Turkish delight

Letoonia Golf Resort’s fun-in-the-sun experience scored a 100 per cent hit rate with Madeleine Lyons’s two children

Sat, Jan 18, 2014, 12:37

Two words jumped off the page: “all-inclusive”. At the tail end of a busy few months, the prospect of all-you-can-eat buffets, cashless bars and rooms cleaned daily was irresistible. Not a supermarket or a washing machine in sight – yes please.

A week at Letoonia Golf Resort on the Mediterranean coast of southwest Turkey didn’t disappoint. Belek is a sweep of Anatolian coastline that has been colonised by huge hotels in the past 20 years specifically designed to attract golf tourists and all-inclusive holiday-makers.

In early June, the weather was unremittingly glorious. Hilariously we were told the weather wasn’t great for the time of year – they clearly haven’t seen a wet weekend in the west of Ireland in high summer. Temperatures were about 26 degrees daily, perfect for our two kids who spent about seven hours a day in and out of the water.

Letoonia is a child’s paradise. The bougainvillea-strewn hotel and a series of villas are arranged around landscaped gardens with a huge newly refurbished pool complex at its heart. Here there are two aqua slides to rival anything you would find in a water park, two large pools to explore and, across a wooden walkway, there’s a big stretch of beach. Add to this an all-day juice and ice cream bar and a crepe station for cheesy pancakes on the lounger and it turns out that’s pretty much everything a child could want. Wait, no . . . throw in a water gun from the shop. Now you’re set.

With 492 rooms, Letoonia Golf Resort accommodates up to 1,300 people, many of whom pay in advance – usually through tour operators – for the all-inclusive experience.

It’s a five-star by Turkish standards, although the standard would not compare with typical European five-star expectations. The experience is like a very high- end European campsite holiday but with great accommodation, service and food included.

We stayed in two spacious adjoining double rooms in the main hotel. Although slightly dated, it more than met our requirements. Two en-suite bathrooms made for double-quick shower turnaround times in the evening.

The food experience can be hit and miss. A vast dining area is furnished daily with a bewildering array of hot and cold foods, salads, fruits, cheeses and desserts. The choices appear endless, but the large numbers of Russian clientele is well catered for here, leaving pretty standard fare when it comes to what you actually want on your plate. A culinary highlight was a very impressive Turkish barbecue on the last night, where the boat gets pushed out completely. The staff don traditional dress and meats, poultry and fish of every shape and variety are sizzling away or turning on a spit amid flaming torches and billowing flags. Meanwhile, a clown dispenses enormous ice creams to the children.

Elsewhere on the resort, there are à la carte Asian, Turkish and fish restaurants. We found the Mediterranean fare at the Turkish restaurant to be the best.

There is a full-on schedule of entertainment for children and adults ranging from kids clubs to zumba lessons to beach volleyball to rather hotly contested water polo matches (England v Holland proved quite memorable). The time-honoured practice of booking loungers at breakfast time by putting down towels is alive and well here, but even laggards like ourselves usually found something.

There is a kids club on site which has a nice shady set-up comprising a den and small playground. When we visited, it seemed to be mainly Russian children availing of the service, unsurprising given that they tend to comprise the majority among guests.

The energetic team looking after all of the on-site entertainment during the day transforms into the cast of the nightly show staged in a lovely purpose-built amphitheatre. The productions are good family entertainment and they made a great round-off to some of the evenings. A movie under the stars another night proved enchanting.

A surprisingly pleasant finish to one evening came when we looked around after dinner and realised suddenly that we couldn’t spot the children, only to discover each of them asleep in beach hammocks alongside the restaurant. Seven hours a day in the water takes its toll, you know.

If the non-stop pool and beach action becomes too much, there are pockets of sanctuary. There is an adult-only “relax” pool about five minutes from the main complex – ideal for some uninterrupted reading.

There is also a very well-equipped spa offering a vast array of treatments. An invigorating sports massage certainly had a restorative effect, while the Turkish bath and peel comes recommended, too.

About 30 minutes away is Antalya city, a big sea resort. One day we ventured off campus and headed for its old quarter, Kaleici, down by the picturesque port. Its winding cobbled streets are located within the original city walls where Hadrian’s gate, constructed by the Romans in the 2nd century in honour of the emperor Hadrian, is a highlight. The place has been regenerated in recent years and the marina area features lots of chic bars and restaurants.

For anyone in the market for a designer handbag that might not be entirely original or a Turkish rug, there is a shop for one or both approximately every 10 feet. Despite repeated warnings about buying pigs in pokes, our guide eventually relented and directed us to the Deepo factory outlet centre on the outskirts of Antalya, which provided some good retail therapy.

Of course, not satisfied with quality fare at reasonable prices, on the last day I availed of the rather quaint tractor-and- cart “shuttle” that operates between the hotel strip where Letoonia is located and the unmissable shopping zone with the words “Belek City Centre” optimistically emblazoned across the entrance archway.

There were clearly far more ambitious plans for this place at one point, but now unfinished roundabouts lead nowhere. What remains are scores of shops selling broadly similar replica clothing and shoes. Don’t expect to buy anything genuine here, the real challenge lies in seeing how cheaply you can haggle as much inauthentic swag as possible. Three handbags and countless T-shirts and hoodies later, I trundled back on the truck feeling very satisfied and only slightly impoverished.

While it calls itself Letoonia Golf Resort, the experience on site is restricted to a small golf range, but 14-plus golf courses have sprung up in the area in recent years.

The shiny newness and grandiose nature of the clubhouses is particularly striking at Antalya Golf Club. Its PGA Sultan course is one of the top-rated courses and it hosted the inaugural Turkish Airlines Open last year. The tree-lined fairways – which seem to get narrower as the round progresses – and many water features provide a serious but enjoyable challenge.

The Peter Thompson-designed Carya golf club, described as Turkey’s first heathland course, opened in 2008. It too is an attractive course and probably a little more accessible than Sultan.

The hotel arranged discounted green fees, club hire – the sets were excellent – and drop-off and pick-up from the clubs. June to August is low season due to the summer heat so there is good value to be had if you play early. You can easily be totting up your score in the shaded balcony of the clubhouse or back poolside in your hotel before midday. Although it’s a bit further away, Belek’s offering of all-inclusive hotel/green fee deals and the quality and proximity of the courses make it a real option for keen golfers looking for a new destination.

The resort itself offers a guaranteed fun- in-the-sun experience, which had a 100 per cent hit rate with our two kids. They still get misty-eyed talking about it and declare it the best holiday they’ve ever had.

Adults seeking cultural stimulation might be advised to incorporate a couple of day trips or outings to sample a little of the rich Turkish culture beyond the all-you-can-eat buffet.

Getting there
Letoonia is 57km from Dalaman airport and 30km from Antalya airport.

Charter flights operate daily to Dalaman from 39 UK airports (charterflights.co.uk +4484 5 05 0153). Flights start from £145 (€176). British Airways (+4487

0850 9850) also flies daily to Dalaman. We flew with Turkish Airlines from Dublin to Istanbul and transferred to Antalya.


What it costs

Letoonia Resort (letooniaresorts.com; +90 242 444 0280) is open from April 11th to November 3rd.

All-inclusive week (flights extra) based on two adults sharing, costs from £980 (€1,190) in May (children under 12, £245/€298), and from £1,736 (€2,108) in July/August (children under 12, £434/€527). Children under 2 are free.

A week, full-board for two adults including flights with Thomson (thomson.co.uk; +44871 231 4691) costs from £1,204 (€1,462) in April/May (from £521/€632 for children under 12) and from £2,685 (€3,259) in July/August (from £815/€989 for children up to 12), decreasing again in Sept/October. Children under two years are free.

Where to go

Antalya is a port city about 40km from Letoonia. Within the old city walls there’s a buzzy marina area with good restaurants, boutiques and bars.

There are 14 golf courses within the vicinity. Golfers booking directly with Letoonia can arrange transfers and avail of discounts on all tee time reservations made through the hotel.

Side, half an hour to the east of Belek, is a historic site. Founded by Greeks in the 7th century BC, it was taken over and occupied by the Romans in 78BC. These civilisations developed the port and constructed an amphi-
theatre, a market square with arches and marble columns, and a Roman temple on the peninsula.

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