A vacation to Turkey might be just what you need after years of restrictions
Irish holidaymakers are well used to sun holidays like Albufeira and Tenerife, but Antalya in Turkey is another destination that sun-seekers will appreciate.
Located on the southwest coast of the country, the region experiences hot, subtropical summers, with temperatures exceeding 40 degrees during the hottest summer months.
I traveled with a small group of Irish journalists from Dublin to Antalya on Turkish Airlines, stopping first in Istanbul for one night. Considering this was our first international trip in over 18 months in the wake of the pandemic, there was just as much excitement and nervousness within our group.
Everything was simple and streamlined, once travelers had their covid certificate and completed the form required to enter the country, which is available on the Turkish Ministry of Health website.
Flights with Turkish airlines are often highly rated in terms of comfort, but we were lucky enough to be upgraded to business class which took luxury to a new level.
With the fine meals of typical Turkish cuisine, a wide variety of alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks available, and seats that convert into beds, you almost didn’t want the trip to end.
The overnight stay in Istanbul left us overwhelmed with the culture, infrastructure and bustling nature of the city, which straddles the two continents of Europe and Asia. We stayed at the Novotel Bosphorous, a five-star central hotel that makes visiting local sites accessible.
Although there was extensive construction work on the roads around the premises at the time of the visit, it is expected to be completed in the coming months.
Roadworks haven’t taken away the gorgeous views from its rooftop bar and breakfast room, which give guests an almost bird’s-eye view of the Bosphorus waterway, the canal that connects the Black Sea to the Mediterranean.
There are many sights to see in the city, but the first on your list should be the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Built in 537 AD, the building attracts tourists purely for the beauty of its exterior, with its domes and standing minarets, but the interior is even more spectacular with golden calligraphy and marble slabs. Although it has suffered extensive damage from earthquakes and fires over the years, it remains an attractive part of the city, especially since its conversion into a mosque, after being turned into a museum.
A stone’s throw from Hagia Sophia is the Blue Mosque, more formally known as the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, but nicknamed because of the color of its interior tiles.
Next door is Sultanahmet Square, also known as the Hippodrome of Constantinople, an area used for chariot racing in Byzantine times.
Another place worth seeing is Topkapi Palace, the court of the Ottoman sultans. You need to buy tickets to enter the palace, but it’s worth seeing the Sultans’ armor and weapons and the 86-carat pear-shaped Spoonmaker Diamond, also known as Kasikci.
For all shopping enthusiasts, the Grand Bazaar is a must visit, just for the experience.
One of the largest and oldest covered markets in the world, the bazaar is the place to find cheap antiques, jewelry, ceramics, rugs and designer goods, although I couldn’t guarantee that they would not be of the counterfeit variety. . Be prepared to haggle and chat with vendors as you walk through the market, as they want to attract tourists to their stores.
Once you are done shopping and sightseeing, I recommend stocking up on delicious Turkish food. Meze, a traditional starter, is a staple in the country and widely available in restaurants. Typically including hummus, breads, cheeses and eggplant, the selection of cold and hot dishes is the perfect start to a meal.
For mains, steak, fish and kebabs feature prominently on traditional menus. However, in more touristy places, the usual burgers, fries and pasta dishes are readily available.
Dessert is something I advise every visitor to try at least once. Crèmes brûlées and rice pudding feature prominently on most menus, but the biggest recommendation is the baklava, a filo pastry with pistachios and honey. A sweet yet delicious end to any meal.
When it comes to nightlife, the iconic beer factory-turned-cultural district, La Bomontiada, is the perfect place to spend the night.
A mixture of restaurants, bars, a stage and a museum, there is no shortage of activities. Although international tourists must present the required Covid certificate to enter the country, have it handy.
After our action-packed pit stop in Istanbul, we headed back to the airport to catch our 40-minute connecting flight to the quiet resort town of Antalya.
Istanbul Airport opened its doors three years ago and is considered the largest international hub in the world, with three terminals and six runways.
For those traveling in business class, Istanbul Airport has a lounge, where visitors can enjoy hot meals, drinks and massages while waiting for their flight.
The luxury of the airport continued as we descended into Antalya, which has become an international star in recent years.
According to official figures from provincial authorities, more than 15.5 million tourists visited Antalya in 2019, setting a historic tourism record.
We stayed in the Belek area of Antalya at a five-star Cornelia Diamond Golf Resort and Spa, the size of which took us by surprise.
The all-inclusive facility includes multiple indoor and outdoor bars and restaurants, multiple pools, waterslides, direct beach access, and, of course, a spa and golf course.
Classic Rooms are spacious, though decor is dated, especially compared to the quirky red art pieces that dominate the resort’s ground floor.
However, there are other rooms available, some with balconies that step down to one of the pools.
The resort was family-friendly, with specific pools for kids, meaning adults who want some quiet time aren’t disturbed when sunbathing.
The resort also has 10 restaurants to choose from, our favorite being Fish & Love due to its varied menu of seafood dishes.
Belek as a region is best known for its golf offer. Indeed, the region has 11 golf courses belonging to hotel groups, so the choice is vast for golf enthusiasts.
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 €125 per person for non-residents, however, the hotel offers stay and play packages which are much cheaper.
Those traveling with Turkish Airlines can also bring their own set of golf clubs for free.
You don’t have to be an avid golfer to have fun either, as this bunch of journalists could attest.
The club offers an academy to teach beginners the joy of the game, including a driving range, putting area and video playback to help improve your stance and swing.
The golf season generally runs between September and June. Although there are a few golfers in July and August, the temperatures usually get too high for people who take the game seriously.
And while there’s plenty to keep you busy in the resort itself, there’s still more to see in the area.
I would recommend renting a car if you want to explore outside of Belek as some of the popular attractions are over an hour away, but the views and sights are worth the extra expense.
We visited the ancient city of Side – pronounced See-day – which features Roman-era ruins, including the Temple of Apollo, which proves popular for any Instagram-savvy traveller.
The Aspendos Theater is also worth a visit. Built in the 2nd century, it is still used today as a venue, with the International Opera and Ballet Festival taking place there every year.
You cannot visit Antalya without witnessing the beauty of Kaleci, the old town. The historic city center includes Hadrian’s Gate, a clock tower, historic Ottoman houses and the old port.
It’s a beautiful, upmarket place to visit at any stage, but especially in the evening, with many historic buildings turned into restaurants, bars and shops, and the harbor being a wonderful place to watch the sunset. .
Regarding Covid-19 restrictions, wearing a mask is expected and social distancing is still in place. However, most bars and restaurants do not require covid certificates to use their premises.
The country truly has it all for travelers of all types, making it a must-visit vacation destination.
Direct flights between Dublin and Antalya operate from April 1 to September 28, three times a week: Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays. The total journey time is four hours and 45 minutes.
An economy class round trip between Dublin and Antalya with Turkish Airlines starts from €260, while business class for the same journey starts at €1,090. More information can be found at turkishairlines.com or call (01) 5251849.
Economy class passengers are allowed one 23kg bag and 8kg hand luggage, while business class passengers can take up to 40kg bag and 16kg hand luggage.
Cornelia Diamond Luxury Golf and Resort Spa Hotel Belek/Antalya corneliaresort.com
Turkey’s official travel guide is GoTürkiye (goturkiye.com)
For more information contact the Turkish Tourism Board on 0044 207 839 7802