There are very few places in the world in which one can enjoy a cup of strong coffee in the temple of a Greek god by the sea, walk through a live archaeological dig while haggling for sweets and spices, and then travel to a nearby city for refined candlelight dining. Let alone without worrying over your wallet.
As the Passover vacation period starts and the coronavirus pandemic wanes, Israelis are looking to finally travel abroad. With options for travel limited by rising expenses, Antalya, Turkey, stands out not only as a cheap destination, it’s a location with a mosaic of quality experiences for families, couples, and adventurers looking for sights, sounds, tastes and relaxing luxury.
The province of Antalya, which shares its name with the provincial capital city, is located on Turkey’s Mediterranean coast just north of Cyprus. Nestled into the towering Taurus mountain range and a shallow gulf of the sea, the area has become a major attraction for Europeans seeking warm weather and sandy white beaches.
The tourism industry has been sorely impacted by both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russia-Ukraine War, which is why they’re actively catering to the Israeli market.
“We see the excitement everywhere in the tourism and hotel providers in Antalya, who are very much looking forward to hosting the Israelis,” said Shirley Cohen Orakbi, vice president of Eshet Tours.
Living in history
Turkey is steeped in archeological artifacts from major empires from across the span of time – Ottoman, Seljuk, Byzantine, Roman, Greek – mixed together as each nation built upon the former. These sites are often in cities and parts of daily life.
Side is one of those living archaeological sites. Located on a peninsula, the ruins of the city are so extensive and complete with walls, shops and temples, that you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back in time. Archaeological digs are still ongoing. The massive amphitheater is still in use, with concerts playing there throughout the year. Walking through the town, across occasional glass walkways that showcase ruins below, you’ll have access to various shops and stalls. At the end of the peninsula you’ll find the Apollo and Artemis ruins, and cafes to sit and drink tea.
The city of Alanya is one of the pearls of the province and is home to a Seljuk castle that overlooks the city. The castle, like Side, is still lived in. From the top, you can take a cable car to the bottom and enjoy the beauty of the city, its calm bay and surrounding mountains.
Shopping on a low lira
Turkey “has the best value for money, without competition,” said Cohen Urakbi. “The Turkish lira has weakened greatly, and significantly reduces the costs of vacation and shopping.”
Antalya’s cities have many western-style stores where shoppers can seek out clothes, perfume and alcohol. In bazaars, you can find Turkish tea, coffee, spices and Turkish delights. Turkish tea and coffee sets appeared to be quite popular. Hagglers beware, Turkish shopkeepers can haggle with the best of Israelis. While most stores accept a range of credit cards, carrying cash is advised for some stalls.
The cuisine of Antalya
Antalya is Turkey’s vegetable and fruit basket. Citrus fruits, sesame and bananas are of special focus. The Taurus mountains and proximity to the sea creates microclimates suitable for growing multiple crops.
“This part of Turkey you can grow anything,” said Metin Girgin of Destination Services Turkey.The low-cost diversity of products available at hotels and restaurants is due to suppliers being able to grow much of what they need locally. Local cuisine focuses on seafood and vegetables, and has Arab, Greek, Anatolian influences. Lovers of shrimp, lobster and octopus can have more than their fill in sizzling platters, and fish lovers can treat themselves to fresh sea bass.While Israelis are fond of what they call Turkish coffee, Black tea is drunk even more often and can be enjoyed at every cafe.
Activities for relaxation and exploration
For those seeking to relax, a Hamam, or Turkish bath, is a required experience. There are many Turkish baths in the area, where you can receive a full spa treatment of – sauna, an aromatics room, a bath and a massage.
For those seeking adventure, the Damlatas Cave in Alanya is interesting for all ages to explore. The area also has many rivers, and in one spot, Dimcay, you can have lunch in the water and surrounded by greenery and rock-faced mountains.
In Alanya harbor, there are party boats and fishing charters available for booking.
The prices and quality of accommodations available in Antalya are sure to excite Israelis as much as any of the other sights.“We listen to our customers and have customized [hotels] to their needs,” explained Girgin. “The all-inclusive concept is done best here.”The hotels are filled with bountiful all-you-can-eat buffets, bottomless drinks at bars and endless activities to enjoy. Many of the hotels have scheduled events such as yoga, exercise classes and themed parties. Many hotels have kids and teen clubs available, letting adults enjoy the facilities themselves.
Each hotel in Antalya seems to have its own special features. Tui Magic Life Jacaranda has extensive swimming pools through the sprawling grounds — Even some rooms with pools accessible straight from one’s rooms. Tui Magic Life Masmavi In Belek is animal friendly, with 70 cats in the ground with feed boxes and a beach where protected sea turtles can be seen hatching.
Eftalia Ocean Hotel just outside Alanya is a budget hotel for families. Utopia Good Life Family Resort, Between Manavgat and Alanya, has its own water park and bungee jumping crane. Rubi Platinum luxury hotel and the ultra-Luxury Hotel Susesi are perfect for couples seeking an opulent romantic getaway treat.
Eshet Tours offers packages including flights and transportation at five-star all-inclusive hotels ranging from $1200-$3200 for a family of four during the Passover vacation period.
The writer was a guest of Eshet Tours in Turkey.