After trotting along the Lycian Way (despite the fact we didn’t fully trek it as we had intended to), I thought I deserved to indulge myself a little, so booked one of Antalya’s best boutique hotels. Located in the old town (Kaleici), I was pretty excited to check in at the Alp Pasa Hotel.
The good: The hotel, made of renovated 18th-century mansions in Ottoman-style, is truly stunning. It’s beautifully decorated, feeling historic but with all the modern comforts, and I get the impression that each room is individually styled. Mine (the Attila room, if I remember correctly – all rooms are named, not numbered) was on a top floor with a nice balcony looking over old town’s rooftops towards the Taurus Mountains. The bed was cushy, the bathroom with a Jacuzzi a total luxury (especially after 1.5 weeks of pansiyon bathrooms) I loved the draped chaise longue and the industrial-esque lighting was a great touch against the rustic wooden ceilings. The pool area and al fresco seating on the street was lovely, but the pool was very small, and the loungers filled up quickly each morning, so if you just want to sit in a pool all day, this may not be the place for you. Aesthetically, I could find no fault with Alp Pasa – it is really gorgeous.
The bad: The service is appalling. Check-in was lengthy and there was some confusion with my booking details. But I could live with that. For an upscale hotel, the bar service was seriously lacking. Gin fizz, please. Nope, they didn’t know what that was, which I thought was odd considering every random bar and pansiyon we had been at so far knew what it was. But anyway. The bar menu also included sherry, port and Scotch – none of which, we discovered upon trying to order them in succession, were actually available. Other than a late-night dessert (a brownie, which I’ll admit to being quite tasty), we did not eat there outside of breakfast (the dinner was buffet style, which isn’t my cup of tea). The breakfast buffet was pretty mediocre, which I feel must have taken effort in a place like Turkey where the produce is really excellent. Again, I had much better, fresher breakfasts at all of the low-key pansiyons I stayed in. Alp Pasa’s breakfast was more westernized than what I had experienced in the previous two weeks, and it was not to their benefit: scrambled eggs were watery and the juices were the least fresh of any I had tried throughout the trip. They really should had stuck with what they (presumably) know – local cuisine.
As for Kaleici? I love me a good old town and Antalya’s was not bad at all. It was a great mix of old Ottoman buildings housing chic, modern lounges and traditional restaurants. Hadrian’s Gate is likely the best-known part of the old town and I think it probably deserves its repute, as it feels pretty spectacular when you walk through the triumphal arches.
The bazaar near the old marina was predictably full of junk, but looking through shops scattered throughout the rest of the town, you could definitely find some beautifully-hand-painted bowls and tiles (in one shop, the owner was painting them from a small studio). The restaurants along the marina were great for sundowners – the service was friendly, the wine delicious and there was even a nearby park filled with happy cats. And also lots of tour boats coming in from day trip, blasting loud music from gaudy faux pirate ships. Ugly, but entertaining to watch.
Our main reason for spending a few days in Antalya, though, was to use it as a base to see the sights – some ancient, some natural – around it. And you can get to most of these through bus tours, but we rented a car to take ourselves around – the roads are pretty straightforward and the sites aren’t too difficult to find, so I would certainly recommend this over a bus.
The impressively well-kept theater of Aspendos – with more ruins around the theater from the ancient city – is about an hour away. Old Roman theaters are always fun to explore, but this one especially given how well it had survived over the centuries. It’s in such great shape, in fact, that it plays host to an annual opera and ballet festival (Aspendos International Opera and Ballet Festival). I always thought it would be super neat to see an opera performed in an ancient theater, so we made a return trip to watch a performance of Verdi’s La Traviata on the following evening. The seats were a bit hard and it was a bit chilly out, but all in all, an experience that I am so pleased to have had.
Not far from Aspendos, you can stop by the Manavgat waterfalls. Or not. I didn’t find them all that impressive and the area was all built up with stalls hawking stuff to tourists. There are better waterfalls near the ruins of Termessos called the Duden waterfalls. It’s also fairly built up for tourists, but here, the waterfalls are far more beautiful – and there’s even a cave behind the waterfalls you can walk through to get a different perspective.
Closer to Antalya (and on the way back from Apendos if you’re driving) is Perge, which is still being excavated. There is yet another pretty fab amphitheater although you cannot explore it (it’s fenced off as it’s being excavated) and – of course – bathhouses, some of which you can still see the tiles and mosaics in place, and lengthy but beautiful colonnaded street. I can’t imagine what it must have been like in its prime, with water flowing from fountains down the middle and statues and vendors lining the sides of the street.
(To see Perge’s statues and ornate tombs, check out the Antalya Archaeological Museum – a short walk from Kaleici – which has a great many of them on display. Added bonus: the museum’s courtyard is inhabited by those Foghorn Leghorn fluffy-legged chickens that are so cute.)
For me, the most impressive site (although also one in the most ruin) would be Termessos, on Gulluck Mountain in the Taurus range. Alexander the Great found it to be impenetrable and thankfully its steep hills and strenuous walks keep buses of modern tourists out, too. Set aside a good few hours to take the city in – and bring water and quality hiking sandals or boots. There’s a lot of uphill walking. But it’s all worth it. The mountains are beautiful and green and without the hoards of tourists from buses, it’s peaceful and you often feel that you have the whole city to yourself. There are scores of beautifully-carved tombs, but my favorite part was the theater. It’s quite ruined, but the setting is nothing short of spectacular, perched on the side of the mountain with endless views of nearby peaks and valleys. It’s hard to do it justice with words and one of those things you just have to see.