Travel Postcard: 48 hours in Hatay, Turkey

Fri May 18, 2012 10:17am EDT
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By Jonathon Burch

HATAY, Turkey (Reuters) - With thousands of refugees now taking shelter in Hatay after fleeing violence just across the border in their Syrian homeland, Turkey's panhandle province has been in the news over the past year for all the wrong reasons.

But spend a couple of days exploring this fascinating subculture of Turkey and you will discover an area steeped in ancient history, hospitality and tolerance - Jews; Orthodox, Protestant and Roman Catholic Christians; Sunni, Shi'ite and Alevi Muslims all worship here in virtual harmony.

Home to the ancient cities of Alexandretta or modern-day Iskenderun, the Mediterranean port where the whale is said to have spat out the prophet Jonah; and Antioch or modern-day Antakya, once the Roman Empire's third-most important city where St. Paul preached his first sermons and where Christians were first called Christians, Hatay is a lesson in Biblical history.

But most modern Turks come here for another reason: to eat. Once a part of Syria, Hatay has been blessed with its own rich cuisine that draws inspiration from northern Africa to the Middle East to Central Asia.

So with several airlines now operating daily flights to Hatay from Istanbul and Ankara, it's time to dust off the history books and put those diets on hold and discover one of Turkey's most well-kept secrets far off the beaten track.


8 p.m. - Check in to The Liwan, a 1920s French colonial-style mansion typical of Hatay's main city Antakya that has now been beautifully restored into a boutique hotel. Built for the first president of the French Mandate of Syria, The Liwan boasts crystal chandeliers, carved wooden bed frames and velvet chairs that give a glimpse of what Antakya life was like in the 1920s. (

An alternative is Savon Hotel, a former soap and olive oil factory built in the 1860s around a large inner courtyard complete with fountain and arcades. (   Continued...

A visitor looks at mosaics at the Antakya Archaeology museum, also known as the Antakaya Mosaic museum, in Antakya, in the southern border province of Hatay, April 22, 2012. REUTERS/Murad Sezer