Alanya is Turkey's hottest resort town—literally. Temperatures here are higher than almost anywhere else in Turkey, averaging 106°F (27°C) in July and August; the waves lapping the long Mediterranean beaches that sweep toward Alanya's great rock citadel are only a degree or two cooler. This makes high summer in Alanya heaven for sun-starved, disco-loving, hard-drinking northern Europeans but rather hellish for anyone seeking a quiet holiday surrounded by nature. That said, Alanya is home to one of Turkey's biggest year-round expatriate communities, and in spring and autumn it's a pleasantly warm and inexpensive place to indulge in a few days of easily accessible swimming, historic sites, and good food. Foreign influence has encouraged this city to clean up its act. Former wastelands of concrete-block apartments are now colorfully painted; Ottoman districts around the harbor are well on the way to being restored; and the eclectic jumble of houses inside the magnificent red-walled citadel contains an increasing number of handsome boutique hotels. Other improvements include the opening of a microbrewery (Red Tower, which serves what may be the best beer in Turkey) and the debut of touch-screen bike rentals around the city center. Alanya is famed for its sandy beaches, within walking distance of most hotels. The best swimming place is known as Cleopatra's Beach—yet another accretion to the fables surrounding Mark Antony's courtship of the Egyptian queen—and its yellow sands extend northwest from the citadel. Boats can be hired from the harbor for relaxing day tours to caves around the citadel and a view of the only surviving Seljuk naval arsenal. Alanya, called Kalanaoros by the Byzantines, was captured by the sultan Alaaddin Keykubad in 1221 and became the Turkish Seljuks' first Mediterranean stronghold in their centuries-long migration westward. Several amusing stories explain the Seljuk sultan's conquest: one says he married the commander's daughter, another that he tied torches to the horns of thousands of goats and drove them up the hill in the dark of night, suggesting a great army was attacking. Most likely, he simply cut a deal. Once settled, he modestly renamed the place Alaiya, after himself, and built defensive walls to ensure he would never be dislodged. The Ottomans arrived in 1471, and gave it its current name, Alanya.
Alanya's nightlife centers around its harbour and the explosive beat on İskele Caddesi—although there are also a few large dance clubs in Dimçay, about 5 km (3 miles) outside town. Bars often have extensive menus, and restaurants frequently have live music or turn into impromptu discos after dinner.
This modern, air-conditioned cake shop is the best place in town for restoring lagging caffeine or blood sugar levels—perhaps before an assault on the citadel above. It's part of a modern chain that has expanded rapidly through Turkish cities thanks to the excellent cakes, pastries, and sweets. The upstairs area has a nice harbor view.
Red Tower Brewery Restaurant
This is one of Turkey's first microbreweries, and the beer here is some of the best you'll find in the country. Choices include a traditional pilsner and dark Marzen ale. Different eateries on each floor serve everything from kebabs to sushi; all overlook the Alanya harbor and Red Tower fortifications. In summer you can dine on the terrace across the road. On the roof is an open-air Skylounge Bar.
This fine restaurant is poised on a pretty terrace right on Cleopatra's Beach, and it looks up to the citadel towering overhead, with enough foliage to make modern Alanya disappear. The dinner menu is heavy on meat (try the lamb with rosemary), but there is also a more basic snack menu at lunch.
This long-standing favorite promises a delightful view of the harbor and excellent traditional Turkish fare that's focused on fresh seafood. If you're lucky, they'll have grida (grouper) as a daily special; if not, try the fried squid with local tarator sauce—a mixture of yogurt, garlic, lemon, walnuts, olive oil, and bread.
A few blocks north of the fray, Flash attracts more locals than tourists and survives on word of mouth. It's known for soups, steaks, kebabs, and kiremit stew cooked in clay bowls.
James Dean Bar
The James Dean Bar is popular and less expensive than some of the other haunts on the strip.
Robin Hood Bar
The Sherwood forest—themed, three-floor Robin Hood Bar is the biggest on the block; it's open year round and tries to cater to all tastes.
Near the seafront on the road to Antalya, this hugely popular club and its sister restaurant Fresco are part of the same sprawling complex. Two large bars among the palm trees have a dance floor cooled with outdoor air-conditioning (really!). Drinks start flowing at 6 pm, and the music doesn't stop until about 4 am. Free transport to/from Alanya is available for groups of five or more.
A minor masterpiece of Mediterranean military architecture, the 100-foot-high Kızıl Kule was built by the Seljuks in 1225 to defend Alanya's harbor and the nearby shipyard known as the tersane (arsenal). Sophisticated technology for the time was imported in the form of an architect from Aleppo who was familiar with Crusader castle building. The octagonal redbrick structure includes finely judged angles of fire for archers manning the loopholes, cleverly designed stairs to cut attackers off, and a series of troughs to convey boiling tar and melted lead onto besieging forces. Nowadays the Red Tower's cool passages house temporary exhibits, usually less captivating than the view from the roof. A short walk south along the water—or along the castle walls, if you prefer—is the tersane, which is made up of five workshops, all under an arched roof. Ships could be pulled up under the vaulted stone arches for building or repairs, and the cover was likely also useful for storing war supplies.
It's worth dropping by the small, recently renovated small Alanya Müzesi just to see the perfectly preserved Roman bronze statue of a gleaming, muscular Hercules from the 2nd century AD. There are also two nice mosaics, some interesting stone altars, and limestone ossuaries. Note the Ottoman Greek inscriptions in Karamanli—Turkish written with the Greek alphabet.
Views of the splendid castle or kale, on a mighty crag surrounded on three sides by the sea, dominate all roads into Alanya. The crenellated outer walls are 7 km (4 miles) long and include 146 towers. The road pierces these outer walls through a modern break, dividing as it heads up the summit. One section leads to the İç Kale (inner fortress), the other to the Ehmediye; both have places to park. If you don't have a car, there is a bus to the summit, which allows you to walk up or down through the old city's residential area, starting or ending at the Kızıl Kule—it's a hot trek in summer, though.In the center of the castle are the remains of the original bedestan (bazaar); the erstwhile old shops are now rooms in the lackluster Bedestan Hotel. Along a road to the top of the promontory, a third wall and a ticket office defends the İç Kale (Keep). Inside are the ruins of a Byzantine church, with some 6th-century frescoes of the evangelists. Keykubad probably also had a palace here, although discoveries by the McGhee Center of Georgetown University—itself housed in a beautiful Ottoman mansion perched on the cliff-face between the first and second ring of walls—indicates that in times of peace the Seljuk elite probably preferred their pleasure gardens and their hunting and equestrian sports on the well-watered plain below. Steps ascend to the battlement on the summit. A viewing platform is built on the spot where condemned prisoners and women convicted of adultery were once cast to their deaths. The ticket is also valid for the Ehmediye area, past the 17th-century Suleymaniye Camii, where a small citadel is built on the foundations of classical walls. Admire the ruined monastery down below but do not attempt to descend toward it—the mountainside is very treacherous.