walls and is set on a small cape with long beaches on either side.There is a well-preserved amphitheatre, a temple of Apollo with some pillars still standing, and the shell of a classical library building.

During the Roman period Olympos was widely known as a cult site dedicated to the fire god Hephaistos. It’s fascinating, but not just for its fragmented ruins. Olympos (Ciraliin Turkish) has an archeological site, just inland from the coast along the Akcay River which runs through a rocky gorge. Today, Olympos is a popular spot for backpackers and offers accommodation such as small camping sites and pensions.

Phaselis is located on a peninsula between the north and south harbours on the way from Antalya to Kas. Once the most important harbour city of western Lycia — as well as an important commerce centre between Greece, Asia, Egypt, and Phoenicia — Alexander the Great passed through here on his way to conquer the East. It’s a perfect spot for a swim. Excursion boats and yachts often drop anchor in the southern harbour for lunch, a swim, and a stroll through the ruins.

Kemer is a popular holiday resort located on the western coast of Antalya, Turkey. The Turkish word for “belt”, Kemer is named for the fact that the river flowing through it looks like a belt. The town offers great activities and attractions, as well as social scenes with bars, lounges, clubs, cafes and restaurants. This is a spot where beautiful turquoise beaches, the spectacular Taurus Mountains and green-scented pine forests all converge.

Belek region
Belekis in the Serik district of Antalya Province. It is popular for its championship golf courses, the Kursunlu Waterfall, Köprülü Kanyon national park, and the Zeytin Tash cave. It is a destination for naturalists and bird watchers. There are over 100 different species of birds nesting in this sensitive ecological area. Visitors also come for its renowned spas, mineral waters, turquoise water and sandy beaches that stretch for miles along the coast.

Manavgat Falls
An hour outside of Antalya in the eastern part of the Taurus Mountains is Mount Seytan, home to Turkey’s “Niagara Falls”. The Manavgat Falls flow into the river of the same name which is the most regularly flowing river of Turkey. One of the best things to do in Tukey is a boat trip on the stunning Manavgat River where you can jump in for a swim in the cool waters and enjoy the beautiful natural scenery.

The Demre Simena tombs
Myra was an ancient leading city in Lycia where the small town of Kale (Demre) is today. People come here to visit the necropolis of Lycia where the tombs were always built on top of hills or on the cliffs — a local ancient superstition to ensure the dead would be transported to another world by a winged creature. There are two kinds of rock-cut tombs visible on the vertical faces of cliffs at Myra: the river necropolis and the ocean necropolis. The ocean necropolis is just northwest of the theater. The most well-known tomb in the river necropolis (located 1.5 km up the Demre Cayi from the theater) is the “Lion’s Tomb,” also called the “Painted Tomb” due to British archaeologist Sir Charles Fellows’ report (1841) that it was painted red, yellow and blue.

With its postcard-perfect harbour, Kaş is a favoured yacht-mooring destination in the Antalya Province. It is one of the best places to set sail from for some laid-back sightseeing of the many secret coves and islands along the coastline. The harbour’s pleasant atmosphere, coupled with the central location, make it one of the most popular places for tourists. Enjoy shopping at its many boutiques and grab a drink at the wonderful cafés. The sunken ruins around Kekova and Kaleköy are a top historical attraction featuring remnants from the Lycian, Greek, and Roman eras. The fish is to-die-for along with the local beer. In Turkey, it just doesn’t get any better than a sojourn to wonderful Kaş.

Patara is 17 km west of Kalkan and is known as the birthplace of Santa Claus. Otherwise known as St. Nicholas, Santa Claus was born here in the third century, and later moved to Demre (Myra) where he became a bishop and did his many good works. Patara is also known for having Turkey’s longest stretch of uninterrupted beach, making it an ideal nesting site for loggerhead sea turtles. Once the capital city of Lycian League (the first known democratic union in history), Patara has extraordinarily well-preserved ruins including a sand-swept theater and a triple-arched triumphal gate.

Photos: Randy VanDerStarren