Top 10 Turkey travel picks for 2015
The flower festival aside, Bayındır is one of those places that tends to get passed over in holiday planning. Until recently that was at least in part due to the absence of a decent hotel, a failing rectified since the Eski Hükümet building was converted into the Suotel (tel: 0232-581 5966), a bijou place to stay just across the road from the town's finest mosque, the newly restored Ulu Cami, an early Ottoman work dating back to 1496.
Bayındır stands on the site of the old Roman Caystrus, bits of which crop up in the many smaller mosques. It flourished in the late Ottoman period when some fine houses were built, particularly for the priest of the lost Greek church. Local history is proudly detailed in the new Kent Müzesı (City Museum), housed in what was once a building belonging to Tekel, the government monopoly alcohol producer until as recently as 2008.
If you can't make it here for the flower festival, try to time your visit for a Friday when the streets fill up with a colorful market, notable particularly for the presence of a diminishing number of elderly women draped in the siyah çizgi, a black cotton shawl with a white pattern stamped around its border. In 10 years time the only place you'll see it will be the museum.
Bayındır was my favourite discovery of 2014, but in this, my last regular travel feature for the paper, I'd also like to put in a word for some other recent discoveries as well as for a couple of old favorites. For more details on all the places mentioned here, and, indeed, on almost anywhere I've written about in these pages, go to my website, turkeyfromtheinside.com.
Misiköy (Photo: Pat Yale)
On the outskirts of Bursa the pretty small village of Cumalıkızık, with its stock of Safranbolu-style Ottoman houses, has long been the venue of choice for Sunday-brunch-seeking Bursalıs. Less well known but almost as charming is Misiköy on the Çekirge side of town that has the added bonus of a plane-tree-shaded river running through it for brunchers who like the sound of running water as a backdrop to their dining.
Readily accessible by ferry to Mudanya and then by dolmuş, Trilye is the old name for what is officially Zeytinbağı, another small town with much of its Ottoman housing stock still intact that was once home to a thriving olive-oil business. Recently this has been revived, albeit on a boutique scale, and many of the lovely buildings along the high street now sell oil in beautifully designed bottles.
Until 1924, Trilye was a largely Greek settlement and the town keeps three Byzantine churches up its sleeve, one of them, the Büyük Kilise, now converted into the Fatih Cami. More prominent is the ruined Taş Mektep that was once the local primary school.
You can easily visit Trilye on a day trip from İstanbul, although to do so is to miss out on the lively meyhane action overlooking the seafront. Should you wish to stay, the Trilyalı Hotel (tel: 0224-563 2223) offers splendid sea views as well as an outdoor restaurant.
Another old favourite recently revisited with pleasure is Mudurnu, a small town south of Bolu, which, once again, retains many of its old Ottoman houses, several of them converted into hotels. My personal favourite is the Hacı Şakirler Konağı (tel: 0374-421 3856), which still has most of its original fittings. It's only open at weekends.
Mudurnu is a place for leisurely ambling, although it does boast a 14th-century hamam (Turkish bath) and a market where you can still watch ancient crafts being carried out. Visit on a Friday and you will also be able to observe an age-old tradition as the craftsmen down their tools and gather together in the street outside to perform the Esnaf Duası (the Tradesman's Prayer).
Şahinefendi, Cappadocia (Photo: Pat Yale)
First-time visitors to Cappadocia often don't realize what a large area it is. Those who return time and again soon find out that there are many out-of-the-way villages that attract far less attention than Göreme, Uçhisar and Ürgüp, although often you need a car to get to them easily.
One such village is Şahinefendi, visited mainly for the ruins of Roman Sobesos. Far less obvious is the rock-cut church so carefully hidden away inside one of a multitude of fairy chimneys that you won't find it without a guide. Inside it lurks a spectacular frescoed ceiling, newly restored so that its colors shine as brightly as on the day they were painted. It depicts an obscure story involving 40 Christian martyrs who were driven out to die on a frozen lake when they refused to renounce their faith.
Few visitors to Cappadocia ever venture as far south as Niğde and those who do tend only to visit the frescoed monastery at Eski Gümüş. But the area around Niğde harbors many other treasures including the small town of Bor, which spreads itself out over several hills. Hidden in its back streets are several fine Şelçuk and early Ottoman mosques. While you're unlikely to want to stay, the Hotel Tyana (tel: 0388-311 1971) offers a decent base for visiting the impressive ruins of a Roman aqueduct at nearby Kemerhisar.
Anazarbus (Photo: Pat Yale)
Last year I spent a happy week exploring the Adana area. One of my favourite spots was the small village of Ayşehoca around which are scattered the extensive ruins of Roman Anazarbus, which went on to become an important population center during the years when this part of Anatolia was home to the Armenian Kingdom of Cilicia.
Most of the more recent ruins are difficult to see since they perch on a plateau above the Roman ruins. These, however, are easy to explore, although ideally you'll have a car to get here since there's no bus to the village. Many of the ruins lie scattered across a field completely surrounded by what was once the city wall, but an imposing triumphal arch and many rock-cut tombs also await discovery outside it.
Harbiye, near Antakya
This week came news that the brand-new Hatay Museum in Antakya has now opened to show off one of the country's finest collections of Roman mosaics. If you're heading down to take a look at it, it's worth knowing about Harbiye, a village immediately to the south of Antakya where according to Greek myth the nymph Daphne prayed to be turned into a laurel bush in order to escape the attentions of the god Apollo.
Today Harbiye lives for a cluster of fish restaurants, some of them with tables set up right in the water, that are dotted around a pretty wooded valley with a river running through it. Best of them is the Mosaik Restaurant, one of those places designed by someone with an eye for the quirkily original. The hotels overlooking the valley mean that you can actually stay in Harbiye and come here for dinner. Failing that, a fish lunch is just as enjoyable.
Visitors staying in Kahta with plans to visit the famous giant heads on Nemrut Dağı might like to know that for the time being they can also take a ferry across the nearby Atatürk Lake to visit Siverek, a colorful Kurdish town usually bypassed by those in a rush to reach journey's end at Diyarbakır.
On the surface there's not a lot to make you want to pause here. Duck into the market, though, and you'll find one of the most authentically Kurdish of small towns where recent years have seen an old hamam turned into a venue for sıra geceleri (Turkish nights with a Kurdish twist), a han converted to house a teahouse and even the old station refashioned into a restaurant.
A new bridge over the lake is nearing completion. It remains to be seen whether that will mean more or fewer visitors for Siverek.
Birecik (Photo: Pat Yale)
In 1956 it was a bridge that effectively saw off Birecik's trade in visitors travelling between Gaziantep and Şanlıurfa. Once one of the most important ferry crossing points on the Fırat (Euphrates) river, Birecik boasted a magnificent castle and imposing city walls. Old photos show lovely old Ottoman houses jutting out over the river. Today the castle is undergoing impressive restoration, but little remains of the walls (one gate has been turned into a mosque) or the wooden houses.
Instead, people come here to visit the captive breeding program for the kelaynak (bald ibis), Turkey's most endangered bird and almost certainly extinct in the wild. The program seems to be doing well, although you'll only be able to observe the birds from a distance. Afterwards, it's worth taking a stroll along the nearly landscaped riverside promenade, which is now home to a string of inviting new restaurants.