The new year is so cold, that I can't help but think back to my summer holiday in Antayla, the fourth largest city in Turkey. It's the greatest city at the Turquoise Coasts of the Mediterranean and features a picturesque historic city centre that curves down to a Roman harbour, amazing archeological treasures, beautiful beaches, haute cuisine from all over the world and overwhelming views of the sea and mountains.The mere memory of it warms my cockles.
Our hotel was on a sweeping shingle beach called Konyaalti, where I bumped into a group of warm locals who were there enjoy the sunset. They took me to a terrace bar in a five-star hotel, where we had some brilliant cocktails, fresh seafood and a whale of a time on the dance floor. The next morning (aka 12 o'clock), I indulged in what a doner kebab ought to be like: fresh, tasty, big and ridiculously cheap. After that I felt for a swim, so I went to Aqualand, a nearby water park with spectacular slides. Apparently, there's an even better park near Lara Plaji, which even has dolphin shows, but I never managed to fit it into my busy holiday.
That night, I met up with my new friends and went for a pint down at the harbour front in Kaleici, the historic centre where the night life takes place. We ended up dancing and drinking the night away in Club Arma (Kaleiçi Yacht Marina).
The next morning, my mates went to the Bridge Canyon National Park for a hike. I decided to go with them, but what I didn't know was that they were planning to go white-water rafting. I had no intend of going home on crutches, and regretted coming along. Fortunately, one of the guys offered to show me the overwhelming Mediterranean scenery. We visited the Temple of Zeus and explored the ruins of the city walls. Raoul and I got to know each other a lot better while he showed me the classical clock tower, the triumphant Hadrian's Gate and the famous Kesik Minare Camii, a 5th century Byzantine church that was ruined and later converted to a mosque. That night he took me out for dinner by candlelight in a secret garden at the Gizli Bahçe (Selçuk Mahallesi).
The next morning we all met up again and took a bus to the golden beaches of Phaselis, an ancient port in a national park. It was absolutely gorgeous, but I started to realize that my holiday was almost over and I hadn't even explored Antayla properly yet. I decided to rise early the next morning and make up for that. The hill in Kaleici is very steep and the narrow streets are lined with restored Roman and Ottoman mansions which now serve as houses, designer boutiques, jewellers, cheap fashion shops, carpet emporia, inns and restaurants. I bought so many nice things that I had to book in an extra suitcase on my way back!
On my last day, Raoul and his friends took me on a day excursion to Olimpos. I remember the magical mix of forests, secluded beach resorts and ancient ruins clearly. It was almost like walking through a fairy tale. That night, he wanted to take me out for dinner again but, because it was my last night in Antayla, I insisted that we all went to Ally's (a club on 40-46 Selçuk Mah) together.
"Do you like ballet and opera?" Raoul asked. It was getting light already when he took me back to my hotel on Konyaalti beach, and I was afraid I'd still be drunk on the plane back to England. "If you do, you should come back next year in June or July," he said. "There's a festival in the Aspendos Roman theatre every year. Please come back next year."
Raoul and I haven't been in touch since but I'm starting to warm up to the idea of going back for some ballet. Flights to Antayla are extremely popular that time of the year, though, so I'll have to book my ticket early.