Turkey Beyond Istanbul

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The Black Sea and Eastern Turkey is a treasure house on ancient history and yet, because it is set off from the standard tourist routes in the country, it’s a rarely traveled region for most North American visitors.

But, according to Haldun Dinccetin, a spokesperson for Turkish Culture & Tourism Office at M Silver Associates, while, “The Black Sea region of Turkey is well ‘off the beaten path’ of many international travelers, as a destination it is new and offers much to discover,” he says, in terms of history, archaeology, culture, cuisine, outdoor activities and nature.

Most North American travelers familiar with the region were probably introduced to it on a Black Sea cruise since at least five U.S. cruise lines—Crystal Cruises, Oceania Cruises, Voyages of Discovery, Swan Hellenic and Voyages to Antiquity—make Black Sea port calls at either Trabazon or Sinop, or in Swan Hellenic’s case, both. Dinccetin points out, however, “…for a more in-depth experience, travelers are advised to fly in to Amasya, Samsun, Sinop or Trabazon from Istanbul or Ankara, and rent a car or 4WD vehicle. The Black Sea is easily accessible to visitors and provides a wide range of comfortable and friendly hotels and restaurants at a variety of prices.”

He also points out that almost all major tour operators in the U.S. that offer tours to Turkey can and will organize individual trips to the Black Sea. It is advised to have a custom tour with a driver/guide from Ankara, Istanbul or Antalya. In addition to that, some of the tour operators in the U.S. organize group package tours to Eastern Turkey and Black Sea region.

Still, to give you an idea of the history and the overall attractions of the region, traveling from west to east through the Black Sea region, a visitor might begin in Bolu with its famous multi-colored forests of oak, alder, pine, hazelnut and many more varieties of trees, where you can virtually travel through all four seasons of the year within the course of a short drive. Yedigoller or Seven Lakes National Park, is the centerpiece but there are also hot springs, hiking and walking opportunities.

As early as the sixth century B.C., the coastal town of Amasra went by the name of Sesamus, and today offers a number of historic attractions, including 14th century Genoese forts, a Roman bridge, Byzantine city walls and historic mosques. Nearby, along the sea, the fishing villages of Cide and Abana are popular excursions, particularly known for their seaside restaurants.

Just inland from Amasra, one of the region’s best known attractions is Safranbolu with beautifully preserved and restored buildings from the Ottoman Empire, including konaks, or mansions, distinctively made of timber and stone, earning it a UNESCO World Heritage site designation. Here, too, are the Koprulu Mehmet Pasa Mosque and the Kazdagi Mosque, Turkish baths, Shoemakers Street (the town once supplied the Turkish army with shoes) and the scenic Market Street.

Also inland is the town of Kastamonu, with a 12th century castle, ethnographic and archaeology museums, and famous handicrafts, including fabrics, tablecloths, woolens and fruit jams. The expansive pastures in the vicinity offer some of the best trail riding in Turkey and nearby Ilgaz Mountain National Park is noted for its deer, foxes and bear, as well as culinary traditions that include whole lamb cooked slowly in clay ovens. Near Kastamonu is the Ilica Waterfalls and Valla Canyon National Park, ideal for hiking and 4×4 expeditions.

Still, according to Holly Chase, who represents Asia Minor Travel and Tours here in North America, “People who go out there are looking for something different. It’s not the kind of place that I would suggest for first-time visitors to Turkey, but certainly to repeat travelers who are going back for maybe the second, third or fourth time. And I’ve had people who’ve gone to Turkey with me five or six times.”

In fact, she explains, “The people in the area tend to be more taciturn, less than say the Zorba, the Greek type. That expansive Mediterranean, taverna personality, is not what you find among the locals there. And that’s another reason I don’t push it for the first-time visitor. It’s kind of like New England where you have the grey and cool weather, people tend to be more closed. And then the old joke about the biggest export from Ireland was people, well, that’s the biggest export from the Black Sea. Because the agricultural space before you go up into the mountains is quite limited, so historically people have been forced to leave their homeland to seek their fortunes elsewhere. Consequently, in western Turkey and Istanbul in particular, you’ll see lots of places with Black Sea-style pita or Black Sea-style kabob or something like that. And that’s the links to back home—their cooking styles are what will identify them.”