Antalya is often regarded as the locomotive of tourism in Turkey, which is often translated as the ultimate destination for the iconic three S’s: Sun, sand and sea. Antalya and its environs truly have the greatest beaches, lots of sunshine throughout the year and one will definitely have plenty of sand in their shoes. But this is only a fraction of the province’s potential.
History is one asset so powerful that it is almost neglected or simply taken for granted. The accidental tourist visits one or two ancient sites, preferably one closer to the sea, like Phaselis and then does the must-see formidable amphitheater Aspendos and that is pretty much it.
However, the spectrum of historical sites in the Antalya province is beyond imagination. One of the first ever discovered Neanderthal skulls of the early Paleolithic period is in Karain, almost a stone’s throw away north of Antalya, dating back to 150,000 to 200,000 years ago. Human habitation in the cave had a continuity of 25,000 years, from the Mesolithic period up to the Bronze Age and even to the Greek colonization period.
We are talking about the history of mankind in a way when in Antalya. Since the Karain cave, every single period in Anatolia’s history can be found in Antalya. The most recognized periods are the Hellenistic, Roman, Seljuk and Ottoman periods. It is a pity that most people who pay a visit to Aspendos skip the ancient city of Perge. They probably become mesmerized by the intact splendor of the Roman theater, which is the best-preserved theater of antiquity, but do not realize that there lies more only steps away.
This year has been declared as the year of Perge, perhaps one of the most amazing archaeological sites in Turkey, which I believe does not get the credit it deserves. The city has a number of highlights, among which the U-shaped stadium that can hold 12,000 people stands out. The agora surrounded by Corinthian-style column capitals, the Roman bath and gymnasium and monumental Hellenistic gates are other top attractions.
However, my favorite remains the agora and the macellum, a peristyle market. One can browse along the shop fronts and around the central meat market as if shopping for a great feast. This brings us to the fact that having layers upon layers of such a great history, Antalya is also home to a multitude of gastronomic heritage.
Perge, often recognized as a Hellenistic and then a Roman site, actually has strong roots in the great Hittite Kingdom. Contemporary with the ancient Egyptians, Hittite culture is core to many Anatolian civilizations. The settlement was even occupied in the Stone Age, so in a way, the site displays a breathtaking spectrum of history.
I remember a quote by archaeologist Prof. Haluk Abbasoğlu, who had led the excavations in Perge for many years. He spoke about the Hittite tablets found in Perge.
“We probably have to re-write Anatolian history. Almost all ancient Greek and Roman sites apparently have a Hittite background,” he said. So true, dear Mr. Abbasoğlu, you must proud to have dedicated your life to arguably one of the best-preserved cities of antiquity!
Fork of the Week:
Antalya awaits you with its multiple layers of history, as well as its multiple gastro experiences. Barut group has been the pioneer of tourism in Antalya. It has been 47 years since they started the business. They have a culmination of expertise. In a way, they are among the few who wrote the history of tourism in Turkey.
Their properties offer a range of gastronomic experiences. I’ll admit that when a resort claims they make all cuisines, my instinct is to run away, but at Barut Lara Hotel, their Gourmet Safari Experience proved me wrong and surpassed my expectations. It was a gastronomy hopping that was like hopping through the cuisines of the Mediterranean in a way, with a dash of history hopping.
Gourmet Safari is the same concept as Walking Dinner. Each course is taken at a different restaurant. This one had six stops at six of the eight restaurants at Barut Lara.
I totally detest hotel-operated Italian restaurants. I miss the Italian vibe of family run restaurants with their crazy atmosphere, but here at Pizzeria di Laura, close your eyes and you will feel like you are in Italy with the authentic taste of a perfect pizza, truly Napolitano.
I fell in love with the Ottoman sea bass biryani at Sandal Restaurant, also the favorite of executive chef Özkan Şen, a recipe dating back to the 15th century found in Şirvani’s Kitabü’t-Tabih, one of the primary manuscripts of Ottoman cuisine. Infused with flavors of saffron, gum mastica, cinnamon, thyme and coriander, the fish was crisp on the outside and tender and succulent on the inside.
Strangely, my personal favorite was the chateaubriand. When I stepped into the Akdeniz fine dining restaurant, I had an awkward sensation. The place was not glittery and it was not pretentious. Then I realized this was how restaurants used to be when I was growing up.
Decent fine restaurants look like this in Europe. When I noticed all the elderly pensioners dining happily at candle-lit tables hopefully remembering, or maybe trying to remember, what their first date was 50 years ago, the picture was completed. Although it had not intended to be, that restaurant was a period restaurant from our recent past, serving perfect French style chateaubriand, complete with bérnaise sauce, butter-braised spinach and a velvety smooth but slightly chunky potato puree, complete with a hearty Likya Malbec wine, just up from the Taurus mountains. The pinnacle of the rollercoaster of Gourmet Safari was surely that!
Cork of the Week:
Gourmet Safari starts and ends with expertly crafted signature cocktails. They are the creations of Ole Buddrus, who trained the bartenders. Beach bar highlights are Super Sexy Colada, Salted Cucumber and Lara Sundance and the final touch is the Helva Royal. However, my top choice is Paloma.
Summer days and nights and the mornings, this is the motto of the Paloma cocktail. I do not know how mixologist Ole Buddrus, the creator of the cocktail, came up with the name, but it resonates the true spirit of the Mediterranean, perhaps with a Latin twist with its very Mexican ingredient tequila. Perfectly balanced and refreshing, it is delicious to sip the bitterness of the grapefruit lemonade spiked with the power of tequila through the limy, salty rim. I’m in heaven!