Sun and bath on the Turkish Med coast with a short look behind the tourist façade and a visit to a world renowned natural wonder. That is the essence of my fortnight in the resort town of Alanya.
What we sought
This trip to Alanya took place six years after my first trip to Turkey, a visit tempting me to return. Alanya on the southern Mediterranean coast was in 1992 on the way to becoming a major seaside resort for Western Europeans. Neither of us (my girlfriend and I) were keen on doing a “typical” charter vacation – in fact we tried hard to shy away from that phenomenon. Several kilometres out of town they were starting to build fenced-off all-inclusive resorts which we heard friends were staying at: “So relaxing for us, so practical for the children…and free drinks”.
We had booked a hotel right in the middle of town, and travelling without children this suited our needs very well. There was an easy walk down to the pleasant beach, and we had all the restaurants and shops in the centre at hand. The city was of course full of shops catering to us visitors, especially in the gold, silver, leather and carpet businesses.
Apple tea and shopping
We could have had an unlimited number of “Elma Çay” (apple tea) served in small glasses with a lump of sugar on the tray. Young boys would run between the shops and the çay brewers with trays full of glasses as the shop-owners were trying to attract their potential customers. The sellers were eager, polite and hospitable, but not harassing in any way. We responded to their shouts and beckoning with smiles and polite “no thank you” when we had enough shopping for the day. In fact we did buy more than we expected, like gold, carpets and leather-ware. Good quality at very affordable cost.
The same hospitable attitude and quality goes for the restaurants. The local restaurant down the road from our hotel was also serving local customers and we felt very much at home there as the days went by. Staying in town does invite you to try out various restaurants but we returned to “our” place several times.
To us the Turkish kitchen was fairly unknown although I had been introduced to it before. This was also before the first Turkish restaurants started to open up back home. The Turkish themselves rate their cuisine third in the world, after the French and the Chinese. I was at that time quite sceptical to such a rating but I must admit I have over the years developed an understanding of it.
Unfortunately the local fishing boats were now used solely to transport tourists, so fish was hard to come by.
German tourists all around
In 1992 Turkey had already for more than two decades been sending its young men to Germany as guest workers. As Günther Wallraff so eminently describes in his book “Ganz Unten” that was not an altogether positive experience for them. On the other hand it gave the young men a salary to send home to their family. Perhaps even enough to finance a business at home in the booming tourism industry. There were many German tourists around and they (and some of us as well) were able to communicate in German with the locals.
The beach area in Alanya is divided by a peninsula with a rocky hill. The western part, the Cleopatra beach, is the best known and has a mix of pebbles and sand. The eastern one is quieter and consists mostly of sand. They are not the most beautiful beaches I have seen and the town itself can hardly be described as picturesque. On the other hand it seemed kind of genuine. Turkey was at that time opening up to foreign visitors and we were entering a kind of life that seemed in accordance with the original. Whatever that may be…
A fortress and a cave
The peninsula has a medieval fortress towering over the sea, and with a fascinating cave going into the rock. It is accessibly on foot from the western side of the hill. Prisoners used to be executed by being thrown off the cliff at the Alanya Castle. The guardians of the castle would keep behind the extensive wall with 140 towers scattered along its entire length of 6.5 kilometres. There they could enjoy a fantastic view of the surrounding sea when not doing their (at times) piracy business.
The cave inside is called Damlatas and has a 15,000 years old history. It comes complete with stalactites and stalagmites and is very picturesque. The air temperature holds a constant 24 degrees and a humidity of more than 90 %.
What’s a visit to Turkey without a Turkish bath? Well, I missed that last time I was here, but not now. The “hamam” was a fascinating place. We first entered a room with marble floors and walls. Then we were told to lie down on a bench, quite hard I think, before being subjected to the even harder hands of a big Turkish masseur. I was not amused, I was not even enjoyed. Unfortunately I was not feeling any better afterwards – only a relief that it was over. I do prefer the gentle hands of my girlfriend to this. It was worth a try though.
A short excursion
The proprietor of our favourite restaurant invited us one day to his house. We drove in his old car high up in the mountains behind Alanya. We stopped for a few postcard pictures before leaving the beaten tourist track. This was the rural part of the Turkish Riviera and we were able to meet his family and relatives. We really appreciated this very hospitable gesture.
Staying a fortnight in Alanya is quite boring unless you do something else but lie on the beach and walk the streets of a relatively small city centre. We had taken a boat trip around the cliff, entered the caves, climbed the castle. We had visited a “hamam” and even attended a “Turkish Night” with folk dancers. Now we were keen on doing something completely different. We joined a two-day tour to Pamukkale.
Next chapter: Pamukkale