Chasing the autumn sun: Fethiye versus Antalya
Don't know where to go? Well, my money would be on fethiye or Antalya, which can be at their very best at this time of year. Antalya in particular is often nicer now than in the height of summer when the muggy heat can be pretty unbearable.
The two towns have a lot in common. Both sit in spectacular bays with mountainous islands shimmering on the horizon. Both offer easy access to a wide range of historic attractions in their backyards. And both have been in the tourism business a long time, which means that they have all the hotels, shops, restaurants and bars a visitor could possibly hope for.
So which to go for? It's a tough call, but here are the pros and cons.
Towards the western end of the Mediterranean Fethiye is much smaller than Antalya, something that has many advantages, especially in terms of the time it takes to get around the town center. However, it's still big enough to have a life beyond tourism for those who prefer not to stay in a visitor ghetto.
Fethiye's long waterfront was always very attractive but has been made even more so in recent years by new landscaping that extends it much further, with new cafes lined up to take in the extra views. Personally, I still like the heart of the waterfront where the wooden gulets (yachts) are lined up best of all. You don't have to take a boat ride, but you'd have to be pretty determined to pass up all the offers, whether it's just a quick whip round the bay on the “12 Islands” cruise, a run over to Göçek to shop at its Sunday market, or a real “blue cruise” taking in some of the sights along the coastline while sleeping onboard beneath the stars.
Behind the waterfront, Fethiye offers a sprawling bazaar area and an old hamam (Turkish bath). It's all pretty touristy but no less fun for all that, and if you wander into the old fish market area, select your fish, then have it cooked and served to you at one of the tables nearby, you're more or less guaranteed to have a good time.
The formal tourist attractions of Fethiye are relatively minor: the picturesque but not especially exciting Carian tombs cut into the rock at the back of town, the theater that has just been rather controversially restored and a museum housing the finds from nearby sites such as Tlos and the Letoon. But the surrounding area more than makes up for this. Indeed, you'll be spoilt for choice whether your tastes run to the Lycian archaeological sites at Tlos, Pınara, Patara and Xanthos-Letoon, the latter a world heritage site; to the glorious beach-fringed lagoon at Ölüdeniz; to the daredevil thrill of paragliding off Baba Dağı (Mt. Baba); to wading through ice-cold water in the Saklıkent Gorge; or to cruising along the river from Dalyan to İztuzu Beach where you can visit a hospital set up to care for injured loggerhead turtles. From Ölüdeniz there's also a wonderful boat ride to lovely Butterfly Valley where you'll just about have time to race inland to inspect a small waterfall.
The one excursion you should be sure to make is to the ruins of Kayaköy, as the old Levissi the place that inspired “Birds Without Wings” author Louis de Bernieres to set pen to paper. Levissi had to be abandoned in 1923 when the “Greek” Christians living in Turkey were forced to relocate to Greece while the “Turkish” Muslims in Greece came to live in Turkey. Fewer Turks arrived than Greeks departed and the settlement was eventually allowed to fall into ruin, its doors and windows scavenged for new buildings, its churches left to rot.
The reason why this excursion should top your list is that, not for the first time, plans are currently being floated to rebuild part of the settlement. Conceivably, if this was done slowly and carefully for non-commercial reasons, it might not be a disaster. However, talk of creating an “international brand” around the ruins has left many fretting about what might happen. If you're the sort of person who likes to wander amid ruins and let your imagination take wing then you might not have that opportunity for much longer.
The nearest airport to Fethiye is in Dalaman.
Far bigger than Fethiye, Antalya will suit those who like to be able to indulge their usual urban habits even while holidaying near a beach. The waterfront of Fethiye is longer and prettier than the harbor area of Antalya. However, Fethiye has almost no old architecture while the Kaleiçi (Inner Castle) area of old Antalya is choc-a-block with lovely old Ottoman houses, some beautifully restored, some rebuilt, some still awaiting a savior. Mixed in with these houses are Roman remains, including the fine Arch of Hadrian that serves as one entrance to the area, as well as several attractive Ottoman mosques, one of them with a fluted minaret that crops up in many photographs.
When it comes to specific attractions within the town Antalya beats Fethiye hands down. The Antalya Museum is one of the finest in the country, showcasing the finds from the nearby ruins of Perge in particular, but in Kaleiçi there is also a lovely private museum, the Suna and İnan Kiraç Museum, partially housed in a disused church and emphasizing aspects of Turkish culture such as weddings and circumcisions. The town also boasts a fine new aquarium and a large aquapark.
As with Fethiye, so with Antalya, there's a wide choice of places to visit on local day trips. Organized excursions often take in the extensive Roman ruins not just of Perge but also of nearby Side and Aspendos, which is home to a beautifully restored Classical theater. You can also visit the beautiful seaside ruins of Phaselis and the mountainside ruins of Termessos, or the cave at Karain in which traces of prehistoric settlement have been found.
Slightly further afield you can ride the Olympos Teleferik, a cable car running up Tahtalı Dağı (Mt Tahtalı, 2365m) and offering splendid views (on a clear day) across the Beydağları (Bey Mountains) national park to the sea. Those with a private car can also drive to Olympos and Çiralı where the Chimaera, an inextinguishable flame, shoots up beside the rocky mountain path. You could even drive up to Sagalassos, another mountainside archaeological site where the old fountains built by the Greeks and Romans now flow with water once again.
If Fethiye is all about boat rides and paragliding, Antalya is best known for white-water rafting and golfing. The white-water rafting takes place in the lovely Köprülü Kanyon, a 14-kilometer-long canyon east of Antalya, which is one of the most popular places in the whole country for trying out the sport, not least because some of the runs are suitable for less experienced rafters.
The golfing takes place in Belek, which specializes in catering to those for whom no holiday would be complete without being able to hit a small white ball across a green. Belek also majors on huge hotels that are the antithesis of the boutique offerings of the Kaleiçi. Vast and frequently themed, they are mostly all-inclusive and perfect for family holidays.
Antalya has its own international airport with a second not far away in Gazipaşa, near Alanya.