Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Western Black Sea Coast

The Yildiz (Istranca) Mountains bisect the province of Kirklareli. Lush mountainous landscape dotted with quaint houses transport you to an idyllic and tranquil reverie. In the city of Kirklareli the oldest mosque is the Hizirbey Mosque, built in 1383. The mosque complex includes a bazaar. Nearby stands a hamam (bath) also built under the patronage of Hizir Bey. The 14th-century Kirklar Memorial with its impressive 18 columns stands on Kirklar Hill honouring the site where 40 soldiers lost their lives when the Ottomans conquered this area under the command of Murat I. The Archaeology Museum exhibits finds from local excavations.

The Sokollu Mosque in Lüleburgaz, on the Edirne-Istanbul road, is an exquisite work of Sinan that dates from 1570. The neighbouring town of Babaeski also boasts a Sinan building in the Cedid Ali Pasa Mosque.

Vize (Byzia), an important Byzantine center, houses the Küçük Ayasofya church and a castle, both dating from the Byzantine period.

If you are travelling north to Bulgaria, linger for a few hours in the peaceful and green town of Dereköy, the last stop before the border.

Kirklareli's Black Sea Coast is another place to enjoy beaches and good fish restaurants. Igneada, 98 km east of Kirklareli, lies sandwiched between sandy shores and the Yildiz Mountains. Kiyiköy (Midye) is another holiday resort town with good accommodation and picturesque dwellings from the Middle Ages. The town and its walls date from the Byzantine period. The best site to visit in Midye is the historic St. Nicholas Rock Monastery.

Also on the European Black Sea coast, only 35 km from Istanbul, are the sandy beaches, and hotels, motels and camping facilities of Kilyos.

Across the Bosphorus, on the Asian shore, Sile's (71 km from Istanbul) long sandy beaches, overlooked by the remains of a Genoese Castle, attract many visitors. The excellent restaurants and nightlife make it a popular weekend retreat for Istanbul residents. Cotton blouses and shirts (Sile Bezi) are sewn and embroidered here.

Originally founded by a Polish prince as a home for Polish exiles, Polonezköy (25 km from Istanbul) has been transformed into a relaxing resort with guest houses and restaurants serving a delicious selection of fresh local produce. Inland from the coast, the rolling hills and peaceful woods make an excellent area for horseback riding.

Agva (50 km east of Sile), on the banks of a river as well as on the shores of the Black Sea, is surrounded by lovely scenery, ideal for a camping holiday. Kerpe, Kefken and Karasu are three quaint fishing villages east of Agva. Delightful restaurants and limpid water draw a constant stream of visitors.

Inland, between Ankara and Istanbul, is Bolu (262 km from Istanbul and 192 km from Ankara), an important provincial center with an impressive 14th century Ulu Mosque and modern thermal facilities close at hand. The Bolu Archaeology and Ethnography Museum has artifacts from the Hittite, Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk and Ottoman periods. Southwest of Bolu is the popular and relaxing Lake Abant resort, set in lovely alpine surroundings at an altitude of 1,500 meters. Istanbul dwellers often escape to the lake for a weekend of fresh air and exercise.

In the Köroglu Mountains is Kartalkaya, one of Turkey's major ski resorts. In the summer you can stop for a picnic at Gölcük Lake. The breathtakingly beautiful Yedi Göller (Seven Lakes) National Park lies north of Bolu. Nearby, the town of Mengen has a reputation for its good cooks and holds the annual Chefs' Festival of in August, featuring traditional Turkish specialities.

The sites around Konuralp (53 km from Bolu) the ancient Prusa ad Hypium, continue to yield artifacts from both the Roman and Byzantine periods, which are on display in the local museum. Among the ruins, the Roman theatre is not to be missed.

Back on the coast, the lovely beach and comfortable guest houses and hotels at Akçakoca ensure that it remains a popular holiday resort. Near the town, you can explore the remains of a Genoese castle now set amid hazelnut groves.

Alapli is an ideal place for water sports, especially sailing and surfing. Long sandy beaches stretch both east and west on both sides of the town.

Eregli, whose ancient name was Heraklea ad Pontus, stands on a hill adjacent to a Byzantine castle. In the spring the aroma of strawberries, some of the sweetest grown in Turkey, fills the air, making a visit a mouthwatering experience. Eregli derives its name from the mythological demi-god, Hercules, who, in the 11th century caught the three-headed dog, Cerberus, guardian of the gates of hell. According to Xenophon, Cerberus resided in the cave Cehennemagzi (Entrance to Hell), outside of Eregli near Kavakderesi.

Zonguldak is a major center of coal production and an important Black Sea port. The scenic road on the east side of town leads to the areas of Kopuz and Uzunkum, where tea gardens and restaurants beckon tourists to spend a leisurely afternoon.

Connoisseurs of fine handcrafted wood, travel to Devrek, a pretty town, 50 km southeast of Zonguldak, to purchase its renowned wooden canes.

Karabük, situated 10 km southeast of Safranbolu is the most important industrial center in Turkey, known for its iron and steel industry. Not far from Karabük lies the charming park of Çamlik, the perfect place for rest and relaxation. The entire area is dotted with pine forests and there is a lovely tea garden and restaurant in a nice place to enjoy nature.

Also inland and further to the east is charming Safranbolu. Step back in time in the lovely "old world" style of the town to see some of the most beautiful traditional old houses, unique in Turkey for their outstanding design and construction. The most interesting of these include: Kaymakamlar House, Aygiroglu House, and Asmazlar Havuzlu Konak which has been restored and is now used as a hotel operated by the Turkish Touring Automobile Club. The Mektepçiler House is also noteworthy as is the Haci Memisler House. Pasa House is also restored and has been converted into a lovely cafe and pension as well. The castle on the hill offers a vista of the town. Be sure to see the Cinci Inn and Hamam (17th-century Turkish bath), the Izzet Mehmet Pasa Mosque and Library (18th-century), and the Köprülü Mosque which also dates from the 17th century. Also worth seeing are the Dagdelen Mosque (18th-century) and Kaçak Mosque (19th-century). UNESCO has named Safranbolu as an international cultural area.

Safranbolu originally takes its name from the saffron fields that dotted the area in the 19th century. Today, saffron fields abound in the village of Davutobasi, 20 km away, where a thriving saffron business continues. Before leaving, be sure not to miss the Arasta (Old Bazaar) where you can watch craftsmen at work and bargain with them for their goods. The "lokum" (Turkish Delight) is also a special treat, unique among lokum connoisseurs and a must to sample.

About 36 km. south of Karabük is Eskipazar, where the old Ömer Beyler Mansion is located. It is now restored and famous for its ornately decorated ceilings.

Bartin (80 km east of Zonguldak) is a pretty city of timbered houses that holds a strawberry festival every year in the spring. The remains of a Roman road dating back to the reign of the Emperor Claudius can still be seen. A boat trip on the Bartin river makes for a delightful excursion. Nearby Inkum has been developed into a holiday village with a sandy beach, restaurant and guest houses.

Amasra (17 km from Bartin), one of the most beautiful towns on the Black Sea coast, was called Sesamos in ancient times, when it was founded by the Miletians in the sixth century B.C. It stands on a peninsula made by two inlets. The eastern side enjoys a reputation for good swimming. On a rocky promontory rise the ramparts of a Byzantine citadel, inside of which is an old church, now the Fatih Mosque. The necropolis dates from the Roman period. Remnants from Amasra's entire history are displayed in the Archaeology Museum. You can purchase a lovely handcarved wooden souvenir on Çekiciler street. Continuing eastward along the coast, you arrive at Çakraz (15 km east of Amasra) a typical fishing village with excellent beaches, friendly accommodation and fine restaurants. The winding road between Çakraz and Inebolu has steep mountainsides and offers a spectacular panoramic view.

Beyond Çakraz is Kurucasile, a town known for its fishing boat manufacturing. Cide, 28 km farther, has good hotels and a pleasant beach, providing comfort and relaxation. Gideros Bay will make you think a dream has come true.

Inebolu ( 100 km east of Cide) is a typical Black Sea town set in lush greenery displaying many fine examples of traditional Turkish architecture. East of Inebolu is Abana, another good holiday center. Situated inland amid beautiful forests, the provincial center of Kastamonu (90 km south of Inebolu) also dasts several important monuments: the 12th-century Byzantine castle, the 13th-century Atabey Mosque and the Ibni Neccar Mosque of 1356. The Archaeology and Ethnography Museum displays artifacts found in the region and the Liva Pasa Mansion Museum also has local ethnographical artifacts. Near the town is Evkaya, a rock tomb dating from the sixth century B.C. In the village of Kasaba, the 14th century Mahmut Bey Mosque retains some of the finest wood carvings found anywhere in Turkey. About 41 km west of Kastamonu via Daday, Çömlekçiler village has traditional timber houses and farms offering country horseback riding tours.

Then, 63 km south of Kastamonu is Ilgaz National Park, a delightful protected area in the Ilgaz Mountains, in which also is a ski center and good accommodation. East of the park by the Devrez and Kizilirmak rivers, is Tosya where extensive rice fields cover the landscape.

Ilgarini Cave, in the region of Pinarbasi (northwest of Kastamonu), is one of the largest caves in Turkey. It is a wonderful place for trekking and exploration off the beaten path.


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