Turkiye is not all ancient and historical sights, dramatic art, architectural icons, spice markets and religion. I learned this firsthand after taking a short, domestic flight south to Antalya on luxurious Turkish Airlines from Istanbul’s impossibly stylish, modern and spacious airport.
The Antalya region and its big beach and golf resorts felt more like Maui-on-the-Mediterranean.
Elif Balci Fisunoglu, with the Turkish Tourism Development Agency, explained why the setting is advantageous. “Turkiye is a Mediterranean country with beaches on the Aegean Sea and a border on the Black Sea. We have 300 days of sunshine.”
Golfers needn’t miss out on the swimming and surf. There are several fully lit night golf courses, including the Montgomerie at Maxx Royal Belek or Regnum Carya Golf Club. There are 20 courses in the Antalya region; many include beer and lunch.
“Tiger Woods once competed here in the Turkish Airlines Open. I think it was the last time he had fun before his injuries and troubles,” said manager Cahit Sahin, who mysteriously emerged from the dark trees to chat on the fourth hole of a night round on the Montgomerie Course.
By the way, Turkiye is the only place I’d ever, with a wayward shot, hit a waterslide with a golf ball. My sightseeing ball flew off the Cullinan Links Olympos Course with a thud.
But Still the Flavor of Turkiye?
But I did not travel to Turkiye to stay in generic hotels and feel like I was in Hawaii or Cancun. Thankfully, nothing in Turkiye is plain or predictable. Even in this resort setting, I still found bizarre Turkish delights between the tourist-attracting amusement parks, panoramic cove-side streets and shops to stroll in the old town and harbor of Kaleici.
I found just enough international intrigue to save a sense of place. For instance, one property was called the Kremlin Palace Hotel, and I spotted a resort ferry boat named “Titanic Princess.” Cilgo Dondurmaci is no ordinary ice cream stand. It’s like a stage from which a legendary, sexy star in sunglasses scoops gelato with slight-of-hand while dancing to Turkish disco music.
In Antalya, I was met by a retired Turkish Army officer-turned-tour-guide. Major Cengiz Aykota had trained in America and served in Tehran. Since I insisted on respectfully referring to the badass bald guy as “Major” during our time in Turkiye, I decided he could playfully call me “Holy Father.”
Turkiye’s government is supposed to be secular. But Aykota resisted revealing a requisite religion other than to admit, “When I hear the Call to Prayer sung in the morning, suddenly God is in the shower with me.”
Heck, even I felt that way when I would hear the melodious Muslim mantra emanating from turrets throughout Turkiye multiple times a day.
The Major was a peaceful man. He shared with me how he calls his young granddaughter by the nickname of “Skunk.” She replies, “No, grandpa, it is ‘squirrel!’”
Vacation, Leisure, Activity and Entertainment
Major Ayoka was full of facts, including explaining that the Turkish flag symbolizes that “the sky is the limit.” That philosophy is evident in terms of Turkiye’s tourism commitment. Consider the no-limit, poolside gelato bar with a view of a sandy, sprawling lazy river pool and beachfront overwater cabanas at the massive Maxx Royal Golf Resort in Belek.
You can watch three live bands on property, including elaborately choreographed stage shows with orchestras. All this while tasting authentic Turkish meze and dishes such as pide, kofte and kebab every night at Marsea, one of the resort’s many dining delights. (Salt Bae, Turkish celeb chef, eat your heart out.)
Also, be sure to dine with heart at 7 Mehmet Restaurant. Here, local chef Mehmet Akdag presents Mediterranean meat and rice dishes and Turkish wines in a chic terrace setting with sea views.
Or have a tranquil culinary experience on the “ocean floor” at the underwater Nemo Aquarium Restaurant in the Land of Legends entertainment complex, where chef Anuj Sarkar serves seafood with Pan-Asian flavors surrounded by live sharks.
Back In Istanbul
I was enjoying an experience one could only imagine in a culturally rich, historical metropolis such as Istanbul. It is one of the world’s oldest cities and served as the capital of the Roman, Byzantium and Ottoman Empires.
After a day in Sultanahmet and Taksim Squares, seeing the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Grand Bazaar, plus strolling lively Istikal Street, and climbing the scenic and photogenic Galata Tower Museum, I was ready to relax.
My sublime setting at twilight was Le Fumoir, the outdoor but covered bar in the courtyard gardens of the world-class Kempinski Ciragan Palace Hotel. The landmark property is a 17th-century ornate Ottoman treasure on the European edge of the commercially busy Bosphorus Strait, the watery trade route just across which is Asia.
With a traditional Shisha pipe delivering custom-blended, flavored tobacco between my lips and the Call to Prayer sending dramatic Muslim melodies and moaning into my ears, I still managed to listen quietly and closely to breathe in every word of my host, Mr. Ralph Radtke.
“President Erdogan comes to the hotel regularly,” said Radtke, the Ciragan Palace’s German general manager, after a draw on his mild Cuban cigar. He was speaking of Turkiye’s leader, but Radtke’s met them all. His role in the former Constantinople at the “crossroads of the world,” managing what has been dubbed the “World’s Best Hotel,” makes him a global diplomat.
Radtke sat on the patio couch across the glass coffee table wearing an open collar under a grey suit accented by fanciful pocket silk, frameless wire glasses and a designer watch. A 71-year-old potentate with presence, he needed only a fez to complete the sparkle Sydney Greenstreet gave off portraying the influential Blue Parrot Café owner “Signor Ferrari” in the famed film “Casablanca.”
Radtke, though humble and of good humor, is a hospitality star. He honed his hospitality chops working in places like Paris, Thailand, Moscow, Abidjan, Kiev and Vienna. He has been bestowed the titles of Officer in the Order of Merit of the Ivory Coast and the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and founded a children’s home for victims of genocide in Rwanda.
My experience with him in that setting felt like the intriguing Turkiye I had anticipated.
But I am open to more surprises.
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