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In Antalya, Marion Ainge discovers there's more to Turkey than sun, sea and sand
Only 10 per cent of visitors to Turkey's hot spots look for more than sun, sea and sand when they're on holiday. The delightful Antalya region is popular with Brits, many of whom clearly don't know what they're missing as besides beautiful beaches, turquoise waters and five-star hotels, there's a wealth of archaeological, natural and man-made treasures to discover.
Kaleici, the picturesque old town of Antalya, has honeyed stone buildings, Roman architecture, a 13th century minaret, interesting alleyways and markets, fragrant, multi-hued spice stalls and an old harbour where you can take a mini wooden gulet cruise. I spotted the most amazing modern Turkish carpet in the old town, but didn't have the chance to look at it properly, so maybe next time.....
One evening we feasted on an upmarket Turkish meze and sea bass, al fresco at the stylish Alp Pasa Boutique Hotel, which comprises a collection of authentic Ottoman mansions.
About 18 km from Antalya, and originally founded by Greek colonists, is the site of the ancient Roman city, Perge. Excavation, which started in 1946 and is still ongoing, revealed a gymnasium, colonnaded streets, theatre, stadium, majestic city gates and public baths, including a frigidarium or cold water room. Shame it was empty, as it was a hot day and we could have jumped in. Many of the statues found here are now in the Antalya Museum. It was surprisingly quiet when we visited Perge perhaps due to the holy period of Ramadan, but more likely because, some visitors to Turkey are just not switched on to finding the fascinating clues to the way of life in the ancient world.
Within the old Roman theatre of Aspendos, I stood and stared transfixed at the spot where lions and tigers were let loose from the tunnels beneath the stage area. The entertainment included animal fights, bloods sports, gladiatorial combat and theatrical productions. Aspendos, built around 1800 AD, is 315 feet high, can hold more than 15,000 people, and is one of the best-preserved Roman theatres in the world. A sheltered walkway accesses stepped seating areas. Important judges, senators, etc sat in the front rows. Women were designated the uppermost seats, quite a climb. The Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival takes place in the theatre in spring and early summer.
The extensive Antalya Museum includes 13 exhibition halls and an open air gallery. Huge statues found in excavations at Perge include those of Emperor Hadrian and Emperor Septimus Severius plus mythological Greek and Roman gods and goddesses such as Aphrodite, Zeus and Apollo. I'm sure I saw one of them blink.
Our oasis between excursions was the five-star family-friendly Xanadu Hotel Resort in Belek. As depicted by Coleridge in his poem Kubla Khan, (which I studied at school a long, long time ago) a dictionary definition of Xanadu is "an idyllic, exotic or luxurious place". The hotel is certainly impressive and the 150,000 sq ft site is beautifully designed. Olivia Newton John's version of the 1980 song Xanadu reminds guests where they are when they switch on the TV in their room. Those who have time, not our group, can relax around one of the pools, sit beneath a shady tree or stroll across the bridge over a river to a wide sandy beach. Smiling staffdo all they can to please. Food is excellent, plentiful and varied with a choice of restaurants. Plated tiers of cubed Turkish delight and fresh lemonade is on tap as a quick reviver in the reception area.
My room was spacious and comfortable, with a large balcony which faced towardsthe gardens and a swimming pool. In the evening, dressed up, made up and glammed up, sipping a glass of Champagne on the terrace, I succumbed to the spell of Xanadu
Luxury indeed is lifted to a world-class level at the Cornelia Diamond Golf Spa Resort in Belek, where top professional golfers such as Rory McIlroy, Martin Kaymer and Tiger Woods have played in competitive tournaments. Guests choose from packages
which include two rounds to unlimited on the Nick Faldo-designed courses, depending on the time of year - it's 18 degrees C in winter. Sixty per cent of Cornelia's visiting golfers are British and the majority are in the over-50s bracket. Named by Golf World magazine as one of the top 100 European Golf Courses 2017, the five-star Cornelia opens all year round and features a main restaurant, five a la carte venues, a private beach, 10 swimming pools, children's facilities, shops, bowling, billiards and tennis plus the Spa and Wellness Centre.
The theme of the International Antalya Sand Sculpture Festival (Sandland) 2017 is the Seven Wonders of the World and Mythology. Mainly Russian artists take around three weeks to create giant sculptures of the Taj Mahal, the Sphinx and the Pyramids. A special sand of square grains which stick together, is used. Mythological characters include a Cyclops, Poseidon and Hercules.
We welcomed the shade provided by stunning natural beauty of the Kursunlu Waterfalls, sited in a national park about 20 km to the north east of Antalya. Just inside the entrance, at the side of a pathway, two camels lazed on the ground next to a young boy who hoped to make a few Turkish lira from people who wanted to be photographed with these unpredictable beasts of the desert. A member of our party stepped a bit too close to one with her camera. The camel snapped at her hand showing its large yellow, tombstone teeth.
Kursunlu is a shaded sanctuary of tranquillity where foaming waterfalls falls fringed by greenery drop into a clear, green iridescent pool. One can stand beneath the canopy of the falls. Water spray glitters in the sun so it's often possible to see a rainbow here. The walk winds through subtropical vegetation where visitors can see such as bay, carob, wild olive, mastic trees, willow, pine and fig trees.
All this, plus sun, sea and sand.
What's not to like?
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