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Prize Turkey

A sun-kissed paradise steeped in ancient history awaits you on the Turkish Mediterranean resort of Antalya, writes Erin McCafferty

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The stunning Kleopatra Beach in Alanya overlooks the Mediterranean.

The stunning Kleopatra Beach in Alanya overlooks the Mediterranean.

Erin at the Roman amphitheatre in Aspendos.

Erin at the Roman amphitheatre in Aspendos.

the Apollo Temple.

the Apollo Temple.

The Manavgat waterfall.

The Manavgat waterfall.

The five-star Cornelia Resort Hotel.

The five-star Cornelia Resort Hotel.

The stunning shoreline at Kekova in Antalya, Turkey

The stunning shoreline at Kekova in Antalya, Turkey

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The stunning Kleopatra Beach in Alanya overlooks the Mediterranean.

A chilled glass of white Turkish wine, a table of fresh seafood meze dishes, and the most picturesque of views. In front of me, is a small sandy cove, it’s calm turquoise waters, complete with a small pier and a bobbing fishing boat in the distance.

It’s a balmy 29 degrees and there’s a hazy softness to the September light. The azure blue sky overhead is cloudless. All I can hear is the lapping of the water on the shore and the faint sound of children’s laughter in the distance.

I’m having one of those moments – moments when everything seems right with the world, sitting in the ancient village of Side (pronounced ‘Sea Day) in South West Turkey.

You’d be hard pushed not to feel content in this little gem of an historical town, which although sophisticated, retains the charm of a quaint fishing village.

The walk through this ancient Pamphylian City to the Turkish Mediterranean Coast is nothing short of breath-taking. Stunning Greek and Roman columns, some still erect, others in disarray, the ruins of a Roman amphitheatre and the remains of the Temple of Apollo are amongst some of the ancient sites on view, and all with the sea and the blue sky as the perfect Instagram-able back-drop.

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Erin at the Roman amphitheatre in Aspendos.

Erin at the Roman amphitheatre in Aspendos.

Erin at the Roman amphitheatre in Aspendos.

A huge and very impressive Vespasian gate marks the entrance to the ancient city and walking through it feels like passing through time. The town in fact dates back to the 7th Century BC when it was founded by Greek settlers. Alexander the Great reputedly occupied Side without a struggle in 333 BC and it would come under Roman rule in 67 BC. Quite simply, it is steeped in history. There’s also a museum housed in renovated Roman Baths, displaying yet more archaeological treasures.

Despite attracting tourists since the 1950s, ongoing archaeological excavations mean that Side hasn’t been overly developed. There are still shops where you can buy knock-off designer goods and haggle with handsome Turkish men, and quiet restaurants and bars, but it has an altogether sleepy feel which is refreshing given the often overly developed holiday resorts were used to.

It’s a 30 minute drive from Antalya where we stayed and the perfect day trip, combining history with sea, sand and relaxation.

Along the way, we stopped at a remarkably well-preserved Roman Amphitheatre in Aspendos. You can climb the steep steps of the theatre in the searing heat if you have a head for heights and look down on the perfectly intact stage. Still used for theatre performances and cinema screenings, it’s also home to numerous skinny Turkish cats, seeking shade from the sun.

We also made a pitstop for freshly squeezed pomegranate juice (Side means pomegranate in ancient Anatolian) at a roadside stall. There, an old Turkish woman with weather-beaten skin, knarled features and missing teeth, pinned a tiny Evil Eye to my dress, whilst muttering in Turkish and smiling profusely.

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The Manavgat waterfall.

The Manavgat waterfall.

The Manavgat waterfall.

This is typical of the welcome you’ll receive in Turkey. It’s no wonder the Irish have long frequented the country as a holiday destination, with resorts such as Kusadasi, Izmir and Bodrum being popular.

Currently you can reach Antalya by flying first to Istanbul. But with Turkish Airlines running direct flights from Dublin to Antalya from April to October 2022 you can now add the Turquoise Coast, as the region is known, to your holiday destination list.

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The journey takes just four hours and 45 minutes from Dublin. Flying Business class with Turkish Airlines, was in itself was a pleasure. Think spacious seats in which you can lie horizontal, a luggage allowance of 40kg and 16kg for hand luggage and free passage for your first set of golf clubs. Not to mention the Business Class lounge in the airport, the very best of Turkish cuisine on board and well, champagne. Do I need to say more?

We stayed at the 5-star Cornelia Diamond Golf Resort and Spa Hotel in Belek, which is about a 30-minute drive from the airport. With all-inclusive packages, this is a great option for families.

There’s a kids club for children of all ages with an extensive list of activities, a water park, numerous swimming pools and water sports on the adjacent beach.

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The five-star Cornelia Resort Hotel.

The five-star Cornelia Resort Hotel.

The five-star Cornelia Resort Hotel.

In addition, there’s a luxury spa where you can have a Turkish massage and the hotel caters, in particular, for golfers with a 27-hole golf course designed by golfer Nick Faldo and The Leadbetter Golf Academy in the grounds of the resort. You literally won’t have to leave unless you want to.

It would be a pity however not to explore the city of Antalya, which is the fifth largest in Turkey and just 45-minutes from the hotel. A modern walled metropolis with pockets of urban sprawl and a wide stretch of coastline flanked by hotels, it’s picturesque harbour is full of yachts.

Set amongst Roman runs, it too has historic ruins at every turn. The most interesting part of Antalya is the Kaleiçi, or old town, where you can find remnants of Roman civilization. In the centre, at the Ataturk Boulevard, stands the majestic Hadrian’s Gate. Built to commemorate the Roman Emperor Hadrian when he visited in 130AD, it’s the only remaining entrance to the old town. There’s something almost magical about seeing such an ancient relic in the centre of a thriving city and it’s a good place to begin exploring.

Antalya is also great for shopping. Besides the standard textile and carpet shops and those selling trinkets, crafts and jewellery, it has a good selection of boutiques in the Marina and a shopping centre – the Terracity Shopping Mall. On Saturdays the Laura Street Market is a bustling flea market where you can purchase Turkish tea, spices and almost everything you can think of.

But leave some time for the night life. Firstly watch the sunset from the fortress wall in the old part of the city. You will not be disappointed.

Afterwards, wander through the narrow cobbled stoned streets of the Old town in the early evening. You will see row after row of low-roofed meze bars with soft lighting and over-hanging bougainvillea plants, come to life.

People sit at tables outside, as cats gather at their feet looking for scraps of food. There’s a lively but sophisticated atmosphere. While Irish tourists to the region are few on the ground at the moment I suspect that this may be about to change. My advice: get there first!

FACTFILE:

ANTALYA, TURKEY See goturkiye.com
■ TURKISH Airlines will operate three direct flights a week from Dublin to Antalya from April 1 to October 28, 2022. Prices start at €260 for economy or €1,090 for business class. See turkishairlines.com (tel: 01-5251849)
■ ERIN stayed at The Cornelia Diamond Luxury Golf Resort & Spa Hotel.

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