Turkey is likely to be one of the top short flight destinations again this year. Outside the Eurozone, its exchange rate is kind to British visitors. The country has a huge coastline, with an unending succession of resorts mixed up with quiet little coves, and fishing villages. You are guaranteed top wattage sunshine, and a famously warm welcome. This is my list of my favourite things on the gorgeous stretch of seaside around Antalya – the Turquoise Coast.
2000 years ago a king sent his men to locate ”Heaven on Earth”. They found this glorious stretch of coast, deep blue sea under spectacular cliffs, backed by the Taurus Mountains. The well-pleased monarch founded the forerunner to Antalya. Springs still gush off the mountains in and around the city, and Greek, Roman and Byzantine antiquities are all around the coast, and in the mountains above. You could hire a car in Antalya and take easy day trips to the best historical sites, such as Karain Cave, Perge, Side and Aspendos. My pick is the high and impregnable (to Alexander the Great) mountaintop city of Termessos, one of the few places. Better still, take a gulet (traditional wood boat) around the Gulf, as far as Kas (west) and Alanya (east) calling in now and then at some deserted pine-enclosed inlet.
You may not actually see a newly-hatched loggerhead turtle no bigger than your hand struggling to the safety of the sea at Çirali. (Around full moon, first week of September is best). And you would be lucky to catch that magical night-time moment in the spring, when their mother heaves out of the jet-black Mediterranean to lay her eggs at in the sand. But go to this village on the two mile beach anyway, and rejoice that such a million year old natural event happens at all in such a busy tourist area. Cirali is an inspiration. A strict coastal conservation programme is run by locals, backed by environmental body WWF, who see this as a successful model for sustainable tourism. Cafes and shops were moved back from the beach, which is kept safe and clean for the turtles. There are plenty of small family-run hotels (pansyons).
Kaleiçi could easily have been ruined when mass tourism swept into Antalya in the 1980s. Instead the city’s old quarter was conserved, recently winning a top prize in the Turkish tourism “Oscars”. This tight swirl of old red-roofed Turkish and Greek houses, threaded by narrow cobbled streets, sits above the marina – on the site of the old Roman port. There are lots of restaurants and small hotels (£25 a night, or less), but it’s worth a stroll around even if you don’t stay.
The Roman triumphal arch commemorating the visit by the Emperor Hadrian is the top photo stop, along with the 13th century minaret and the Red Tower. Then take in some easy sightseeing from the tram which runs up and down the seafront to the city’s main beach at Konyaalti, and the Antalya Museum. This is one of the best in Turkey, packed to the roof with wonders from the rich Roman and Greek sites in the region.
For many years a footpath in Turkey meant some ancient, twisty route villagers took to reach their fields. Never a signpost in sight. Then the Lycian Way opened, in 1996. The 320 miles path between Antalya and Fethiye was soon named one of the world’s best long walks. It winds through tremendous coastal scenery, passing many ancient remains from the Lycian period – places you could never reach by car. In 2009 it was upgraded, with more signs and distance indicators. And now it is possible for cyclists to use it, akthough they grade it “medium to hard”, with many ascents and descents. It is easiest near Fethiye. Avoid high summer, which can be savagely hot here. In 2009 they launched what organizers hope will be an annual cycling marathon along this unique track.
All our holidays on the beach had been leading to this, the world’s biggest sandcastle competition. But forget those modest little structures we built with our buckets and spades. By “sandcastle” I mean Dubai-size creations. Sand sculptors from around the world will; take days to build them. And yet the competitors at the Sandland Festival on Antalya”s Lara beach (May – October) will still obey the original rule, and only use sand and water.
A recent theme was mythology: five sculptors made a Chinese dragon in 25 days, using 1,000 tons of sand. They wanted to beat the world record for the biggest and tallest sand sculpture. Later sand-subjects included heroes from Egypt, Greece, Turkey and Japan, and the Mayan and Aztec periods. Or you can just go along and build a sandcastle.
Turkey has taken another welcome step in green tourism. The country has zoned huge areas of coastline as no-build areas for years – I know a quiet bay where a hotel built without permission was demolished. In February 2009 Turkey signed the Kyoto agreement to cut CO2 emissions. Now it has made the first Green Star award, presented to hotels offering eco-friendly accommodation, to the Calista Resort in the pine forests at Belek, outside Antalya. Areas where the hotel scored highly include recycling, using renewable energy, wise use of water, raising staff eco-awareness, and using local produce. www.calista.com.tr. There are many small-scale alternatives to these big, self-contained resorts. A good example (among many) is Olympos Lodge at Çirali, just 12 rooms in small bungalows set in a garden of limes.