Antalya is a city bathed in sunlight and baked in history. Standing on Turkey’s beautiful Turquoise Coast, it is the hidden jewel of the Mediterranean. A place where luxury hotels, vast beaches, striking ruins and quiet villages create something that’s truly unique.
The city is the largest on this stretch of Turkey’s southern coastline. Dating back to 150 BCE it was settled by the Greeks, ruled by the Romans and expanded by the Ottomans. Today it is the heart of Turkish tourism, with thousands coming to relax by the water and explore the riches that lie along the coast and just inland.
A Turkish tradition
While the hotels and beaches are what most travelers come to Antalya for, you don’t need to go far for proper Turkish traditions. And nothing is more traditional than a Sunday breakfast taken in the nearby mountain villages. With the area getting 300 days of sunshine a year, the mountain air offers respite from the heat. There’s even the option to pull up a table in a dry riverbed and enjoy a leisurely start to the day.
A Turkish breakfast is something to behold. The vast quantities of food are, explains Dilek Gorpe, all about ensuring that guests are well catered for and that no one feels the need to rush.
“(You might be) full, but you sit for half an hour and you eat a little bit more. Then, you can read your newspaper or do whatever and then you can lay down and have a little nap.”
Gorpe is an Antalya resident and knows the area well, having spent years booking bands for the city’s hotels and exploring the local food scene. Dishes of spinach, flatbreads and salty donuts are washed down with copious amounts of tea, all taken, as Gorpe suggests, as slowly as time allows. In Antalya, it seems, rushing is not on the agenda.
It’s not just about the eating though, as good as the local produce is. The villages here maintain an old-world feel that is removed from the modern trappings of the swanky resorts down on the Mediterranean. Roadside workshops abound, with carpenters salvaging wood from the forest floor and crafting animal sculptures that are sold as souvenirs. There is a deep respect for the landscape and the old ways, which makes Antalya feel very special indeed.
By the water in Bodrum
These traditions are never far away, even along the coast in bustling Bodrum, where tourists sun themselves and enjoy time forgetting about the everyday. And hôtelier and restaurateur extraordinaire Sahir Erozan knows about this better than most. His beautiful Maçakizi boutique resort is steeped in the past, having first been opened by his mother in the 1970s. It retains an old-world feel, with plenty of modern touches to satisfy the most fastidious of guests.
The hotel began life as a rustic bed and breakfast, but soon became an escape for the jet-set crowd.
“In the back there would be sheep, cows, donkeys. It was beautiful and I loved it,” says Erozan. “(I will) never forget that year that I spent the summer here, that was ‘77. That winter I moved to the States to go to school and didn’t come back here for a long time. And somehow something inside of me missed the water.
“It’s the smell, the color and feel of things,” he says of his love of Bodrum.
Erozan later returned to continue his mother’s work. Naturally, food and first-rate hospitality feature highly here. So too does his love of the ocean. He has seen the boom in superyachts arriving at the sleek new Yalıkavak Marina, built with these vast vessels in mind. There are luxury outlets, as well as ample space to moor the fanciest of boats. The simplicity that Erozan loves, though, is what he thinks draws the super-rich here.
“We have the best waters. Clean seas. We probably have the best waters in Europe,” he boasts.
“This is a very versatile place,” he adds. “It’s got its commercial angles, historical angles, and it’s got very bohemian lifestyle angles too… There is another Bodrum, where other people, with other tastes, go to. They go to a little fish restaurant on the water – the same style where we left it years ago.”
A Bohemian paradise
Nobody embodies these bohemian origins like Cemil İpekçi. The renowned Turkish fashion designer first came here in the 1960s, falling in with the hippie crowd who believed they had stumbled across paradise.
“I fell in love with the Bodrum people,” he says. “Because they were so crazy. We were going to the sea here to swim all naked. Nobody was looking at us!”
“There was nothing at all,” he says standing by the waterfront, surveying the current scene of top-end hotels and restaurants, “And here there were only maybe five houses, the old houses. And the beach was still here.”
It is not something he mourns, however. Change, he says, is inevitable. And besides, he still feels Bodrum in his heart.
“It’s still got it,” he says. “(Bodrum) gives you freedom. I mean, here, the people don’t care that you’re a millionaire or you are known or you are chic or not … if you are nice to talk to, they talk with you.
“I have no children. I have no wife, I have no husband. I have no lover anymore. My love is Bodrum.”
Stepping into ancient history
Back in Antalya, there’s the chance to feel that sense of wonder afforded by Bodrum’s bohemian side, but in a wholly different setting. The ancient city of Perga, just outside the modern-day metropolis, is truly jaw-dropping.
While it can trace its origins back to 4,000 BCE, its surviving incarnation dates from 300 BCE, right through to 1,000 CE, with phenomenal Byzantine, Hellenic and Roman ruins on show.
It isn’t just the buildings, though. The people of antiquity who passed through here can be felt the moment you step onto the site. To walk the same roads that Alexander the Great and the Apostle Paul once traveled is a privilege and truly powerful. A humbling reminder that even on vacation we walk in the footsteps of giants.
It’s all part of Anatalya’s captivating charm, a place that can be all things to all kinds of tourists, whether they have the urge for time on the beach, a chance to delve back into the past or feel close to nature on some of the most beautiful seas on our planet. Quieter than locations elsewhere in the Mediterranean, its allure lies in its diversity, somewhere that visitors will want to explore over and over again.