A holiday to Turkey could be just what you need after years of restrictions

A trip to Turkey, taking in Istanbul and Antalya, really has everything for travellers of all types, Shauna Bowers reports
A holiday to Turkey could be just what you need after years of restrictions

Irish holidaymakers are well accustomed to sun holidays in the likes of Albufeira and Tenerife, but Antalya in Turkey is another destination that sun-seekers will enjoy.

Located on the southwestern coast of the country, the region experiences hot, subtropical summers, with temperatures topping 40 degrees during peak summer months.

I travelled with a small band of Irish journalists from Dublin to Antalya on Turkish Airlines, first stopping in Istanbul for a night. Considering it was our first international trip in over 18 months as a result of the pandemic, there were equal amounts of excitement and nervousness among our group.

Everything was straightforward and streamlined, once travellers had their covid cert and had completed the required form for entry into the country, which is available on the Turkish Ministry of Health’s website.

Flights with Turkish airlines often rank high in terms of comfort, but we were fortunate enough to be upgraded to Business Class, which took luxury to a new level.

With the fine dining meals of typical Turkish cuisine, a wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages available, and seats that transformed into beds, you almost didn’t want the journey to come to an end.

The one-night sojourn in Istanbul left us overwhelmed by the culture, infrastructure and bustling nature of the city, which straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. We stayed in the Novotel Bosphorous, a five-star central hotel that makes visiting the local sites accessible.

While there was considerable construction on the roads around the premises at the time of visiting, it is expected it will be completed in the coming months.

The roadworks didn’t take away from the magnificent views of its rooftop bar and breakfast area, which gives patrons an almost bird’s eye view of the Bosphorous waterway, the channel which connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.

There are many sites worth seeing in the city, but first on your list should be the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Built in 537 AD, the building attracts tourists due to the beauty of its outside alone, with its domes and minarets standing tall, but inside is even more spectacular with gold calligraphy and marble slabs. Despite suffering extensive damage from earthquakes and fires over the years, it remains an enticing fixture in the city, particularly since its reconversion to a mosque, having previously been transformed into a museum.

A stone’s throw away from the Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque, more formally known as Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but nicknamed due to the colour of its interior tiles.

Next to that is Sultanahmet Square, also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, an area that was used for chariot racing during the Byzantine era.

Another location worth your time is Topkapi Palace, the court of the Ottoman sultans. You’ve to buy tickets to enter the palace, but it’s worth it to see the Sultans’ armour, weapons and the 86-carat pear-shaped Spoonmaker Diamond, also known as the Kasikci.

For any keen shoppers out there, the Grand Bazaar is a must-visit, for the experience alone.

One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, the bazaar is the perfect location to find some antiques, jewellery, ceramics, carpets and cheap designer goods, though I couldn’t guarantee they wouldn’t be of the knock-off variety. Be prepared to have to haggle and converse with vendors as you walk throught the market, as they are keen to attract tourists into their stores.

Once you have finished shopping and sightseeing, I recommend filling up on some delicious Turkish food. Meze, a traditional starter, is a must-try while in the country and widely available from restaurants. Typically featuring hummus, breads, cheeses and aubergines, the selection of cold and warm dishes are the perfect beginning to a meal.

For main courses, steak, fish and kebabs feature prominently on traditional menus. However, in more touristy locations, the usual burgers, chips and pasta dishes are readily available.

Dessert is something I advise every visitor to try at least once. Creme brulees and rice pudding feature heavily on most menus, but the biggest recommendation is baklava, a filo pastry with pistachios and honey. A sweet but delicious end to any meal.

With regard to nightlife, the landmark beer factory turned cultural quarter, the Bomontiada, is the perfect place to spend the night.

A mixture of restaurants, bars, a stage and a museum, there is no shortage of things to do. Though international tourists must present the Covid cert that is required for entry into the country to enter, so have it at the ready.

After our action-packed pitstop in Istanbul, we returned to the airport to catch our 40-minute connecting flight to the tranquil resort city, Antalya.

Istanbul airport opened three years ago and is considered the biggest international hub in the world, possessing three terminals and six runways.

For those flying business class, Istanbul airport features a lounge, in which visitors can avail of hot meals, drinks and massages while waiting for their flight.

The luxury of the airport continued as we descended into Antalya, which has risen to international stardom in recent years.

According to official figures by provincial authorities, more than 15.5m tourists visited Antalya in 2019, setting an all-time tourism record.

We stayed in the Belek region of Antalya, in a five-star Cornelia Diamond Golf Resort and Spa, the sheer size of which took us by surprise.

The all-inclusive facility features several indoor and outdoor bars and restaurants, multiple pools, water slides, direct access to the beach and, of course, both a spa and golf course.

The classic rooms are spacious, though the decor is old-fashioned, particularly when compared to the quirky red art pieces that dominate the ground floor of the resort.

However, there are other rooms available, including some with balconies that step down into one of the pools.

The resort was family-friendly, with specific pools catering for children, meaning adults who want quiet time are not disturbed when catching some sun.

The resort also has 10 restaurants to choose from, our favourite being Fish & Love due to its wide-ranging menu of seafood dishes.

Belek as a region is best known for its golf offering. In fact, the region has 11 golf clubs belonging to hotel groups, so there is plenty to choose from for keen golfers.

The resort’s challenging championship course was designed by World Golf Hall of Fame member Nick Faldo.

Playing a round on the legendary course costs non-residents €125 per person, however, the hotel has stay and play packages which are much cheaper.

Those flying with Turkish Airlines can also bring their own set of golf clubs free of charge.

You don’t need to be an avid golfer to join in the fun either, as this group of journalists could attest to.

The club offers an academy to teach beginners the joy of the game, including a driving range, a putting area and video playback to help improve your stance and swing.

The golf season generally occurs between September and June. Though there are some golfers in July and August, temperatures generally get too high for people who are serious about the game.

And while there is plenty to keep you occupied within the resort itself, there is even more to see around the region.

I would recommend renting a car if you want to explore outside of Belek as some of the popular attractions are more than an hour away, but the views and monuments are worth the additional expense.

We visited the ancient city of Side — pronounced See-day — which features ruins from the Roman era, most famously the Temple of Apollo, which proves popular for any Instagram-saavy travellers.

The Aspendos Theatre was built in the second century, it is still used as a venue to this day.
The Aspendos Theatre was built in the second century, it is still used as a venue to this day.

The Aspendos Theatre is also worth a visit. Built in the second century, it is still used as a venue to this day, with the international opera and ballet festival taking place there each year.

You can’t visit Antalya without witnessing the beauty of Kaleci, the old town. The historical city centre includes Hadrian’s Gate, a clock tower, historical Ottoman houses and the ancient port.

It is a gorgeous, upmarket location to visit at any stage, but particularly in the evenings, with many of the more historical buildings being transformed into restaurants, bars and stores, and the harbour being a beautiful location to watch the sunset.

On Covid-19 restrictions, mask-wearing is expected and social distancing is consistently in place. However, most bars and restaurants do not request covid certs to use their premises.

The country really has everything for travellers of all types, resulting in it being a must-see holiday destination.

Need to know

Direct flights between Dublin to Antalya run from April 1 until September 28, running three times a week: on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The total journey time is four hours and 45 minutes.

A round trip economy class between Dublin and Antalya with Turkish Airlines starts from €260, while business class for the same route begins at €1,090. More information can be found on turkishairlines.com or call (01) 5251849.

Passengers in economy are allowed 23kg bag and 8kg hand luggage, while those in business class can have up to 40kg bag and 16kg hand luggage.

Cornelia Diamond Luxury Golf and Resort Spa Hotel Belek/Antalya corneliaresort.com 

The official travel guide of Turkey is GoTürkiye (goturkiye.com

For further information, contact the Turkish tourist board on 0044 207 839 7802

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