A breathtaking resort town on Turkey’s central Mediterranean coast (aka the Turkish Riviera), Alanya should be high on any traveler’s To Do List, writes Marion Kate.
Exploring this seaside town will give you a sense of sheer happiness. By day 2 of a holiday, you are almost guaranteed to be infected with the sense of hospitality offered by the locals. The fresh ocean air combined with the heat and sparkling blue waters will draw you into its spell of making every moment a memorable one.
According to legend (although not confirmed by historical sources!), it was in Alanya where the famous Roman commander Mark Antony married Cleopatra. As proof of his great love, he gave his bride the city as a wedding gift. The most beautiful beach in the city is named Cleopatra Beach to commemorate this momentous occasion and Mark Antony’s supreme act of devotion.
This seaside town is located between the dazzling Mediterranean and the Taurus mountains, with the historical heart set on the rocky peninsula. There is an abundance of activities and things to see here, but I have summed up what I think are the most important. These activities can either be stretched over a few days or could be enjoyed as part of a whirlwind tour.
The fastest way to arrive in Alanya is to take a direct flight to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines, followed by a connecting flight to this seaside delight.
Stroll through town
The bazaar in the town centre is a stone’s throw away from the harbour. Wandering around the labyrinthine streets your eyes will be drawn to the array of souvenirs, clothes, bags and shoes on sale. On a hot day, it’s best to surrender to the heat and enjoy a ‘doldrum’ (a Turkish ice-cream) while getting purposely lost in the streets. Look out for the Turkish Sponge that is farmed in the Marmaris sea – many believe it to be a plant but, in actual fact, it’s an animal. This sponge becomes super soft when wet, which makes it perfect for cleaning blocked pores if you scrub some soft olive oil on your skin with the sponge.
Stay at …
Antique Roman Palace. This 4-Star, boutique style, Roman-inspired hotel with a private beach is ideally located and boasts posh rooms and suites, a spa and two restaurants to ensure you have everything you need. Just 2,5 km from the centre of town, you can enjoy a walk along the beachfront or catch a taxi directly outside the hotel. My spacious (and clean) room looked out onto the sea, which made for a lovely stay. The property is decorated with sculptures, paintings and tiles from the Roman, Renaissance and Ottoman eras. The staff speak German, Russian, Turkish as well as some English.
Eat at the fish market
Head to the fish market on a Tuesday if you can as you will not only experience the excellent restaurant and selling of fresh fish, but also the “sali Pazari” or Tuesday street market. Besides the selling of fish, there are various kinds of meat, spices and other things to tempt you. We ate at the Balikcim lokantasi (the fish restaurant) found at the entrance. We started off with a fish soup and moved onto the Hamsi (Black Sea anchovies) prepared using a technique known as tava, in which the fish are dipped in corn flour, arranged in a spiral formation in a pan and then sautéed over a high heat, flipping them midway. These are crispy and fragrant but, beware, they can be rich. According to the locals, the anise-flavoured Raki is the best match for fish. The market is located on the west side of the city and is a spot that deserves a visit and meal.
Indulge in a private cabana on Kleopatra beach
The most popular beach in Alanya, known for its beautiful sandy beach and sunshine, you can lie on the beach itself or choose to hire a cabana. The story goes that the Ptolemaic princess is believed to have bathed here on her visit with Mark Anthony. This blue flag beach leans backward into the skirts of the peninsula. With its clear, sparkling waters, swimmers can swim the stretch along the coast to Fosforlu Cave and, if they’re wearing goggles, they can enjoy looking at the fish swimming around them as well as the other beauties lurking under the water. Entrance to the beach is free but visitors can pay for additional services that they require.
Damlatas Cave helps asthma suffers
Discovered in 1948 unexpectedly during the construction of the port, the Damlatas Cave is said to offer immense health benefits due to its humid atmosphere. More than 4000 people visit the cave annually to enjoy its healing properties. Visitors generally stay for 21 days and spend around four hours in the cave each morning. For this reason, it is not open to the general public during 6h00 and 10h00am. The cave was the first in Turkey that was opened to tourists, but with 95% humidity and temperatures inside ranging between 22-23 degrees, you won’t be staying inside for long. While inside you should take notice of the beautiful stalactites and stalagmites which were formed 15,000 years ago.
Enjoy the view from the cable car
Built 300m high with a 900m length in the line, this cable car was opened in 2017 and takes about three minutes to reach the top. It has 17 cars and runs daily. The car glides up the mountain where the historical Alanya Castle is on top, from where you will experience breathtaking panoramic views of Kleopatra Beach and other beaches in the distance. This bird’s eye view is best enjoyed at sunset to ensure you capture some special moments. Operating hours are 09h30 to 21h00 and a round trip costs 18TL. When you arrive at the top of the cable car there is a free shuttle bus to save you the steep walk further up. If you want to include the castle as part of your trip then make sure you are there before 5pm as the Castle closes at 5h30pm.
Climb the stairs to the top of Kizil Kule (the Red Tower)
This hexagonal building is an icon of the city and was built in 1226 to protect the castle and the nearby shipyard. Five storeys high, this defence tower was constructed by Seljuk Sultan Aladdin Keykubad 1. It is certainly worth climbing the 85 steps to the rooftop terrace from where you will have magnificent views of the harbour as well as the shipyard. It was built using red bricks as stone blocks were difficult to lift after a certain point. After being restored in the 1950s it was re-opened to visitors in 1979. Open daily from 09hoo until 19h00, it is best to buy a combo ticket (12TL), which includes entrance to the Red Tower, Shipyard and Caves.
This is the most interesting place to visit in Alanya. The iconic castle stands proudly overlooking the town’s sweeping beaches. The remains of this 13th Century Seljuk fortress was built by Alaeddin Keykubat 1 after the conquest of Alanya in 1220. The walls are 6,5km in length and originally there were 140 towers along the walls and around 400 cisterns. It is advisable to wear good walking shoes because, once at the top, you can also wander the streets of the quaint village of Ehmedek, which was the Turkish Quarter during Ottoman and Seljuk times. Enjoy the various souvenir shops, all of which sell the calabash whether it be lights or hand-painted designs. Be sure to look out for the lady that makes silk scarves the traditional way by weaving them on her wooden, hand-operated loom. The Suleymaniye Mosque (the oldest in Alanya) was built in the 16th century and is open daily. This open-air museum is accessible for people in wheelchairs who are able to gain access to the upper part of the castle on the newly built wooden ramps. Open 7 days a week from 08h00 until 19h00.
Alanya Cultural Houses
The Omurlu Kemal Atli house was built by the Yaylali family at the end of the 19th Century and later restored by the Alanya Municipality. Upper floors of Alanya houses are separated into winter and summer sections. The winter section is the bedroom and kitchen, spaces with massive stone walls and fewer openings are used during hours with high temperatures. The main living area in an Alanya house is upstairs. The spaces on this floor are used for activities such as living, eating and hosting guests. The beautiful wooden fireplaces are the focus point in these rooms. Alongside these two houses is the Aksebe Mausoleum, which was built around 1230. One window area was for Muslim prayers and the second window for Christian prayers during that era. To get a taste of how families lived in this century, take the time to walk through these homes and gather an in-depth knowledge into day-to-day life of a bygone era.
Take a walk along the harbour fort walls and pass by the Love Garden and Saklibache Sebithane & Cafe, both of which are cosy spots to sit under the trees and smell the sea. A bit further on you will pass two or so catapults and, after ducking through a hole, you will be walking on the rocky shore that takes you to an impressive battery ram. On entering the shipyard I was extremely impressed by a multitude of things, the first of which was the view that was complemented by the sound of the waves gently rolling in and out and, secondly, by the echoing chambers built using stone of immense proportions. One of the chambers displays a frame of a typical boat to illustrate how the shipyard has been restored and provides information for both Turkish and English-speaking people. On a combo ticket entrance will be 4TL.
Pirate boats and lighthouse
Step aboard an atmospheric pirate boat and join a motley crew of pirates, buccaneers and landlubbers on a seafaring adventure. Not ideal for children under 5 years of age, the 6-hour cruise includes a buffet lunch, entertainment including music, treasure hunts, a foam party and plenty of stops to enjoy a swim in the crystal blue waters. You will pass landmarks such as Alanya Castle, Lover’s Cave and Kleopatra Beach. One of the highlights of the trip is the opportunity to spot dolphins or sea turtles. You can book at the harbour when you have chosen which boat’s character appeals the most to you. With no islands around Alanya, you will be sailing out into the blue waters and back. Prices range from 150 TL per person, depending on the boat company and the packages it offers. While at the harbour, take the time to enjoy a walk down to the lighthouse and add your own love lock to the railings. Sunset photos here are amazing.
Located opposite the tourist office, this museum is divided into two sections, with displays of archaeological and ethnographic artefacts. It contains numerous ceramic, bronze, marble and glass pieces from the Hellenistic, Roman and Byzantine periods. This museum has been operating since 1967, when it was decided to share the finds gathered in the region of the city with tourists. In 2012 it was completely renovated and is now a modern facility which includes all exhibits having information in both Turkish and English, a playroom for children and exhibits in the garden. One of the pieces I enjoyed reading about was the Bronze Pegasus, a winged horse from mythology. Another was the statue of Hercules. Ideally located in the city centre, the Museum offers the perfect opportunity to get to know the history that forms the roots of this city.
Open from 08h30 to 19h30.
Don’t leave Alanya without enjoying a traditional breakfast spread at Zencefil Cafe. This family-owned restaurant and cafe opened in March 2015. Initially the land was a garden of fruit trees, but now it is a cosy spot offering delicious food. Without a doubt it offered the best Turkish breakfast I have ever had. The home-made jams include pumpkin, watermelon and egg plant – my favourite was the egg plant! Another yummy choice was the cheese with black cherry sauce dripping off the side. Located up on the hill, Zencefil Cafe offers sweeping views of the town below and the sea in the distance. Decorations include evil eyes and colourful ceramic items hanging from a tree, along with other brightly coloured items dotted around the location. With indoor and outdoor seating as well as a play area for children, there is certainly something for everyone’s enjoyment. Open from 09h00 until 12h00, Zencefil Cafe offers you the chance to enjoy an Alanya breakfast in the morning and then return in the afternoon for the Alanya noodles. You won’t regret overeating here!
- The world’s longest cake was baked in Alanya on April 26, 2006 … and it was registered as a Guinness World record.
- The first president of Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, ordered the name to be changed from Alaiye to Alanya. It is said that the original spelling resulted from a spelling mistake by a telegrapher, who had sent this name to Ataturk.
One shouldn’t leave Alanya without seeing the grandeur of the Castle or any of the other places listed. There is so much to do in this seaside town that you will not be bored for a minute.
Mulling over my time in Alanya, my only wish is that I had spent more time in this delightful spot, as the municipality runs the town incredibly well. Not only do they cater for able-bodied people, but they have also provided facilities to ensure access and enjoyment to the sights for people with disabilities. Each hotel, shopping centre, tourist attraction and public transport has made allowance for visitors in wheelchairs.
Turkey is so full of fascinating places to visit that I often wonder if I will ever run out of places to see!
“Let the beauty of what you love be what you do.” -Rumi
Little Black Book
Call: 0242 513 7128 for Zencefil Cafe, or look them up on Facebook.
www.alanya.bel.tr for more information on the area.
Marion’s trip was in co-operation with Turkish Airlines and the Alanya Municipality. All opinions are those of the writer.
“A special thank you to Yildiz who made my time in Alanya so enjoyable. Without her outstanding organisational skills I would not have seen half of these incredible locations. Also a big thank you to Mr Uyar, the director of Parks and Gardens in Alanya for his assistance in arranging for me to see all the locations and experience this magical town.” – Marion Kate
Photos: Marion Kate