Holidays to the Antalya area are a mixed bag. Nature gave the Turkish Riviera pristine beaches and a rich green interior, while nurture gave it glamorous marinas and bespoke hotels.
Good looks are in the Antalya area’s genes. This region, in Turkey’s south-west corner, boasts a 400-mile sweep of white-sand beaches and secluded coves. And the coast is backed by olive groves, avocado plantations and the pine-clad Taurus Mountains.
Over the years, nature has been given a helping hand, and the Antalya area is now one of Turkey’s most upmarket regions. In fact, it’s often referred to as the Turkish Riviera. In resorts like Side, the coastline is complemented by a yacht-filled marina and avenues of designer boutiques. In Belek, immaculate golf courses sidle up to the sand. And in Lara Beach and Kemer, hotels come with a luxury label.
For all the Antalya area’s glamour, it’s easy to experience the region’s traditional side. In Antalya town, for example, the backstreets are brimming with bazaars, Ottoman architecture and restaurants serving up sizzling kebabs. Elsewhere, Side has its fair share of historical sites. The Roman baths, Byzantine basilica and Temple of Apollo are just the start of the story here.
Things to See and Do in Antalya area
Turkey’s southern sands
The shores of the Antalya area are strung with beaches. If you’re staying in Lara Beach or Belek, expect lively sweeps of coast freckled with cafes and watersports centres. In smaller towns like Kemer and Alanya, meanwhile, the pockets of sand are hemmed by forests and come with a little more towel space.
The big beach
Lara Beach tends to draw the biggest crowds in the area. The park behind the sand is prime barbecue and picnic territory, and family-sized benches are scattered among the pine trees. You can often buy bottles of water and freshly-cut watermelon from locals looking to make a bit of cash.
The secret beach
Moonlight Beach in Kemer runs parallel to picturesque Moonlight Park – a huge expanse of pine and cedar trees. It’s a peaceful patch of sand, which tends to attract in-the-know locals rather than hordes of holidaymakers. Walk along the shore, and you’ll eventually come to a marina brimming with Turkish cafés and seafood restaurants.
For the best jewellery stores and big-name fashion outlets, Antalya town’s Konyaalti Caddesi and Isiklar Caddesi avenues hit the mark. Over in Lara Beach, you’ll find glossy shopping malls like the Laura Market, which heaves with high-end department stores and designer boutiques.
For bespoke jewellery and ornaments, don’t miss the Sunday Folks Bazaar in Kemer – you’ll find it opposite the bus terminal. Over in Belek, there are a good number of stores offering quality embroidery and furnishings. For something that’ll remind you of your trip, pick up a hippy-esque dream catcher or a necklace adorned with the symbolic evil eye – Turkish residents swear it wards off bad spirits.
The markets in the Antalya area are among the best in Turkey. Side’s Manavgat Market, which takes place on a Monday from 8am, is one of the biggest. Haggle your way around the leather, jewellery and clothes stalls, and you’ll find some great designer copies – in particular, wallets and handbags. Antalya Town’s Saturday Bazaar, meanwhile, is the place to head for fruit and veg in every colour of the rainbow.
Antalya town’s old quarter knows a thing or two about romantic nights out. Stroll down any of the cobbled paths within the vast castle walls and you’ll come across tavernas turning out giant platters of meze by candlelight. Lara Beach and Belek are pretty sedate, too, with a handful of bars, hotel shows and acoustic singers providing the bulk of the after-dark entertainment.
Side leads the way when it comes to nightlife in the Antalya area. The nightclubs lining its harbour don’t close until the early hours. For stylish cocktail bars and a buzzy atmosphere, meanwhile, check out the harbour-side joints in Alanya. Casablanca and The Doors are popular haunts, with the latter known for its live rock music.
This is the Turkey’s answer to a Cornish pasty. Hand-rolled pastry is stuffed with fried aubergines and cooked over a griddle, before being served with dollops of cool, creamy yoghurt. There are tons of variations of the dish – other popular fillings include spinach, feta cheese and mushrooms.
Unsurprisingly, seafood is a mainstay on menus across the Antalya area. You’ll be able to sample everything from barbecued swordfish to lemon-soaked calamari while you’re here. A popular Turkish seafood dish is freshly-plucked mussels, stuffed with pine nuts, herbed rice and currants.
You can’t visit Turkey without getting your teeth into a sizzling kebab, and this is the Antalya area’s twist on the national classic. Tender chunks of lamb, crunchy peppers and juicy tomatoes are sealed in a jar and cooked over hot coals, and then the jar is cracked open and prepared for serving.
Piyaz is made from beans, hard-boiled eggs and vegetables, all of which are tossed together with onion, parsley and sumac. Traditionally, it’s served as a meze dish, but in the Antalya area, it’s often offered as a main course along with fluffy mashed potatoes.
It’s rumoured that Greeks knock back around 60 million litres of raki a year. This clear brandy is made from grapes and raisins, and it’s flavoured with anise, which gives it a liquorice-like taste. Sip the sticky liquid slowly after your main meal to aid digestion.
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The city of Alanya, on Turkey’s southwest coast, grew up around a fortified harbour and castle. These Medieval buildings are perched on a rocky peninsula that splits the town’s sandy beach into two. A cosmopolitan mix of lively bars runs along the waterfront and you’re an easy drive to the area’s top sights, too – the Roman ruins at Side and the famous waterfalls at Manavgat.
Belek is the Beverly Hills of the Turkish Riviera, drawing an exclusive international crowd to its shores. The beachfront is a parade of upmarket hotels and exclusive restaurants, backed by golf courses. And behind these undulating fairways are the tree-lined boulevards of Belek town, where there’s plenty in the way of cafés and shops, plus a thriving bazaar on Saturdays.
Town, country, beach, mountains – this growing town in southwest Turkey has got a bit of everything. In town, you’ve got boutiques and bars, together with a chic marina moored with jet setters’ yachts. And further out, there are Roman ruins and national parks to explore. All in all, you’ve got all the exotic glamour of an east-meets-west destination.
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