It’s where white sands meet turquoise sea, it’s a tempting mix of east-meets-west – welcome to the Turkish Riviera.Not so long ago the Turkish Riviera was something of a secret. Bodrum rang a bell, but where was Turkbuku? Exotic, euro-free and close enough to home to be a British favourite, this string of beach resorts offers a mesmerising mix of old and new and east-meets-west.
Fiona Klonarides spotlights the top resorts along Turkey’s sparkling turquoise southwest coastline
Sandwiched between the Aegean and spectacular mountain forests, Akbuk means “white bay”. Originally a fishing village, it’s no longer as sleepy as it once was, but it has managed to hang on to its charm. Akbuk is a firm favourite with those who love its laid back lifestyle and healthy climate (locals say the air has the highest oxygen and lowest humidity levels in the country – it’s probably all those pine trees).
Thankfully Akbuk’s surroundings are subject to strict preservation orders so its delightful harbour remains relatively peaceful, even in summer.
Historians will know about Akbuk’s impressive Greek and Roman sites which include one of Turkey’s most famous, Ephesus, and the Temple of Apollo at Didyma. Meanwhile, the new marina at Altinkum 25km away is well worth a visit and you can catch one of the live, open air Turkish music concerts in summer. It’s a 70km drive to Bodrum airport.
One of the best-known resorts on the Riviera, Antalya is famous for its glorious beaches, not least of which is a 10 km stretch of stunning shoreline at Side. If whiling away the day from the comfort of your sun-lounger sounds a bit too laid back, try some of the watersports at Side – there’s water-skiing, scuba diving and parasailing.
Other attractions include safe beaches for children, good shopping – there’s an appealing mix of Turkish markets selling ceramics, rugs and leather goods as well as more modern shops. Night life is lively, with no end of choices on the café, bar and restaurant fronts.
Antalya’s mix of old-with-new is part of its appeal. Kaleici, the old town (which means “inside the castle”) is charming, tranquil and full of maze-like streets and old timber “chalets”, many of which are now bars or restaurants. It’s a great place to stop for a chilled Turkish beer or two and take in the views of the pretty port below, or watch the sun slowly dip behind Mount Olympus before night falls.
A lot of the action happens on the other side of town at Konyaalti Beach, a big favourite with the clubbing crowd.
Golf and Belek have become intertwined in recent years as the region is in the midst of a serious bid to make a name for itself as a top golf destination. Lying between Alanya and Antalya in Antalya province, it’s set in spectacular countryside.
In the summer season, the winter figure of 750 residents inflates to over 10,000, and Belek is focusing on the upper end of the tourist market, constructing four and five-star hotels in line with its image of an upmarket golf destination.
It’s a bird-spotter’s paradise. Blessed with beautiful beaches and around a hundred different bird species, there are secret waterfalls and endless stretches of glorious countryside to explore. Nearby lie the Greek and Roman ruins at Perge – the name may not be as familiar, but these ruins are regarded as a close second to Ephesus.
Also famous is Aspendos’ enormous amphitheatre and there’s nowhere like it for classical, ballet or opera under the stars (festivals are held in June and July). It’s over 2,000 years old, the acoustics are excellent, and it can hold up to 20,000 spectators.
The best known name on the Turkish Riviera, like its fellow resorts Kusadasi and Marmaris, Bodrum is bustling and busy but it’s not without its charm. Sugar-cube houses swathed in fuschia bougainvillea, palm-lined streets and a yacht-filled harbour all make a very pretty backdrop to life along the waterfront.
Best described as a cross between a Turkish-style Ibiza and Monte Carlo, Bodrum sees a lot of partying in summer. Super yachts stop over for a night or two, tourist numbers swell, and restaurant terraces are packed.
Not keen on crowds? Spring and autumn are far more low key and still quite warm. You can take your time and explore the local villages, where you’ll find sleeping dogs stretched out in the sunshine along quiet streets, and old men engrossed in a game backgammon in a tiny “lokanta” (restaurant).
Afternoon escape: If you have a car, escape the bustle of Bodrum harbour and savour the flavour of life in the mountains. Head for Kizilagac and Mumcular and discover a whole new landscape of leafy groves, tangerine orchards, lakes, undulating hills and goats galore…
In 1958 the town was struck by an earthquake and most of it, sadly, was levelled, but its historic tombs dating back to when it was known as Telmessos (400BC) were spared. Today, it’s an appealing destination with a broad, sweeping bay, a very relaxed feel despite its size, and a popular stop for those departing on, or arriving from, a gulet cruise. There are some interesting sites to explore in and around Fethiye, too, including the ghost town of Kayakoy.
Yachties will know all about the advantages of its protected natural harbour, and an easy sail south is Oludeniz (more about Oludeniz below), one of Turkey’s most famous photogenic bays.
Visit in the summer and it’s almost impossible to believe that this place was once a fishing village. It’s busy and overbuilt and the population swells to 250,000 in the summer, mostly packed with package holiday makers.
This is where the ferries leave for Greece – Marmaris is Turkey’s largest and most modern yacht marina and its busiest yacht charter port – and the bars along the harbour are the perfect people-watching spot, a great place to have a drink.
It’s arguably the most modernised of all the resorts on Turkey’s southwest coast, and Marmaris has become very internationalised, but look a little further out and you’ll find some real gems. Its rugged coastline is spectacular – pine-clad mountains soar above deep blue bays – hire a convertible for the day and cruise the Resadiye Peninsula, sun overhead and wind in your hair. It’s stunning.
Oludeniz means “dead sea” but there’s nothing dead about it. In fact you’d be hard-pressed to find a more photogenic bay….a vibrant mix of turquoise and aquamarine shades.
If the name sounds familiar, it’s probably because Oludeniz is rated one of the top five best beaches in the world, again and again, by travel magazines and tourists. Its famous blue lagoon has calm, crystal clear waters, making it a safe place for little ones to paddle about in, and part of the lagoon is now a national park.
One of the most relaxing, beautiful spots on the entire Turkish Riviera.
Called “the greenest village on the Bodrum Peninsula”, Turkbuku is surrounded in pine, olive and citrus trees, so strong that you can almost smell the scent of pine and fruit in the air when you arrive.
The wooden jetties along the seafront make it a lovely, laid back place for a spot of fishing, and the village provides much of the peninsula with fresh seafood.
Gradually catching on with the international crowd, Turkbuku is a favourite with Turkish celebrities and those in the know.