By Stacie Leone
Most of Alanya is spread out on the foothills of a small, lush mountain dominated by a beautifully preserved ancient castle. A major revitalization program, begun in the winter of 2002, virtually changed the face of Alanya. The old marina was expanded to allow large cruise ships to dock and is now lined with sailing vessels of every shape and size as well as new restaurants and cafes overlooking the picturesque harbor. In the meantime a brand new yacht marina eagerly awaited by sailing fans throughout southern Turkey was recently constructed. Public parks were built along both of Alanya's long sandy beaches; and the town's main thoroughfare, Ataturk Caddesi was turned into a wider, palm tree-lined boulevard. In tandem with public area improvements, a plethora of large, new hotels have sprung up on the outskirts of town. According to Alanya's tourism office, there are at least seven five-star hotels in the area - mostly located outside the main city center in Konaklı, Yeşilköy and Okullar - with several new five-star resorts on the way. Among the well-known five-star resorts around Alanya are the Grand Kaptan, Serapsu, Meryan and the Delphin Deluxe Resort.
Alanya proper is a bustling holiday center of modern hotels and motels, seafood restaurants, cafes and bars, reminiscent of a scaled-down version of Antalya city. Of the six million tourists who visit Antalya and its surroundings each year, one million flock to Alanya. Half of all visitors are German, nearly a quarter are from Russia and the rest are other foreign tourists as well as Turks, most of whom come from Istanbul.
Certainly the weather in the Antalya region is a major draw for everyone who visits. With mild, rainy, wet winters and hot, dry summers, the climate in Alanya is typical of any town on the Mediterranean coast. December and January are the wettest months while August is the driest. The average temperature in Alanya is around 19 degrees. August is the hottest with an average of 27 degrees while January is the coldest with an average of only 12 degrees. The temperature in the mountain plateaus is normally 13-14 degrees lower than the temperature in Alanya. In the town night frost is rare and snow is almost never seen. Nevertheless bananas, oranges and vegetables are always planted in places where the cold and the north winds from the mountains cannot reach them. During the winter though, Alanya often experiences storms from the south. Although they can be pretty fierce, they rarely do any damage.
Of the 88,000-plus full-time residents of Alanya about 500 are German citizens, while in total 5,000 Germans own property and visit during holidays throughout the year. Another half-million or so Germans visit Alanya during spring and summer, occupying its wide variety of pensions and hotels. A major draw for Germans and other Europeans, besides the breathtaking beaches and scenery, is the relatively low cost of vacationing, shopping and living in Alanya. At least three different German-language newspapers are published in Alanya, including Deutshe Alanya Zeitung (www.alanya-dz.com, cost: 2YTL), Alanya News (50 kurus) and Alanya Bote (www.alanyabote.de, cost 2YTL). All three can be obtained at the Tourist information office at the corner of Ismetbalci Street and Damlatas Street; as well as at newsstands throughout the city.
"I love Alanya. It is a very international city. I like to learn new things about different places in the world and I love my work because I meet many people from Germany, Russia, from all over," says Mustafa Tuncer, who decided to settle in Alanya 21 years ago after leaving Eskişehir, a town in western Anatolia. Tuncer brought with him a local craft from his native town, Meerschaum stone carving, which is how he makes his living. A heavyset fellow, Mustafa strikes quite a picture sitting in the entrance to his small shop off Iskele Street hunched over his delicate carvings; a craft that's been passed on in his family for generations. For sale are miniature turtles, elephants, intricately carved pipes, decorative eggs and cigarette holders, all made from the soft Meerschaum stone found exclusively in the Eskişehir region.
"All-inclusive" is another popular draw for those staying at hotels which offer around the clock all-you-can-eat and drink buffets, entertainment and of course accommodation, at varying price levels. Alanya is also a popular summer vacation destination for about 150,000 Russians, who come for the sea and sand. Swedes, Dutch and Israeli travelers too have discovered Alanya. Israelis arrive mostly by large cruise ships and stay just a few hours to enjoy the nightlife and shopping. They also come to take advantage of Turkey's lenient environmental laws concerning off-road four-wheel and motorcycle adventure touring through the Taurus Mountains (Israel and Europe have much stricter laws governing off-road driving). Large numbers of Turks - families and young singles alike - also enjoy Alanya during the summer when school is in recess.
"We like the sun and the sea of course. It's cheap here and the shopping is very good. We don't leave the hotel much because everything is included there and they have good nightlife too. I would definitely return to Alanya," says Gabi Hagen from Heidelberg, Germany who came to Alanya with her brother Juergen for 14 days. The Hagen's both wore a blue plastic bracelet with their hotel's name inscribed on it. The bracelets, which you will see on many a wrist throughout Alanya, are worn to identify the hotel occupants and indicate that they have paid for an all-inclusive package.
Alanya (ancient Korakesion) which is 168 km to the east of Antalya is situated on a rocky peninsula. With its unique defensive position and well-sheltered harbor, the city played an important role during the Hellenistic period and served as a refuge for pirates under Roman rule. After being captured by Alaeddin Keykubat I, the Seljuk Sultan, and turned into a naval base, the city grew in size and population and was called Alaiye which later become Alonya. Following the decline of the Seljuks, Alanya passed into the hands of the Karamanlis. Remains of the walls from the Classical age can still be seen on the peninsula. The present castle built by Alaeddin Keykubat I consists of three walls. In the early ages there were boat stations along the sea where ships loaded cedar. Owing to its strong defenses Korakesion was able to resist successfully the troops of Antiochus who invaded Cilicia. Alanya assumed importance in the Seljuk period with its shipbuilding industry, but it suffered heavy destruction later during the battles between the armies of Sultan Mehmet II, and Karamanoğullan. Like other cities in this region, it never regained its former level of prosperity.
To the east and west of Alanya lie inviting turquoise seas fringed by 26 km of golden beaches. Beautiful sandy Cleopatra Beach lies to the west of the verdant hilly peninsula, while the fine sands of Keykubat Beach stretch to the east. Both beaches have been cleaned up and renovated over the past two years. The main street along Keykubat Beach was repaved and converted into a palm tree-lined park and outfitted with new benches, decorative stone mosaics and a public pool. Along the promenades of both beaches are a variety of restaurants, cafes and lively nightlife activity. A good range of water-sports are available too.
For a quiet beach outing or barbecue, take a taxi or minibus to "Ulaş Dinlenme" which is a few kilometers outside Alanya. This area tends to be most crowded with locals on Sundays but quiet on other days of the week.
One hint for choosing a restaurant is to see if there are many Turkish people at the tables. You can almost be sure that they are "in the know" for the highest quality dining at fair prices. Of course, the restaurants along the harbor are more expensive than others. A favorite among locals and visitors alike is Emel 2, which is located in the marina and serves Turkish and International cuisine. Behind the marina, opposite T.C. Ziraat Bank, is Ravza another establishment which is packed even during the off-season. Established in 1955, it has been run by the same family for three generations and serves fine Turkish cuisine, but no alcohol. If you're in the mood for pizza, try Solen which is diagonally across from Ravza. A "must" according to Alanya's locals is a restaurant called Adana Ocakbaşı, which is located in the heart of the city near the minibus station. The restaurant serves traditional Turkish fare, and its specialty is "çöp şiş," small pieces of meat speared by thin metal spits. Rakı (Turkey's "lion-milk" - an aniseed flavored drink which is normally diluted with water) and other alcoholic beverages are available. Greenbeach Restaurant & Bar at Cleopatra Beach (on Güzelyalı Caddesi) opposite the Grand Zaman Hotel is situated in a blossoming garden directly on the beach. Turkish and International dishes are served and live music is to be heard every night during the summer; there's also a dance floor and a playground for children.
Some tips for seafood lovers: seafood tends to be pricier in summer than during the rest of the year because the fishing season starts in November. Fish will be always sold by weight, so the price depends on the type and the size of fish you want; also your waiter should show you the raw fish before cooking. A favorite in Antalya is çipura (gilt head bream) a white fish with few bones. Trout (alabalık), a relatively pricey fish in other cities, is fresh and inexpensive in Alanya because it is bred in the rivers of the nearby mountains.
If your idea of fun is swaying to thunderous pop music, flashing lights and drinking the night away, Alanya has just what you are looking for. "Harbor mile" or the marina area has a large lineup of nightclubs which play both Turkish pop and international dance tunes, including James Dean, Zapf hahn, Bellmann and The Doors rock bar. For live music try the open air Garage Bar or Boomerang, both are near the Yeni Cami (New Mosque) at the other end of Iskele Street. Reserve a table because you are unlikely to find a seat after 10pm. Alanya's nightlife is popular with foreigners but also a favorite among young Turks, especially students from Ankara and Istanbul.
For a more romantic evening there are a number of quieter places for live music terraced on the side of castle hill with grand views of the marina and red tower. Try Maldan Restaurant & Bar, which has outdoor terraces and a cozy bar inside. Further up is Ilkay which also has live music and serves dinner in a romantic atmosphere.
Historical Sites & Cool, Quiet Getaways
Most of the old town lies on the great rocky promontory that juts out into the sea, the bulk of which is occupied by a 13th century Seljuk fortress - one of the most magnificent sights on the coast. Alanya Castle has always been settled because of its inaccessibility from sea and land. The castle walls are about 6.5 km long with 140 towers, about 400 cisterns and doors with inscriptions. The ramparts start from Kızkule, extend down from Ehmedek, İçkale, Adam Atacağı, Cilvarda Burnu, Arap Evliyası Rampart and Esat Rampart and pass through Tophane and Tersane and end again at Kızılkule. Within the outer walls are ruins of mosques, a caravanserai and a covered bazaar; in the inner walls are a ruined cistern and a church. The first construction of the castle dates from the Hellenistic Period, but in fact the building took its fascinating and monumental form during the Seljuk Empire and reflects Seljuk art at its best. The altitude of the part called the inner castle, located at the highest western corner of the peninsula, is about 250 meters. The center of administrative and military organization, it was well protected by walls on all sides. Two Seljuk period cisterns made of bricks, located in the middle part of the inner castle, are still in good condition today.
During recent years Turkish archeologists have excavated the major building groups extending to the southwest. Findings indicate that there could have also been a palace at the site, while the buildings of the inner castle, which still remain intact, are thought to have been a military barrack, a dormitory and a store. In the center of the inner castle there is a small 10th century Byzantine Church which indicates that the castle had been used quite a time before the construction of the military structures. In addition, its survival until the present indicates that the Seljuk Empire respected believers of different religions and their places of worship. The large drum center of the church consists of sound absorbing niches, vaulted round windows surround the church and some remains of frescos are still visible. The castle is an hour's winding climb or a short ride on an hourly bus from the tourist office. At the end of the road is the İç Kale, or inner fortress (open daily from 8am to sunset), which is virtually intact, with the shell of a Byzantine Church, decorated with fading frescoes, in the center. A platform in a corner of the fortress gives fine views of the western beaches and the mountains, though this originally served as a springboard from which prisoners were thrown to their deaths on the rocks below.
Alaaddin Keykubat also erected some monumental buildings completing the castle. Kızılkule (Red Tower), a unique Seljuk work of art, has become the symbol of Alanya and was built on the opposite side of the promontory in order to permanently keep the harbor under control. The Hexagonal structure is 29 meters in diameter and 33 meters high. The architect of the tower built in 1226 is stated as Ebu Ali from Halep as understood from the inscription facing north. The seven-line inscription also contains words in praise of A. Keykubat. Kızılkule today houses an Ethnographic Museum (open Tuesday-Sunday from 8:30am to 6:00pm), and has a roof terrace that overlooks the town's eastern harbor. On the western side of the promontory, the Alanya Museum (open daily from 9:00am to noon & 1:30pm to 6:30pm) is filled with local archeological finds and ethnological ephemera, its garden is a former Ottoman graveyard.
Discovered in 1948 during the construction of Alanya Harbor, today Damlataş cave (open daily from 6:00am to 10:00pm) is one of the town's most popular attractions. The thousand-year-old stalactite and stalagmite-filled cavern has a constant temperature of 22-23 degrees Celsius and humidity level of more than 90 percent. The moist, warm atmosphere is said to be therapeutic for those with respiratory problems, especially asthma sufferers. Doctors can prescribe visits to the cave and time is reserved every morning for medical patients.
From the town's lovely park, the road runs along the coast to the marina, behind which you will find countless boutiques that tempt tourists with handicrafts, leather, clothes, jewelry, handbags and the amusing painted gourds, a symbol of the area. Or, walk up towards the castle where you will find twisting narrow alleyways lined with colorful boutiques and stalls of cheesecloth dresses, carpets, copper and jewelry. The bazaar, between the Dolmuş railway station and harbor of Alanya, is a large shopping area filled with small shops selling clothing for men, women and children, leather goods, silver and gold jewelry, sweets and handcrafted Ottoman-style tableware. Along Damlataş Street you will also find a number of fabric shops with tailors on site who can fashion dresses and suits at reasonable prices.
Getting to Alanya from Antalya
Alanya is a 2.5 hour bus or car ride from Antalya. From Antalya take a bus from the Yeni Otogar (new bus station), İç Hatlar Terminali (domestic terminal). There are two bus companies, Güney Akdeniz and Alanyalılar which depart roughly every hour on the hour. Returning from Alanya you can catch a bus about every half hour back to Antalya as many bus companies stop there on the way to Istanbul and other west bound destinations. The one-way fare is 7 YTL.
Ziraat Bankası yanı No:16
Tel: 242 513 39 83
Fax: 242 513 39 83
Azakoglu Caddesi No. 63-65
Tel: 0242 512 56 41
City center, at Dolmus (minibus) station
Green Beach Restaurant
Guzelyali Caddesi No. 38
Tel: 0 242 512 54 89
Iskele Cad. Rihtim Sok: No: 32
07400, Alanya, Tur
Tel: (0090) 242 513 61 01
Iskele Cadassi No: 4
Alanya, 07400 Turkey
Tel: (0090) 242 512 19 92
Boomerang & Garage Bar
Both near the Yeni Cami (new mosque)
at the end of Iskele Street (opposite the Bank)
The Doors Rock Bar
Harbour Str. / ALANYA - TURKEY
Tel: 0242 . 513 82 85
Maldan Restaurant & Bar
Kale Yamaci Mevkii
Kale Yamaci Mevkii
(Slightly further up the hill from Maldan)
This article was previously published in The Guide Antalya