Turkey's Eastern Mediterranean means different things to different people. For holidaying Europeans, it's a radiant and razzle-dazzle beach paradise, with the calm ocean and high-rise resorts around Side and Alanya stretching further than the eye can see. Sometimes referred to as the Turkish Riviera, this part of the Eastern Med tends to fill up to an almost unbearable degree during the high season. But arrive just before or after the crowds, and you'll find largely empty beaches and discounted guesthouses. While the development -- some would say destruction -- of Turkey's Western littoral is well documented, it doesn't take much to discover what drew the developers here in the first place. Even amid highways, high-rises and discos, the beauty of the place still manages to shimmer through. Marmaris, for example, is as shocking for the stunning beauty of its natural harbour as it is for the concrete jungle engulfing its once-charming old town.
Best of all is the region's seamless mix of history and holiday. A stroll at midnight along a beach in Patara, Olympos & Çirali will suddenly send you back thousands of years as you pass a Lycian tomb or a tremendous Corinthian temple. And between the two extremes lie some quaint coastal towns still clinging to their original charm, such as Kalkan, Kekova, Kaş or the very beautiful Kaleköy. There are signs too that things are a-changing as the region's authorities at last awaken to the importance of sensitive development.
To get a feel for how the Turks themselves holiday, make your way through the rugged and twisting mountain range to the east and head towards the resort areas of Anamur and Kızkalesi. Visiting Turks -- and Western archaeology students -- treat this part of the country as an open-air museum, because of the massive amount of impressive ruins scattered about. Once the mountain range flattens out into the wide-open Cukurova Plain to the east, the cities become much larger, more metropolitan and more imposing. Tourists are almost nonexistent in the large industrial cities of Merlin, Adana and İskenderun. However, those who do choose to brave the urban hustle are rewarded with rarely visited nearby sites, such as the Roman fortress city of Anazarbus, just northeast of Adana. The Armenian retreat of Yılankale is also close, as are a number of important Hittite and Christian sites.
The vibe and energy of the Eastern Mediterranean takes on a considerable change south of İskenderun, due to the area's proximity to the Syrian border. Here is one of Turkey's most fascinating mixes of cultures, religions and languages. In towns such as Antakya you'll find Sunnis, Alevis and Orthodox Christians living side by side, and spoken Arabic can still be heard on the streets.