Tantalised by Turkey: A wonderfully diverse way to see Istanbul
European city breaks
Istanbul, where east meets west, is one of my favourite cities.
It's such a vibrant, multi-cultured hub with an abundance of sight-seeing, shopping, good food and fun. We travelled from Dublin with Turkish Airlines and settled in with a good movie, a glass of wine and its extensive and yummy in-flight menu.
Turkish Airlines is a great airline and it has won the Skytrax award for Europe's best airline for the last six years. It even has a chef on board. And Molton Brown in the loo.
We based ourselves in the Sura Hagia Sophia Hotel which, as its name suggests, is in the heart of things near the Hagia Sophia Museum and the Blue Mosque - two must-see places in Istanbul. With a garden, a swimming pool, a spa and Turkish baths, it's a real find in such a central location.
It wasn't my first time visiting the Hagia Sophia - also called the Church of the Holy Wisdom - but as a building it never ceases to impress. Starting out as a Christian church it was converted into a mosque in the 15th century but has been a museum since 1934. A stunning wooden door is said to make you beautiful if you touch it. I tried it last time and nothing happened so I refrained this time. I'll have to stay as I am.
There's a weeping pillar where the Emperor Justinian is said to have rested his aching head and was immediately cured. Nowadays, people stick their fingers in the hole and make a wish. I did that. No luck yet.
The Blue Mosque is a hop, skip and a jump away and in order to enter you have to don some very unflattering gear. A blue skirt and a blue shawl. And bare feet. Cornmarket Street in my native Cork and the Shawlies came to mind. (A photo of me that cannot be described as "beguiling" is floating around out there somewhere. There is a contract out on whoever has it.)
There's a huge sense of peace and devotion when you enter the building. Thick carpets make for silent and peaceful surroundings. Women pray in one section and men in another. The mosque gets its name from the multitudinous blue tiles that decorate the interior.
Just up the road is the Grand Bazaar, A massive market selling everything from lighting to jewellery, pottery, rugs, bags, cushions, spices and much more. The first structure was Ic Bedesten, a Byzantine building where slaves were sold. Today it sells antiques. There are 22 gates to the market so if you are meeting somebody back at a gate be sure to remember the number. The adjoining little streets all provide a colourful mix of shops, stalls and restaurants.
Some of the stalls are not cheap. I spotted a gorgeous large plate and without any consideration as to how I was going to get it back, inquired as to the cost. €125 I was told. It was going to be a present, but I don't love anyone that much.
And then it was off to Antalya, a one-hour flight with Turkish Airlines from Istanbul, and the Gloria Golf Resort. Turkey may not be renowned for its golf but the Belek area boasts lots of wonderful courses. The Turkish Airlines Open is always held in this area. I know because David Horsey was second this year and I had an each way bet on him (his mam is from Cork).
The Gloria Golf Resort has three courses - the old 18-hole course, the new 18-hole and the Verde which is nine holes. There are three Gloria resorts right next to each other, with a choice of restaurants. And it's not your buffet queue set up. It's the way I like to dine - table service and a la carte. We ate at the fish restaurant. A starter of shrimp casserole with tomato, garlic and mozzarella, followed by grilled jumbo shrimp with artichoke butter, and French beans with lobster bisque sauce was sublime. I like my shrimps.
Turkish food is amazing. Street food is huge here. Purveyors of corn on the cob and roasted chestnuts line the streets. Meze is also huge. A selection of mouthwatering starters to share is the order of the day.
The following night we ventured to the Gloria Serenity, which is next door to the golf resort, and indulged in grilled octopus accompanied by smoked aubergine puree and pomegranate syrup, followed by oven-baked grouper coated with fennel and butter, and pumpkin cake to finish.
An all-inclusive golf holiday is a great idea. Parents can play golf while the kids enjoy the kids club, and everyone is happy. Golf in the morning, beach in the afternoon, followed by a spa treatment or a Turkish bath. What more could you want?
I watched lots of energetic women looking great in minuscule little skirts and muscular legs waiting for their buggy to take them on to the course. It's a look I could never hope to achieve.
The Gloria Golf Resort has a small water park which both parents and kids can enjoy. And while the whole set up is vast, it doesn't feel like that.
There are some hotel rooms, where you feel immediately at home. Mine was firmly in that category. I loved my balcony and my comfortable chairs to relax with my fag and tipple from the all-inclusive mini bar before dinner. Bliss.
Orange trees abound in Antalya and there is always fresh orange juice for breakfast which is a must for me. That and a freshly made omelette out by the pool is just pure hedonism.
It's now official that I will never be a golfer. Nuh, the on-course professional at Gloria, took us to the driving range. People always said to me "Ah you played hockey, you'll be good at golf". I'm not and I never will be. I'm pathetic.
The fact that one of our gang who was standing behind me in the next booth kept on singing "I see you baby, shaking that ass" didn't help. But it's really no excuse for hitting fresh air.
Lunch of a tasty steak sandwich and a glass of white wine in the clubhouse was much more my line. The walls are adorned with pictures of superstar golfers Darren Clarke and John Daly, accompanied by the rather unfortunately named Turkish businessman Mustafa Koc, who played with Darren at the Alfred Dunhill Links.
Belek is a town in the Serik district of the Antalya province and there is lots to do in the area.
The city of Antalya is a short drive away and well worth the trip. Wide boulevards and a beautiful old town with quirky little shops and courtyard cafes make it a great day trip.
Before I went, somebody told me not to miss the Archaeological Museum, one of Turkey's biggest museums with 5,000 works of art and 13 exhibition halls. Roman marble sculptures, Bronze Age urns and silver from early Byzantine churches make it a special place. The view down to the harbour from the cliff top of the town is great. A lift takes you to the port and a little beach area below. A fluted minaret is a prominent landmark in the old town.
Two of the ancient wonders of the world, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus and the Temple of Artemis are in Turkey and archaeological treasures abound throughout the country.
The ancient city of Perge is fascinating. Once a wealthy city, it went into decline in the 7th century but the ruins remain. Hellenistic towers at the entrance to the city, Roman baths, an ancient theatre and colonnaded streets make it an archaeologist's delight. The nearby amphitheatre at Aspendos, capacity 12,000, is amazing. Beautifully preserved and built around AD162, traces of 13th century paint can still be seen. Events are still held here. The atmosphere must be fantastic.
We visited the Duden Waterfalls, a few miles from Antalya city, at night. Brightly lit with lights on either side, it's a truly mystical scene.
My trip to Turkey was a wonderful way to see a wonderful country. From the multi-cultural, vibrant city of Istanbul to the Turkish Riviera that is Antalya.
With its natural beauty, golf courses, historical sites, shopping and sea, sand and sun, it couldn't have been a more varied trip and a wonderfully diverse experience.
Take two: Top attractions
Try a kebab: doner, (sliced meat), shish (cubed) or adana (minced). And you must try yoghurt soup and imam bayildi (aubergines stuffed with tomatoes, onions and garlic).
Great for golf
Most golf clubs are attached to a resort. The Montgomerie Maxx Royal in Belek, designed by Colin Montgomerie, hosted the Turkish Airlines Open in 2013. You’ll like the back nine holes — they are floodlit so you can play at night. so you can play well into the night
Turkish Airlines (turkishairlines.com; 01 525 18 49) flies to 299 destinations in 120 countries and has a modern fleet consisting of 337 aircraft (passenger and cargo). It currently operates 14 weekly flights from Dublin.
Baggage allowance: Economy class 23kg plus 8kg hand luggage; Business class 23kg + 23kg (46kg in total). The airline does not charge for the first set of golf and skiing equipment.
Round trip economy class, Dublin-Istanbul-Antalya costs from €295 (including taxes). Business class from €1,075 only (including taxes).
Sura Design Hotel & Suites Istanbul: suradesignhotel.com
Gloria Hotels & Resorts: gloria.com.tr/en/resorts/gloria-golf-resort