golfer’s paradise, and much more
Awash with beaches, atmospheric ruins, dripping with history and teeming with fabulous food, Turkey delights. With the intriguing feeling of stepping into another extraordinary culture, and just under a five-hour flight, it’s a short-haul destination with a long-haul feel. We were heading to Antalya, a seaside resort and golfer’s paradise, an easy hour’s flight south of Istanbul. That gives us a fascinating 24 hours in this incredible capital (see end of story), but with a new direct route from Dublin with Turkish Airlines coming into service this spring, you can head straight for the pristine greens.
Now, I have to admit that golf isn’t my main draw, but if it’s one of your main pastimes, the world-class courses that dot the coast of Belek are more than up to snuff. . We stayed at Cornelia Diamond, an extravagant multi-pool venue, where we did our best to cut its all-inclusive offerings, but the sheer number of delicious snacks and bars defeated us. Nick Faldo designed the resident 27-hole golf course, which boasts the longest par 5 in Turkey, and there’s a David Leadbetter Golf Academy on site to hone your swing.
A pleasant morning spent discovering that I am more endowed with enthusiasm than ability and proving that the instructor has holy patience, and that was it for my Turkish golf experience. Luckily, there is so much more to this stunning location. We took a trip to Side, stopping to explore Aspendos. Once the most important city in Pamphylia, Aspendos grew rich thanks to salt, oil and wool, and did its best to remain independent, which was very delicate at the time. When Alexander the Great entered, the Aspendians had to settle for a tribute of 4,000 horses a year to leave them alone.
The main tourist attraction today is the incredibly well-preserved amphitheatre, still used for operas, concerts and events. You can climb the steps to the tiered seats and feel a pleasant waft of antiquity wash over you. Built by Zenon, a Greek architect, for the Romans in the 2nd century AD, it has survived plagues and earthquakes to be recognized as the best preserved ancient theater in the world.
This part of Turkey presents an alluring combination of modern luxurious delights, set in an intimate and personal way with older histories. We stop in the shade of the remains of a vast aqueduct, where hens scratch and a man presses pomegranates under a red umbrella using a press that looks like Philippe Starck. An overflowing glass of this rich ruby-colored juice costs just €1. A woman nearby sells talismans and bracelets. “Anything you want to pay,” she said. I have a euro in my hand, ready for juice, but that doesn’t seem like much for “eternal safety and love”, which I’m told is on offer, so I find more.
Pomegranates were the ancient symbol of Side, a fishing village surrounded by ancient temples, artifacts and ruins. The town (pronounced “see day”) is pedestrianized, so an air of sleepy peace sets in, as we wander through charming little shopping streets on the way to our waterside restaurant where we have a fan of mezze, followed by the most delicious sea bass, accompanied by chilled Turkish white wine (Turkish wine is really excellent, by the way), and topped off with small cups of strong coffee.
I had forgotten my togs, but the sea is so enticing, I go back up to find the least Versace of the swimsuits on offer, probably insulting the shopkeeper by preferring more time in the sea to the more usual and surprisingly pleasant neighborhood-hour haggling , and I discover, when I finally start, that the elastic is not really up to par. Never mind, I tie a few knots and bask in the clear blue waters.
Swimming and seafood aside, Side is amazing. Apollo is a patron god of the place and there are temples for him and for his brother and counterpart, Dionysus. Both sons of Zeus, Apollo deals with the sun and rational thought, while Dionysus deals with wine, dance and the chaos of good craic. The day seems to offer plenty of space for both.
That evening we go to Kaleiçi for dinner. Antalya’s old town, Kaleiçi, rises steeply and fortified from a sheltered harbour, where the moored boats range from traditional types to floating emporia which make me feel a bit like an extra of a episode of Below Deck Mediterranean. There are some lovely bars, where the cocktails range from tantalizing to not-touching-with-a-bargepole, but where everyone is exceptionally friendly and helpful, and it’s a pleasure to wander around alone so let dusk fall without feeling the slightest hint of danger or worry.
Antalya itself deserves a longer look. Founded even before the arrival of the Romans, there are Ottoman mosques and towers, alongside Roman temples and Byzantine churches. As you walk around, you begin to feel the importance of this region over the centuries. The Venetians, who have always had their eye on a strategic maritime location, built the harbor where we stroll after admiring a magnificent sunset from the ramparts above. We end the evening with more wonderful mezes, lightly spiced kebabs and another round of Turkish wine, red this time and just as delicious.
Positioning itself as a serious alternative to Europe’s popular golf hotspots, Antalya offers a range of options designed by a repertoire of top golfers. And if you’re not into golf, but maybe you’re into someone who’s bored and doesn’t want to be bored while they roar “forward”, there’s a lot more to see. and things to do in this fascinating and beautiful part of the world.
Gemma traveled as a guest of Turkish Airlines. Direct flights from Dublin to Antalya with Turkish Airlines begin on April 1 and continue until the end of October three days a week. Rates from €359 round trip including tax and 23kg baggage allowance; business class fares from €1,153. First golf set transported free of charge. Return economy class to Istanbul starts at €389, with business class fares from €1,188, including access to a rather fabulous lounge at the huge new Istanbul Airport; turkishhairlines.com.
We stayed at the Cornelia Diamond, an all-inclusive golf and spa resort in Belek, about 40 minutes from Antalya; corneliaresort.com.
Find out more about goturkiye.com.
Can’t wait for direct flights? Getting to Antalya via Istanbul is easy, with short daily connections from Turkey’s capital. The plus is that you spend time in what has to be one of the most extraordinary cities in the world. With one foot in Asia and the other in Europe, Istanbul is multicultural, multi-layered and amazes at every turn. From the Bosphorus itself, deep enough for submarines to pass (sometimes popping up to surprise), to the wondrous mosques, you could spend months here and only scratch the surface.
Quick highlights include the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace, all within walking distance. We also stop at the Hippodrome, the site from which the famous horses that now sit atop Venice’s St. Mark’s Cathedral were looted. Don’t miss the Grand Bazaar: with over 4,000 shops, it’s one of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world. I own an Afghani coat, which my mother had made for her on a visit here in the 1970s. This time I’m content with smaller delicacies, including bags of spices and brightly painted local ceramics. The haggling is done in a joyful good mood, and the same friendly warmth that is found everywhere.
Get more golf
You are also spoiled for choice when it comes to playing golf in sunny locations across Europe. Try a three night stay for two in bed and breakfast, with two rounds of golf at Pinhal on site at the Four Seasons Vilamoura in the Algarve from €286, rising to €310 in March, golf-vilamoura.com. Aer Lingus is offering direct flights to Faro from March 1, with prices starting at €41.06 one way, aerlingus.com.
Go golfing in February on Spain’s Costa Dorada, where they only claim three days of rainfall during the month. Stay at the four-star Sol Port Cambrils, with three nights and two rounds of golf from €329 per person, rising to €359 from March to May; booking with golfbreaks.com.
Cassidy Golf will take you to Fuerteventura for seven nights, staying at La Oliva on Coral Cotillo Beach, departing April 2 from Dublin, from €597 pp. Golf fees are extra, but the Cassidy team will arrange your tee times, course reservations, transfers and more at a range of courses on the island; cassidygolf.com.
Or go for the ultimate in glamor with Elegant Golf Resorts, offering five nights at Hotel Ermitage, Evian Resort, on Lake Geneva, from £845 pp (approx €1,070), based on two people sharing a south-facing double room with a price including breakfast, two laps on its Champions Course and one lap on the Lake Course; www.elegantgolfresorts.com. Available on select dates in April 2022. Fly to Geneva with Aer Lingus from €91 one way.