Travel Review: Antalya – the sparkling gem of the Turkish coast
Turkey is going on an all-out charm offensive this year to seduce holidaymakers to its climes, and nowhere juxtaposes the old and new, the decadent and the affordable, like Antalya.
The ever-shifting mistress of the Turkish Riviera hopes to host more than 10 million foreign holidaymakers to her shores this year – only one million more than in the pandemic-hit 2021.
With devotees including Jason Statham, the region abounds with history, excitement, and natural wonders, including its famous turquoise waters.
So why should you take a trip to the Turkish coast?
Antalya is a fascinating cultural experience with a rich ancient history – a kaleidoscope of Greek, Roman, and Ottoman legacies.
All history has an element of myth, but there's something about the haunts of the ancient world which really spark our imagination.
Greco-Roman mythology has a lingering hold on our cultural imagination, evidenced by novels retelling Greek myths topping the bestseller charts.
The ancient city of Side, a short ride from central Antalya, was founded by Greek settlers around the seventh century BC and lived for centuries under Greek then Roman rule.
Side's Temple of Apollo is a stunning testament to the area's rich history, with five columns standing tall against the backdrop of the Turquoise Coast.
Built around 150AD, the temple was dedicated to the god of music, light, and harmony. Almost 2000 years later, it's still a site worthy of worship.
Legend even has it that this was where Anthony met Cleopatra.
Side is a interesting juxtaposition of old and new, showing its ancient veins alongside fresh new blood.
Row after row of chic restaurants and shops selling fake designer clothes line the streets, while glass walkways peel back the viscera of two thousand years of history to show us the excavation of ancient streets.
As you walk, suspended over two millennia-old ruins, able to see but not touch the past, it's the perfect metaphor for history.
Another jewel in the crown of the region is the Aspendos Theatre – the best preserved ancient theatre in the world.
In 1909, British archaeologist David George Hogarth wrote: "This is not like anything that I ever saw before. You may have seen the amphitheatres in Italy, France, Dalmatia and Africa; temples in Egypt and Greece; the palaces in Crete; you may be sated with antiquity or scornful of it. But you have not seen the theatre of Aspendos."
It's hard to disagree. The Aspendos Theatre is 315 feet wide and a staggering spectacle of architecture, with acoustics so good you can hear someone quietly talking on stage from the very furthest seat.
If you're lucky, you can watch the building fulfil its inherent purpose: to take audiences to new worlds, as the theatre hosts the annual Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival every summer.
While Antalya is the perfect place to discover the best of what man has created over the last few millennia, it's also an Eden of the natural world.
The Düden Falls are quite simply, dazzling.
The lower waterfalls crash over rugged cliffs into the sea in a staggering display of beauty, while the upper falls, situated in an Antalyan park, can even be accessed by a covert cave behind the falls where bats live.
There's also the tropical haven of the Kursunlu Waterfalls which looks like it belongs in The Amazon – a gorgeous spectacle of blue and green.
Upper Düden and Kursunlu are easily accessible by foot, but to witness the Lower Düden Falls, you'll want to take a boat trip from the Old City Kaleici Antalya Marina, where you can also see the gorgeous Antalyan caves and catch a glimpse of jelly fish and other marine life in the turquoise waters.
To acquaint yourself more fully with the creatures of the sea, there's the Antalya Aquarium, which has the world's longest tunnel aquarium and you can even bottle feed the fish. Seriously.
The aquarium also has a wax museum, tropical reptile house, cinema, and snow world, which could keep a family entertained for most of the day.
Of course, Antalya's hotels are designed to cater to your every whim, so you might not even want to leave the vicinity.
Most hotels in the area are vast, sprawling complexes, and much like cruise ships, are more akin to towns than hotels.
I stayed at the Cornelia Diamond Luxury Golf Resort in Belek, an all inclusive paradise for holidaymakers.
There are seven swimming pools – both cold and hot, the luxurious Crassula Spa, a private stretch of beach for guests to enjoy, and even an array of water slides to tempt your inner child.
And while I can barely tell one end of a club from another, Cornelia is a golfer's dream, with its own 27-hole championship course designed by renowned golfer, Sir Nick Faldo.
There are also eight restaurants and a Biscotti café, which served me one of my all-time favourite desserts as a post-pool treat – macaroons – with an incredible kiwi syrup on the side.
One of the biggest draws of the Turkish Riviera is its incredibly affordable luxury, compared to its European counterparts, exemplified by the decadence at hotels like the Cornelia Diamond.
My host for the trip tells me that Antalya has more five star hotels than the entirety of Spain, yet they're significantly cheaper.
As the cost of living bites and the sun rises on a post-pandemic world, the Turkish Riviera is a chance to enjoy a slice of paradise without so much of the cost.
It'd be difficult to say no.
Turkish Airlines flies daily flights from Manchester Airport direct to Antalya in July, August and September, and four times a week on Fridays, Saturdays, Sundays and Mondays throughout October.
Economy fares start from £236 and Business Class from £1,012 return, taxes and charges included.