Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, where the Toros (Taurus) mountain range sweeps down to meet the sea, broadly divides into three parts. The stretch from Antalya to Alanya is the most accessible tourist region, although intensive agriculture, particularly cotton growing, and package tourism have taken a toll on the environment. East of Alanya, the mountains meet the sea head-on, making for some of Turkey’s most hair-raising roads, curving around jagged stretches of coastline. As a result, this is the least developed and unspoilt section of the Mediterranean shore. Further east the mountains finally recede, giving way to the flat, monotonous landscape of the Ceyhan river delta. South and east of here, turning the corner towards Syria, the landscape becomes more interesting, as the Amanus mountain range dominates the fertile coastal plain, with citrus crops and olives the mainstay of the economy.
The bustling, modern city of Antalya is the prime arrival and junction point. East of here, in the ancient region of Pamphylia, the ruins of three cities – Perge, Aspendos and Side – testify to the sophisticated civilization that flourished during the Hellenistic period, and are well-established day-trip destinations from Antalya. The more isolated Termessos, a Pisidian city north of Antalya, is the most spectacularly sited, with its rugged hilltop terrain peppered with stone ruins.
Seventy kilometres east along the coast from Side, the former pirate refuge of Alanya – now a bustling package-tour destination – is set on and around a dramatic headland topped by a Selçuk citadel. Continuing east, the best places to break your journey are Anamur, where a ruined Hellenistic city abuts some of this coast’s finest beaches, and Kızkalesi, whose huge Byzantine castle sits 200m from the shore of a sandy bay. Kızkalesi also makes a good base from which to explore the ancient city of Uzuncaburç, a lonely ruin high in the Toros Mountains.
Beyond Kızkalesi, in the fertile alluvial delta known as the Çukurova, the Ceyhan River spills down from the mountains and meanders sluggishly into the eastern Mediterranean. This end of the coast – characterized by concentrations of industry and low-lying cotton plantations – has very little to recommend it. Mersin offers regular ferry connections to northern Cyprus; Tarsus, the birthplace of St Paul, holds a few surviving reminders of its long history; and Adana, one of the country’s largest urban centres, is a hectic staging post for journeys further east.
From Adana, routes head north to the central Anatolian plateau, or east to the Euphrates and Tigris basins; this chapter turns its attention south, towards the area formed by the curve of the coast down towards Syria. This is the Hatay, a fertile, hilly region where different cultures have met – and often clashed – in their efforts to dominate the important Silk Route trade. Antakya, the Hatay’s main centre, is the best starting point for explorations, though cosmopolitan İskenderun makes for a surprisingly agreeable base. Antakya has frequent dolmuş connections to Harbiye, site of the Roman resort of Daphne, and to the town of Samandağ, from where you can visit Armenian Vakıflı.