TURKEY: Your Guide to Skiing in Turkey – Sarıkamış/Kars

Little Recap:

After completing our 2 week Black Sea road trip, I wanted more of Eastern Turkey! I have always has a list of places to visit, but due to some crazy COVID restrictions, it’s put us behind on our travels. COVID has forced us to last minute travel plan, and I have to say… I am loving it. Our Black Sea Road Trip was planned just a mere 10 days before we left. And this trip was somewhat similar! 

Our 2020 trip to Uludağ with friends didn’t pan out this year, leaving us wide open to exploring other locations. Some other friends of ours are prolific skiers and they suggested we look into ski resort over near Erzurum and Kars. So we did!

And of course… in usual ‘Catie’ fashion, we can’t just ‘go skiing’! We wanted to see some of the other sites around Kars as well! Check out ALL of our KARS videos linked at the bottom off the article

COVID-19 has not made 2020/2021 fun for anyone, traveling in the midst of a global pandemic meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. But we have be so thankful to be able to travel too! You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan last summer as well.

Hopefully your 2021/2022 winter season gets you too the slopes!

By the way…. IMPORTANT: This post covers only the ski portion of our trip to Kars, Turkey. Check out our other Kars post below:

Now on your guide to skiing in Turkey!

Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing

Where should I ski in Turkey?

This post is all about skiing near the area of Kars, specifically Sarıkamış. BUT I wanted to live you with a list of other options kayak merkezi (or ski centers) to explore if you aren’t wanted to head that far East. The only other place in this list that we have skied at is Uludağ (and I don’t have a post on it).

In no particular order, these are some of the most popular (not all of course):

  • Uludağ Ski Center near Bursa (easy weekend from Istanbul and Izmir)
  • Kartaltepe Ski Center near Bolu (easy drive from Istanbul)
  • Erciyes Ski Center, south of Kayseri Airport
  • Palandöken Ski Center near Erzurum

Check out this article over at the Daily Sabah for a brief description of each.

Where is Kars + Sarıkamış?

Kars city is the capital of the Kars province is located in the far northeast region of Turkey. Situated on a plateau 5,740 feet (1,750 metres) above sea level on the Kars River, the city of Kars is only an hour drive to the border with Armenia (which by the way you can not cross into at all from Turkey by land).

Sarıkamış town is a 43-minute southwest drive from the Kars Airport towards the city of Erzurum. The Sarıkamış Ski Center is 4 kilometers from the town. There are multiple rumors about why the name of Sarıkamış is Sarıkamış. Sarı meaning ‘yellow’ and kamış meaning ‘pine’. The most famous is that the name derived from the yellow reeds that grow in one of the lakes in the region.

Sarıkamış Kars Turkey
Sarıkamış Kars Turkey

Little bit of history:

Nothing is known of its earlier history, but nearby archaeological sites date from Urartian times with a few uncovered Urartian ruins and fortress. Many medieval Armenian monasteries were in ruins by 1878.

Although it is a region where Turks have settled since the Seljuk period, we can say that Sarıkamış, like Kars in general, had its golden age when it was under Russian influence. Because Sarıkamış, like the center of Kars, is one of the places where the Russian influence was prominent and where there are many historical buildings from that period. If you are traveling between Kars and Sarıkamış, the Tsar Nikola Mansion can be seen rising under the snow on its hilly terrain. Also, extensive barracks from the Russian period surround the town and are still in use by the Turkish army. 

In Kars, an important battle took place between the armies of the Ottoman and Russian empires in and around the city in late December 1914-January 1915 as part of the Caucasus Campaign of World War I. Operation Sarıkamış is the event in which 23,000 Turkish soldiers lost their lives in freezing weather conditions and in land conflicts making it one of the most painful defeats in the history of the Ottoman Empire. Making a visit to the Kars museum to learn about this is a must. As well, the 2008 movie 120, directed by Özhan Eren and Murat Saraçoğlu is a must watch before you travel to Kars!

About the Sarıkamış Ski Center:

Sarıkamış Ski Center is built on Cıbıltepe Mountain and has very favorable conditions for Alpine skiing, Nordic skiing, and Tour Skiing. There are slopes suitable for both beginners and professionals, and businesses providing ski equipment rentals and private lessons.

Snow falls to Sarıkamış Ski Center for about 57 days a year and it stays on the ground for about 114 days. Under normal winter conditions, the snow thickness reaches 1.5 meters. The“crystal snow” consisting of big crystal snowflakes doesn’t stick to one another, which is usually unique to the Alps, makes this area very suitable for skiing.

  • Facilities in Sarıkamış: It has 3 chairlifts and 1 ski lift. 
  • Height of Sarıkamış: Tracks starting from 1,738 meters go up to a height of 2,958 meters. 
  • Ski tracks in Sarıkamış: With an altitude at 2,500, Cıbıltepe has 9 tracks with a total length of 12 km: 6 tracks are currently open for use, 2 black, 2 red, 1 blue and 1 green. The longest track length is 3,500 meters. It also has a 45-km cross-country ski track, of which 5 km is certified by FIS (International Ski Federation).  
  • Times and Lift hours: Lift closing hours vary from month to month. But it usually opens at 8.30 – 9.00 and closes at 16.30 – 17.00 depending on the weather conditions. As the days were longer in March when we went we had longer ski days.
  • Lift wait times: Even at peak times, the lifts do not have the long queues seen in other ski resorts. The one huge lift that sits 6 persons at a time are even more empty and much more sheltered from the wind. I hardly found myself on it with another skier.
  • Electronic Passes: There are electronic pass readers on the lifts. You swipe the plastic card over the magnet and pass it on. The card has lanyard. You can use all the lifts with a single pass in Sarıkamış Ski Center.
  • Ski equipment: Most of the hotels have their own private ski rental companies usually located in the hotel. The prices are reasonable and if you forgot anything, they have it!
  • Food/Drink the slopes: For lunch, our hotel was full-board and we always just took a break to eat there since it was so close to the lifts. On the runways, there are 4 cafes, and all of them have hot and cold drinks. However, not all of them have much choice of food. The Orta Cafe in the middle station, between the 2 major lifts, was always the busiest and also had the best offerings from the menu. There is also a rest area which makes it a good stop for a bathroom break. At the top of the summit is another cafe (sorry the name is escaping me). Jason took Sofia up here for the views and to enjoy a hot chocolate while I skied a bit. It’s a great option for non-skiers to come enjoy a morning at too! 
  • In case of emergency, loss or injury: Call 156 and find the nearest signs in the forest area to help locate where you are. The search and rescue team will come to you with snow vehicles as soon as possible. Or take the contact number of the hotel you are staying in with you in case of an emergency.
  • Extras: There are a few folks that provide a sleigh safari & snow sled for those non-skiers in your group, or those with kids! Our hotel had the sled out for free-use every day and it was a fun activity to do with our daughter.

Our Experience with the Ski Center:

Sarıkamış is a more modest “ski town” where you can have a ski holiday without paying crazy prices for a great skiing. Plus, you do not have to expect to wait long in a queue. We loved it because this is not a place that was created out of nothing. Sarıkamış is a real district with a real town and residents that live there for 4 seasons, long before the Sarıkamış Ski Center.

This town is that it is extremely modest compared to ski resorts such as Uludağ, Palandöken or Erciyes. Don’t expect any luxury ski holiday. BUT, even though it remains modest next to some big centers, it certainly does not compromise the enjoyment of skiing. The prices of both chairlift and equipment rentals are affordable so that everyone can slide. I am sure of the current prices, but I remembered they were a 3rd of the price of Uludağ tickets. Our ski pass was included in our hotel stay.

PROS:

  • Because we went during the weekdays, I felt like I got top skiing hills but an affordable price and no crowds! (It did get VERY busy on the weekend as we were heading out!) This center was wide open and there was so much area to ski as oppose to some crowded more popular ski areas I have been too. I never felt like I was about to run into anyone!
  • Since it is not a tourist settlement, the prices of food and beverage at the markets are not at the ski resort level, but at the normal city setting. Like this place is still undiscovered (even though it is definitely gaining popularity).
  • The roads are always clear and sparkling coming to and from the Kars airport, or wherever you are staying! It is part of the city and not a ski resort which means that the roads are taken car of properly. I was nervous leaving the airport on the shuttle thinking the hotel was on top of a mountain like Uludağ, but since the elevation was already so high, the ride to the hotel was easy and clear! No shuttle issues or curves to fear!
  • Since this is a huge district, the state brought services such as schools and train stations here. There is a hospital and it’s possible to reach the hospital quickly in case of an accident.

CONS:

  • There is literally nothing to be done after 5 o’clock and the lifts stops – which can be good and bad. If you are exhausted from the day, and early night in can be great, except that the hotel dinners don’t start until 7/7:30. Some hotels put out a pianist, singer or saz team during the dinner on weekends. 
  • Our hotel’s kids play area AWFUL. Coming off the slopes at 5, I was already starving, and if I miss the cookies at tea time, I had to wait 2 hours for dinner services to start. 2 hours with a 2 year old and no place to play… the weather made it dark and cold outside. And our 2 year old at the time has to wait as well. For us as foreigners, it’s a bit late for supper. Everyone at the hotel is just waiting for the doors to open for dinner. Note: I did see that other hotels may have done this better. In fact, we made a note to try out the Habitat hotel next time we go for the kids program (not running when we went in 2021 due to Covid).
  • Not all hotels will rent skis out to your for your 2 year old. I grew up skiing and I was PUMPED to get our daughter out there just to try skiing a bit! And after a couple of days of watching me go out without her, Sofia was READY to try it too. Thankfully, another hotel, also the Habitat Hotel, had smaller size skis and boots and willing to let us rent them!

When Should I Go to Sarıkamış?

If you came to Sarıkamış, you probably came to ski. That’s why you should make sure to come in the best time of winter. Snow falls here for 5 months of the year, from the beginning of December (this year it was as early as September!) to the beginning of April. 

However, if you are planning a ski holiday in Sarıkamış at the end of December or March. Always be sure to call the hotels and ask about the snow because it may have ended early that year or it has not started yet.

Two annual events take place in Sarıkamış.

  1. In the first week of January in Sarıkamış, Kars Municipality organizes the Day of Remembrance of the Martyrs of Sarıkamış (see history section above). The group marches with torches in memory of the martyred soldiers towards the Allahuekber Mountains.
  2. In February (pre-covid), Sarıkamış Ski Center host a 3-day festival snow games. Even through the coldest of temperatures, snow games and competitions continue on – including off-road rally, remote controlled vehicle races and snowboard & ski races.
Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing

Getting There:

  • For our trip, we flew a 2.5 hour direct flight from Izmir to Kars on SunExpress Airlines and drove a rental car for our first few days while we explore Kars city and the nearby area. Upon returning our rental car to the airport, our hotel offered a free shuttle to the resort an hour away in Sarıkamış.
  • If you are going to come directly to Sarıkamış by plane, the nearest airport to you is Kars Harakani Airport. The center of Sarıkamış is also a 43-minute drive from Kars Airport. Before buying your flight ticket, we recommend that you compare the ticket prices of different airline companies. Both Pegasus Airlines and Sunexpress offer direct flights from Izmir but not daily. You can always find connecting routes to Kars with layovers in other airports.
  • Alternative options: The historic Doğu (Eastern) Express is an alternative option for those with a bit more time on their hands. Passing through Kayseri, Sivas, Erzincan, Erzurum and Sarıkamış, it arrives at the last stop, Kars. Coming to Kars with the Orient Express is an experience that must be experienced in itself. It’s a bit difficult to figure out the ticketing system and times (and it’s usually sold out) but if you are able to figure it out, go for it! This article is a bit old but it’s a great start!

Lodging: 

In Sarıkamış, most the hotels are mostly located in the ski center. There are over 1,200 beds at 12 tourist facilities.Some of these hotels are newly built and shiny, but the prices are of course higher, much more costly than staying in the center of Sarıkamış. There are also farmhouses in the vicinity. You can find the hotels and houses we recommend from Sarıkamış below.

  • Kaya Snow Hotel: Our friends recommended this hotel to us, and this was the good option for our family! The hotel is located right on the ski center with easy walking access to the lifts. We stayed in a triple bedroom but also had a baby bed for Sofia. The staff was kind and quick to respond to any request, but there was quite a bit of miscommunication – or should I say, lack of note-taking prior to our arrival. Basically everything I asked for was not in their system (extra night hotel stay, baby bed in room, both transferred to and from the airport, etc.) However, the food was good and varied and that was nice to have included in our stay. The ski rentals where just off the main lobby of the hotel and we could see the ski lift from our bedroom window.
Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing
  • Here are a few other recs:
    • Habitat Resort: Funny enough, the owners are from Izmir! We met them when we were getting our photos from the photographer there. The vibe was a little more cozy and I hear they have a children’s club (which was all closed currently due to COVID). We would consider this location next time! Oh, and this hotel’s ski rental area has small enough skis and boots and were willing to give Sofia ski lessons. Sofia was 28 months at the time we were there!
    • White Park Hotel: Another rec from a friend, but I don’t have much to personally say except it just a bit further off the base of the ski lift.

Must Try Foods: 

Although the hotels do provide food service, feel free to taste local delicacies in Sarıkamış and Kars such as Kars goose, piti, and hangel.

  • Kaz (Goose): Of course, the signature dish of Kars could be none other than the Kars goose. The geese, which are fed with grass in the spring months, are fattened by giving barley close to slaughter in the winter months. Goose cooked in a tandoori is served smashed over bulgur. 
  • Piti: My FAVORITE! The mixture of fatty mutton and chickpeas is cooked in a casserole pottery with vegetables. Served in a big flat bowl, bread forms the base with the juices and rest of the yummy ingredients.
  • Hangel: Hangel or khingel is actually the empty and leafy form of Turkish mantı or ravioli. The dough is cut into squares and boiled in water, served with garlic yogurt and oily sauce on it. After skiing on the slopes, it’s a great carb loading meal.
  • Gruyere (Gruyère) Cheese: This originally Swiss organ gruyere is the yellow and perforated cheese (think of the legendary cheese in every episode of Tom and Jerry).  Due to the strict requirements of production conditions, this quality cheese is only produced in a few countries around the world, including the Netherlands, Georgia and Kars in Turkey. Kars owes its world-famous taste to the Malakans, who were settled here after the 1876-1877 Ottoman-Russian Wars, bringing their love of milk products and dairy farming culture with them.
Kars Turkey Sarikamis Skiing

Restaurants: 

  • All hotels, including ours, in Sarıkamış Ski Center offer either full board in the morning, noon and evening or half board options in the morning and evening. Because our hotel was all-inclusive, meaning it offered breakfast, lunch and dinner, we did not really explore much more outside our ski resort and ski park. But the couple from BizEvdeYokuz always have great recs, just double check to make sure the locations are open as COVID has unfortunately cause temporary closures.

Sites In Sarıkamış:

Unfortunately, we didn’t get to see these while we were there, but I wanted to share them for others who may have more time to get out!

  • Sarıkamış Culture House: This is a restaurant that was established by the efforts of Rasim Kaya, who was originally a musician, and is trying to be kept alive. You can experience traditional Kars cuisine and see historical objects such as items found in typical old Sarıkamış houses and weapons from the Russian period. 
  • Katerina’s Hunting Lodge: This symbolic structure of Sarıkamış is a fairy tale structure rising out of the forest and snow and only 1 km from the center of Sarıkamış. The best example of 19th century Baltic architecture in Kars with 28-room stone-based building with wooden additions. It is unfortunately in a dilapidated condition up close. The Russian Tsar Nicholas II had it built for his sick son, but for some reason the locals thought the name was appropriate for his wife Katerina (I mean, it does sound better right?).  How to Get to Katerina Mansion: There is a road connecting from the center of Sarıkamış for those who will come here by car, grab a taxi (ask the hotel to help) and trekking routes for those who will come on foot after the snow melts.  

Nearby Sarıkamış:

  • Day trips to visit Kars City, Ani Harabeleri, Lake Çildir, and Boğatepe Cheese farms are our recs! All the links for the videos are below.
  • Northwest about 5 hours by car, Rize is home to Turkey’s famous tea fields and the Sümela Monastery.
  • If you are able, the Georgian border is a 2 hour bus ride (5-6 to the drop-off point of Tbilisi, Georgia. We didn’t do this but we have heard it’s a popular option for tourists!
  • Note: While Kars province borders the Armenia province, there is no land crossing. Just making sure you are aware!

Overall, Sarıkamış is an amazing place to ski! We are so thankful to have the opportunity to ski here AND to take a few extra days to see the area near Kars!

You can check out our trip via video over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel and see what all we did in our ski week!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Have you gone skiing in Turkey?
  • Have you visited Sarıkamış Ski Center, Turkey near Kars? 
  • Share a memory you have about skiing! 

Check out our 5 part video playlist about our travel to Kars, Turkey!

Kalkan Turkey

TURKEY: Your guide to KALKAN

Little Recap:

Turkey has a winter and summer culture. Those families who can afford it, have a summer house near some coast line to escape the heat of the city. Two our of 4 sets of our neighbors do this exact thing ever year. Ever since we moved to Turkey, we had wanted to try it out.

Last summer(2020) after a strict and exhaustive COVID lockdown, Jason and I opted get out of Izmir for 3 weeks to a summer villa in Kalkan, Turkey. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

Now on to Kalkan!

Kalkan, like its neighbor Kas, is a lovely Turkish beach town on the Turkish Mediterranean coast in the Antalya Province (Kaş District). Kalkan, which has features far beyond a holiday beach resort, is home to world-famous ancient Lycian cities, endangered caretta turtles, and the world’s most famous bays and beaches. 

We can start our guide with the most basic question: Where is Kalkan?

  • 190 km E from Muğla
  • 80 km SE from Fethiye
  • 27 km W from Kas
  • 210 km W from Antalya

The town of Kalkan, which is believed to have been founded by traders from the island of Meis, remained untouched for many years due to the difficulty of transportation, making it a perfect little jewel of a town now with its natural beauties.

KALKAN TURKEY

What you should see and do in and near Kalkan, Turkey:

1. Explore Kalkan!

In the summer, Kalkan takes on a vibrant, coastal town vibe drawing in all sorts of tourist, but especially British ones! Tons of villas and property are own by British nationals as their summer getaway. And when they aren’t able to enjoy, then the properties are rented out to others.

However, I totally understand WHY they come! It’s small, walkable, easy to navigate with just enough nooks and alleys to keep you wandering the streets for more during your week-long holiday.

Set against a breathtaking mountain backdrop, the town centre is a treasure trove of narrow streets, whitewashed Ottoman Greek houses and inviting boutiques. It’s also famous for its harbourside lounge bars and rooftop restaurants serving a variety of delicious food with impeccable service.

The public beach is located right in town making it easy to dip into the water at anytime of day. The harbor nearby offers day trips via boat to other locations so you can enjoy the sea to the max. Keep reading for all my local to-dos and restaurant recs at the end of this post!

WATCH our first week in Kalkan via our video below.

2. Patara Ancient City and Beach

Located in the Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey just 17 km (11 miles) west of Kalkan is the Patara Beach and Archeological sites. Patara is an ancient Lycian town, now archeological site, but also ancient beach. The surrounding area of Patara are protected which thankfully means no big hotels or heavy tourist development. The nearby small village hosts only a few hundred guests, making it an affordable little area to vacation too.

Patara beach is 20 km (12 miles) long and hardly crowded because it caters to day visitors. You don’t have to walk very far to get a secluded spot on the beach. Most people stay close to the entrance area so they can access the cafe, facilities, and grab an umbrella and chair (for a fee).

More importantly, it’s also the birth place of world famous fourth-century Christian saint, Saint Nicholas of Myra, better know now in the states as the mythicize Santa Clause.

WATCH our visit to this site via our video below and READ more about Patara from my friend’s at West2East.

3. Ancient City of Xanthos

Xanthos, which was the capital of ancient Lycia. Located in the Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey, this site is just 20 kilometers (12 miles) from Kalkan, about 50 minutes from Kaş. Here you can see a theater, old church, rock-cut tombs, pillar tombs and pillar-mounted sarcophagi. One of the 7th Wonder of the Ancient World, the Mausoleum of Halicarnassus, was directly influenced by the Xanthos Nereid Monument. 

Unfortunately like many sites in Turkey, pieces of this site were taken to England in the 19th century, including the Monument of Harpy, the Tomb of Payava and the Nereid Monument. See them here.

WATCH our visit to this site via our video below and READ a bit more about it here via my friends at West2East.

4. Kaputaş Beach

There are lots a beaches to go to in the surrounding area of Kalkan and Kaş… But Kaputaş Beach, which has the same name and is surrounded by cliffs, is definitely an all-around favorite with everyone who goes!

On the coastal road between Kalkan and Kaş, this natural wonder is a hidden canyon pass sliding into a large spectacular beach. To reached it, one must descend 187 steps starting from the roadside (very limited parking so some early!). It is also among the favorite place of passing boat tours.

There is a cafe with facilities available including showers – perfect if you go early in the morning but want to tour more later in the day without going back to your hotel.

5. Neighbor city of Kaş

Kaş being just a bit larger than Kalkan, and the seaside road makes it an easy half hour drive from Kalkan – making it a great half-day or full-day trip. Kaş literally means ‘eyebrow’ in Turkish. This city was originally called Antiphellos. Phellos was a Greek word meaning “stony place”, and this name is very well suited to the area. It has lots of restaurants, a few ancient sites, and a giant that watching over the city (yep that is correct).

WATCH our visit to this site via our video link below!

6. Saklıkent Canyon

Saklikent National Park is around 40 km due east of Fethiye and an hour drive north of Kalkan. This 18 km long, 300 meters deep canyon is unbelievably beautiful. After Verdon in France and Vikos in Greece, it is considered to be the third longest canyon in Europe.

The Saklikent Gorge also known as “Hidden Valley” or The Lost City. Its passageways shaded from the steep and narrow walls with streams of icy waters flow through the canyon making it a perfect day trip to except the summer heat! Don’t forget to take water shoes as you have to cross a bit of rocky water to get into the gorge.

WATCH our visit to this site via our video below and READ more about Saklıkent here via my friends over at Turkeysforlife or here via my friend at Travelinglensphotography.

7. Demre, Turkey – Home of Santa Claus

A 1.5 hour ish drive from Kalkan makes this a longer day trip, but we think it’s worth the drive!

Demre is a tiny town (considerably) located in the Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey with the Taurus Mountains rising behind. The villages of Demre grow pomegranates and citrus fruits as well as large quantity of fruits and vegetables all year round in greenhouses. Previously known as Kale, it was renamed in 2005 after the river Demre. Demre is also the ancient the Lycian town of Myra. 

More importantly it’s the home to the world famous fourth-century Christian saint, Saint Nicholas of Myra – better know now in the states as the mythicize Santa Clause.

WATCH our visit to this site via our video below and READ a more detailed itinerary for Demre in this blog post for sites like Myra, Andriake Ancient City, Saint Nicolas’ Church and Kekova.

8. Turkish Breakfast at Belmuar Restaurant in Islamlar

Kahvaltı is the word we use for breakfast in Turkish, but it literally means “under coffee” or “before coffee.” It’s the meal you eat before you drink your first cup of Turkish coffee. 

And of course Kalkan has loads of yummy Kahvaltı places, our favorite being Belmuar Restaurant in Islamlar. The presentation, home-made foods, and views made it a place I want to go back to every week! It’s about a 20 minute drive north of Kalkan into the mountain. Make sure to search for the old unmarked Lycian rock tombs and stop to take some pictures of the Kalkan bay below on your way there!

WATCH our visit to this site via our video below and READ more about Turkish Breakfast here.

P.S. – Our second rec is here.

BONUS: FETHIYE

I marked this as a ‘bonus’ because honestly, just like Antalya, Fethiye can be its own trip!

We had some new friends we wanted to meet up with there so we just took a long day trip there! Check out Turkeysforlife for all things Fethiye related.

Because we have already explore Fethiye via a sailing trip back in 2016 (still need to write about it!), we decided to do something nearby that we missed the first time – Babadağ or Father Mountain. Well, technically, the first time we came up to paraglide off the mountaintop! This time we came to watch others and enjoy a nice afternoon tea.

WATCH our visit to this site via our video below and READ about it here via our friends at Turkeysforlife. (You can even enjoy watching some of our first experience paragliding in this video too!)

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • For our road trip, we drove in our own car from Izmir to Kalkan. Even thought the drive is only 5.5 hours, we decided to stop off and explore Dalyan on the way.
    • If you want to reach with your private vehicle, Kalkan,
      • 840 km-9.5 hours from Istanbul
      • 660 km-8 hours from Ankara
      • 410 km- 5.5/6 hours from İzmir.
  • If you don’t want to drive from Izmir, taking a bus will be the easiest and quickest route. You can find bus tickets here. Looks like Pammukale and Kamilkoç bus companies go and take approximately 5.5-6.5 hours.
  • The closest airport to the Kalkan area is still the Dalaman airport at approximately 1 hour and 30 minutes drive. Dalaman airport, otherwise known as “Mugla Airport”, is located 5km south of Dalaman on the south west coast of Turkey.
  • Sunexpress and Pegasus Airlines do not offer direct flights from IZMIR to Dalaman airport as it is too close. But you can fly with a stopover via Istanbul airports. Istanbul should have daily direct flights to Dalaman then you will need to rent a car or take a transfer to Kalkan.
  • You can also fly into Antalya Airport, but the journey to Kalkan is longer at around 3 hours. If you are coming from Antalya rent a car (one day I’m going to write a post about renting a car in Turkey because it’s my favorite way to travel around the country) and set off on the 3.5 hour journey to Kalkan. You will pass by Demre (home of Santa Claus) and Kaş. The three hour drive from Antalya is NOT for the faint of heart; there are lots of hairpin curves and winding, 2 lane roads.  However, the drive is through the mountains and along the coast, so the scenery is never dull. CHECK OUT A 3 DAY ITINERARY FROM ANTALYA via my friend over at Travelinglensphotography.

Lodging: 

  • We stayed in a large villa recommended by some friends and we always shared it with another family. I would suggest a checking out these websites:
    • Airbnb – If you are a smaller 1 family unit, I would suggest checking out my friend’s apartment that has a shared pool. It’s modern, well-designed with thoughtful touches and right in the center of town. You can find her LISTING HERE.
    • VRBO
    • Holiday Lettings (UK)
    • Kalkan Regency Hotel is off to the side of Kalkan (not downtown) but it came recommend by some friends of ours. We had a 1.5 year old and sharing would not be overly enjoyable for any length of time. 😉

When to go to Kalkan:

  • Kalkan, which has a Mediterranean climate, is actually a town that can be visited in all seasons. Winters are warm and rainy, and summers are very hot. In short, it may be more accurate to determine the season according to your needs. 
    • Like us, most people go for the summer season to cool off in Kalkan’s villas with pools or swim in the sea, you should choose hot or hot weather in summer, and
    • However, if you want to escape the cold winters were you live and be in a warmer place, you can choose it even in winter – just don’t expect the pools to be open! The sea however, is always available for a chilly swim!

Restaurants we enjoyed: 

  • Breakfast
    • Belmuar Restaurant in Islamlar: Mentioned it above but I can’t recommend it enough!
    • Bodamya Tepe Restaurant in Islamlar: Great view and nice shaded area to enjoy your meal. Area for kids to play as well. Watch it here.
    • Adams Restaurant Kalkan: On the way to Kapatus Beach. Parking is avalible at the spot but the exit to the street is very dangerous. Also, a panoramic view of the sea!
  • Supper/Dinner
    • Belgin’s Kitchen Restaurant: Traditional Turkish floor seating on the first floor terrace area. There is also table seating one level above. Service is excellent and if you are looking for authentic Turkish food, look no further.
    • The Brothers Cafe Restaurant: Little far from the center of town. Very cozy family run place. The staff was very attentive and pleasant to communicate with. We enjoyed a variety of meat dishes and all were excellent.
    • Kalamaki Restaurant &Bar: Some of our friends and Jason and I took a date night to this lovely place. Make sure to call ahead a reserve so you can get a rooftop table and enjoy the sunset! The steak was amazing.
    • Taj Mahal: Indian food. We had kids so we went early (6 pm). They were obviously not prepared and it took forever. But the food was good and it was not normal experience I think.
    • Kalamaki Dragon Chinese Restaurant: Town Center near the Botanik Garden Cafe. Yummy food and a little bit of outdoor seating.
    • Seaport Restaurant: We got this big seafood spread. The view is just over the beach area. We get seafood a lot in Izmir so I guess I am a little picky now. It was not my favorite food and it was pricer because of the location.
  • Other:
    • Lighthouse Cafe: Little Ice Cream and cafe right on the harbor. Perfect for an after dinner treat!
    • Atlantis Dondurma: It’s on a side street up from the harbor a bit. Vegan option was available here!
    • Cafe Del Mar: We stopped here when exploring the shops and side streets. Fun, quirky ambience and a really good cold frappe.
    • Old Town Hotel & Cafe: I had a yummy coffee brunch/lunch here with a friend. I know the owners changed but the cafe could still be there!
  • Markets:
    • There is a larger Migros Market as you enter into Kalkan as well as other smaller ones (called Migros Jet) around town) and a smaller CarrefourSA down towards the city center. There is an A101, BIM, and Sok which are also a chain market. Since we stayed for 3 weeks, we did a bit of cooking, doing breakfast, lunch, and sometimes supper at home depending on our days (and attitudes of kids).
    • Anka Super Market has a good bit of international food items (prices can sometimes reflect it too).
    • Kalkan Balikçilik is where we got our fish. They did a great job with our order of fresh fish cuts.
    • Next to the fish market is Uçarlar Manav had amazing veggies and fruits.
    • Gratis is be a good stop for toiletries, sunscreen, and non-food items.
    • Any ‘eczane’, aka pharmacies, will help you with all the medicine and medical needs. As well, this is the only place to get contact solution other than a eyeglass store. They are open every day except Sunday. On Sundays the eczanes take turn being the pharmacy ‘on-call’ for the day.

Few other tidbits (recs but didn’t do)

  • The Kalkan local pazar (market) is Thursday. It is a fun thing to check out if you have never been to a local market. It can also make the area around it a bit congested.
  • A boat trip from Kalkan harbor: This can be a private or public afair If you are looking for a private tour, again I would recommend by friend Victoria- her husband, Anıl, does an amazing day trip on his private boat. Otherwise check out the public big boat tours down by the harbor, book ahead and arrive early to get the best seats!
  • Beach clubs: Personally I thought the Kalkan Public beach was one of the nicest ones we went too! However, if you want to spend a whole day on the water with facilities, restaurants, etc. – then check out the local beach clubs. Here are a few that were suggested to us: Kalamar Beach Club at the bottom of the hill in Kalamar Bay and Yali Beach Club which is along the road that runs past the end of the harbor near town. (ps – make sure they family friend before you go – aka not adult only)
  • Other restaurants: (either not open at the time due to COVID or season timing for us)
    • Alternatif: Supposively the best steaks in town.
    • Sade: Straight down the main city street on the left (up first alleyway). Food is good, owned by Mustapha’s brothers.
    • Begonvil: Just along the street on the left before going down the main city street. Street level, no views, but atmosphere. Food is good and cheap as is the wine.
    • Olive Garden: Down the main city street, turn left at the Coffee shop and go up the stairs. The food and service are good, and has some nice views. I hear you get a complimentary starter and dessert, so just order a main course.
    • Down by the Harbour you have the Marina with a line of restaurants: Sherlock Holmes and worth a visit. But just beware, along that harbor road is pricey!
    • Pinarbası Terrace Restaurant: Beautiful restaurant at the Village of Islamar on an open terrace overlooking the mountains and the sea at Kalkan Bay & Patara

Overall, Kalkan is a fun little getaway for expats. There are so many Brits on summer holiday there that I never felt like a foreigner! If anything I felt more Turkish since we live in Turkey and speak Turkish. It was a perfect place to base our travels out off. While our goals were more to hang out with friends and relax for this trip, we did get to see a lot!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Kalkan now?
  • Have you traveled to Kalkan before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Don’t forget, you can explore all of Kalkan, Turkey with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Kalkan Playlist videos.

TURKEY: Your Guide to the Home of Santa Claus – Demre, Turkey

Little Recap:

Turkey has a winter and summer culture – especially. Those families who can afford it, have a summer house near some coast line to escape the heat of the cities for a few months. Two our of four sets of our neighbors do this exact thing ever year. Ever since we moved to Turkey, we had wanted to try it out.

Last summer(2020) after a strict and exhaustive COVID lockdown, Jason and I opted get out of Izmir for 3 weeks to a summer villa in Kalkan, Turkey. Every week we had a different family or friends come share the week with us. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

This post is a continuation of my past KALKAN summer series! Hope you find this helpful. Make sure to catch the matching video at the end.

Now on to Demre!

Demre is a tiny town (around 20,000 people) located in the Antalya Province on the Mediterranean coast of Turkey with the Taurus Mountains rising behind. The villages of Demre grow pomegranates and citrus fruits as well as large quantity of fruits and vegetables all year round in greenhouses. Previously known as Kale, the town was renamed in 2005 after the river Demre. Demre is also the ancient the Lycian town of Myra. 

More importantly it’s the home to the world famous 4th-century Christian saint, Saint Nicholas of Myra – better know now in the states as the mythicize Santa Clause.

Demre Turkey
Demre Turkey

Who really was Saint Nicholas?

Most people don’t know the true story of Santa Claus. Some people celebrate this tradition because it is fun. Some parents use Santa as a way to make their kids behave better around the holiday times.

And… most people have no idea that ‘Santa Claus’ was born in present-day Turkey!

Saint Nicholas, born in 370 AD, was a 4th century Christian bishop who helped the poor needy. After his death, the legend of his gift-giving grew. He is now the basis for the popular character of Santa Claus.

Early Life: Saint Nicholas was born in Patara, Lycia, an area near Demre, that is part of present-day Turkey.  He lost both of his parents as a young man. His parents were very wealthy and Saint Nicholas used his inheritance to help the poor and sick. He dedicated his life to serving God and soon became a bishop of Myra. Saint Nicholas lived out the verse from the Bible: Luke 12:33 “Sell your possessions and give to the poor.”

There is a lot of in between stories of his life, but one of the other notable events he is known for is being a part of the Council of Nicea 325 AD at present-day Iznik, Turkey. During the reign of Emperor Constantine of Constantinople, he organized the Council of Nicaea. It was the first council that was for the entire body of new Christains believers of that time. Saint Nicholas defended the church against heresy, a belief or opinion contrary to orthodox religious (especially Christian) doctrine. A lot of fundamental theology was formed during this time.

The most famous story Saint Nicholas has been immortalize by is the story about how he helped three poor sisters. Their father did not have enough money to pay their dowries, payments for marriage, and thought of selling them into servitude. Three times, Saint Nicholas secretly went to their house at night and threw a bag of money inside. The man used the money so that his daughters could marry. On the third visit, the man saw Saint Nicholas and thanked him for his kindness.  Some gold fell into the socks drying by the fireplace. This is why there is a tradition to hang stocking by the fireplace.

Over the years, stories of his miracles and work for the poor spread to other parts of the world.

Personally, we celebrated Jesus Christ birth at Christmas. But all throughout my childhood, we celebrated Santa Claus in the traditional way. The night before Christmas we would read the Christmas story and set out cookies and milk. The next morning I would wake up to 1 big gift from him and our stockings would be full of small gifts. 

Some families only give gifts to celebrate Jesus’ birth instead. Jesus’ birth as a gift to the world and so we give gifts to one another and those in need. Saint Nicolas gave gifts to those in need because of Jesus too. He is a good example of how we can share our love of Jesus with other people. 

Regardless of how people celebrate, Saint Nicholas’ true story still shows through: True giving, Faithfulness, and Joy

Fun side note: I did a whole fancy presentation about Saint Nicholas for my Turkish class one time. If you are curious to see it, check it out here.

What you should see and do in Demre, Turkey:

1. Start at downtown Demre at Santa Claus Museum (Noel Baba Müzesi) – also called Saint Nicholas Church

St. Nicholas was born near this area, became the bishop of Patara, and was buried here after his death. So it’s no surprise that this 11th century East Roman Basilica church is decorated with beautiful vibrant frescoes of life and miracles of St. Nicholas.

After surviving numerous floods, the Russian Tsar Nicholas I in 1862 restored the church, adding the tower and making other changes to its Byzantine architecture. The church continued to function until the Greek Orthodox community of Demre was forced to leave in 1923. After which, the church fell into disrepair.  The church is regarded as the 3rd most important Byzantine structure in Anatolia.

Even in its ruined state, the church’s amazing architecture has made it onto the list of UNESCO tentative heritage sites. Inside you can see mosaics on the floor, vibrant frescoes on the walls and archways, and a broken sarchopagus which was believed to be the first burial of St. Nicholas. (It is said that in 1087 A.D. most of his bones were taken by force to Bari in Italy, and the remainder taken to Venice in 1100 A.D.)

Next to the church is a museum cafe. Outside there are many tourist shops to get your trinket as a remembrance of your visit.

Visiting info: Entrance fee is 50TL or Museum Card. Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.

2. Move on to Myra Ancient City (Myra Antik Kenti)

Just 2 km (1.2 miles) inland from St. Nicholas Church, there is Myra Ancient City. Unlike Kaunos, which is somewhat difficult to get to, the rock tombs of Myra are as easy as it gets. You drive up, walk through the single aisle of gift shops, and you’re there.

For a while in 1st century AD, this ancient city was the chief city of Lycia League. Over time it slowly lost its popularity. Due to a terrible plague, Muslim raids, flooding, and earthquakes, Myra was mostly abandoned by the 11the century. The largest Greco-Roman theatre in Lycia is in Myra and much of the inscriptions and double-vaulted corridors are still visible today.

This open air museum is small with a large well-preserved theater and impressive rock-intricate and imposing hewn tombs carved into the mountain side – both which offer great photo opportunities.

Visiting info: Entrance fee is 45TL or Museum Card cover both the Andriake Ruins and Lycian Civilizations Museum. Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.

Myra Demre Turkey
Myra Demre Turkey

3. Go outside to Andriake Ancient City (Andriake Örenyeri Müzesi)

The story of Myra and the Lycia civilization begins with the rock tombs and ends in the sea with the Port of Andriake, or in Turkish Çayağzı, is 5 km (3 miles) west of Demre. The Demre river gave life to the city, and sadly, along with other Arab raids and natural disasters, also brought an end to the city as it dried up.

The ruins include a plakoma, harbor, baths, churches and synagogues, one being 1500 years old. One of the most interesting buildings of Andriake is the Murex Workshops, or dye factory. The seashell, murex, produced a very rare purple color only used for the emperor’s clothing.

As well, at the end of the long one-way walking path, stop by the Lycian Civilizations Museum, built in a former granarium (granary) back in 129 AD. This museum displays excavations and artifacts of the major Lycian League Cities: Myra, Patara, Xanthos, Tilos, Pınara, Olympus, Arykanda and Antiphellos. Each hall and its collection is named after a major Lycian city and gives clues about the religious beliefs, economic and social lives from that area.

Thanks to their historical importance and originality, the Ancient Cities of the Lycian Civilization are included in the UNESCO World Heritage Temporary List.

Nearby the ruins are a small, decent beach and several small restaurants.

Visiting info: Entrance fee is 12.50 TL or Museum Card cover both the Andriake Ruins and Lycian Civilizations Museum (another 10 TL or Museum Card). Open to visitors 7 days a week. Summer (April 1st – October 31st) 08.30-19.00, winter (October 31st – April 1st) 08.30-17.30.

Andriake Demre Turkey

Also in the Demre area:

  • Few other historical sites nearby going West to East:
    • Heroon of Trysa
    • Trebenda
    • Soura
    • Issium
  • Beaches: If you want to know more about the beaches, check out Traveling Lens Photography’s post on Demre to learn more!
    • Çağıllı Beach
    • Andriake Beach
    • Çayağzı Beach – This beach has a boat to Kekova (see below)
    • Leech Beach
    • Taşıbı Beach
    • Ali’s Beach

BONUS: Kekova

  • I marked this as a ‘bonus’ because it not actually in the city of Demre, but an hour drive and then a boat tour to get to the island. Spend a day via a Tekne Boat Tour to explore the underwater sunken city of Kekova while swimming in the clear blue water.
  • Across from the island, located high up on a hill, is the Simena Castle. You can visit it before or after your tour of Kekova.

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • From Kalkan, our point of reference for this post, we drove just over an hour to get to Demre. From Antalya, expect a 2.5 hour car ride, longer if coming by bus.
  • While there are buses, we had a rental car. You can alway hire a driver for the day to take you around. Take a bus from your nearby city and then when you get to Demre just grab taxis to and from the local sites. The 3 sites I mentioned in this post – Santa Claus Museum, Myra Ancient City, and Andriake are all easily accessible by taxi around the city.
  • If you are staying Kaş or Antalya, check with a local tour agency and see about day tours to this area. It will probably be included in a longer day tour with a stop off to Kekova as well.

Lodging: 

  • Most visitors to this area are only passing through or on a day trip! We ourselves stayed in Kalkan and only came for the day.
  • Check Airbnb or hotels.com for accommodations.

Restaurants: 

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, west-bound Kaş is a great day trip or overnight if you want to stay longer!
  • As you continue eastward, you will hit the city of Antalya. This area can definitely be a trip in and of it’s own!

You can explore Demre with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our video: Demre, Turkey – Santa Claus’ Hometown

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Demre now?
  • Have you traveled to Demre before?
  • Did you visit St. Nicolas church?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other videos about Kalkan via our FULL PLAYLIST:

TURKEY: Top 8 sites in Trabzon, Turkey

Little Recap:

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen!

***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

Now on to Trabzon!

IMPORTANT: This post covers the whole province of Trabzon, not just the city. In fact, most of these items are a 1 – 2 hours away from Trabzon ‘City’. Take note because it will take time to drive from place to place, and it will determine where you choose to stay.

Trabzon Maçka Turkey

The Black Sea region in Turkey is home to some of the most beautiful coastline and mountains in the country.  Black Sea in Turkish means Karadeniz, and the Turks from this region have their own accent, dress and lifestyle. Trabzon just a part of that region.

Trabzon is the capital of Trabzon Province and the second largest city of the Black Sea region (to Samsun). Located on the historical Silk Road, it became the trade gateway to the rest of the territory and a melting pot of religions, languages and culture for centuries. It’s legendary history influenced the creation of paintings, theatre plays and operas in Western Europe throughout the following centuries.

Trabzon’s earliest known name was Trapezus, one of the most easterly of ancient Greek settlements – possibly founded in 800 B.C.. Like the rest of Turkey, Trabzon has passed through the hands of many empires. This little narrow strip of city and a bit into the Pontic Mountains were the capital city of the Empire of Trebizond (old English for Trabzon) between 1204 and 1461. Despite its geographic smallness, the city gained great wealth from the taxes it levied on the traded goods via the Black Sea.

Christianity had reached Trebizond by the third century and early Christians sought refuge in the Pontic Mountains south of the city, where they established Vazelon Monastery in 270 AD and Sumela Monastery in 386 AD. Even after the Ottoman conquests of 1461, the Greek Orthodox, better known as the Pontic Greeks, continued to live in this area up until 1923, when they were deported to Greece in the Great exchange.

On to modern day Trabzon, this city of 250,000 boast of a port, the only airport for the Rize area access, a full-scale university, and a very competitive professional football team, Trabzonspor, which has won several titles in the Turkish Super League. Major exports from Trabzon include hazelnuts and tea. The coastal highway has increased and led to some growth, but progress has been slow in comparison to the rest of Turkey.

Personally, Trabzon City wasn’t my favorite city. It was packed to the brim downtown, and there was nothing that truly stood out beside the extensive fortress walls and the historic Hagia Sofia. If you go by our guide, you won’t spend much time IN THE CITY but move on quickly to the more extensive province like we did.

Read on to know what you should see and do in Trabzon, Turkey:

1. Sümela Monastery:

  • Located an hour drive south of Trabzon city center, Sumela Monastery is one of the longest occupied monasteries in Turkey. Founded in the 400s A.D. (I think I said 1400s in my video) by the Greek Orthodox, this location is not the easiest to access. The monestary was slowly built and new building added over its long lifetime. It continued to be home to monks for hundreds of years before the great exchange of 1924 when Turkey and Greece uprooted respective countryman from both sides to the newly marked borders.
  • Due to restorations, the monastery was close to the public for almost 5 years and reopened to the public in 2020. There is still a lot of construction work being done. Even the road which was once accessible all the way to the top is now closed to the public. In order to travel to the monastery, one must park at the designated carpark and grab a mini bus the rest of the way.
  • Without a doubt, this is the ONE place you MUST visit in Trabzon.

2. Karaca Cave

  • Located 97 kilometers inland from Trabzon, near the small town of Torul, Karaca Cave was our first cave visit in Turkey! With it’s well maintained walkways and excellent lighting, it’s no wonder why this cave network is one of Turkey’s best and most accessible. The cave stretches for 107 meters and is filled with huge stalagmites and stalactites that have been formed in weird and eerie shapes. Since opening in 1996, cave has become a place of true landmark of the area.
  • Located 1550 meters above the sea level, we enjoyed the views of the 4-km-long asphalted road up the mountainside. In addition there are places like stopovers and gardens for tourist to to enjoy.

3. Gümüşhane Siron Kebabı

  • Gümüşhane Province, literally meaning “Silver House”, is named so for its silver mines. Situated on the Silkroad, the city is known for its historical structures as well as its natural beauty – Karaca Cave being one of the city’s most important landmark.
  • The must try food of the area is the Siron kebab. A local, Kalaycı, created this dish specifically with his hometown in mind. Siron is made by rolling the dry dough with hot water. He combines the meat of the most delicious unprocessed meat of the animals grazing in the Zigana mountains spread over top of the siron, with a layer of yogurt in between. and meat and presented the Ardasa siron kebab, which was also registered, to the citizens. All the favors make this a yummy dish I wish I could find in Izmir!
  • While you are here: Nearby is the historic town of Süleymaniye, which, although it is under ruins, it is still one of the must-see places. Merkes Süleymaniye Neighborhood Surp Karabet Church is located in Süleymaniye District. The church’s roof and south wall are mostly destoryed but you can see from above the three basilical, 2-story massive layout.

4. Torul Cam Terrace

  • Don’t miss the Torul Glass Terrace! Turn off the highway and follow the road up the mountain. At the top you will find a viewpoint overlooking the city with decent amenities- cafes, toilets, a children’s play area.
  • If you are brave enough for a small fee, currently 5 TL, you can walk onto a glass terrace which is 240 meters overlooking the town of Torul, river, mosques, and the ruins of Torul Castle. If you are not so brave you can still see the same sights from the viewpoints from the safety of the mountain side.

5. Hamsiköy Kahvaltı and Sütlaç

  • Hasmsikoy is a small village located about an hour drive south of Maçka. It has beautiful scenery and is home to the traditional Turkish dessert sütlaç. You will really experience what life in a Turkish village looks like when you visit. We enjoyed Turkish breakfast here and then a bowl of the area’s famous sütlaç. Restaurant recs is below.

6. Hagia Sofia (Trabzon City)

  • Hagia Sofia (Trabzon City), known as the counterpart to the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, was also built as a church during the Byzantine era around 1240s. The church was used until converted into a mosque by one of the Ottoman sultans. Interestingly enough, during World War I the Russian occupation used as a temporary hospital and depot.
  • After the war had finished, it was reused as a mosque until 1964 when it was turned into a museum as a way for visitors to learn about the past. In 2012, local religious leaders were granted approval to veil frescos and the carpet the floor of the museum to make it comfortable for muslims when they reconverted it to a mosque. It also means that it is free to enter.

7. Atatürk Köşkü (Trabzon City)

  • In the city of Trabzon, there is a small mansion built in the 1890s by a Greek Merchant. The city of Trabzon gifted this building to their leader of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ironically, Ataturk spent hardly any time in this house (maybe 2-3 visits?). After he passed away, the city dedicated this building to Atatürk, turning it into a museum. The building has been left in the traditional style, most items predating 1937, for people to visit and learn of how the leader of Turkey lived.

8. Uzungol

  • Uzungol, unfortunately, is very much out of the way! In fact, in our original itinerary, we planned to skip this completely. However, due to all the recommendations and my FOMO (fear of missing out – and FONR, Fear of Never Returning), we decided to squeeze it in on our travel from Trabzon to Rize.
  • Uzungol, Turkish for ‘long lake’, is a large beautiful lake surrounded by thick, dense forests. Surrounding the lake are several pockets of hotels, restaurants, and shops. We rented an electric scooter and road it around the circumference of the lake taking in the sites. Honestly, it felt way too touristy for me but the day was lovely, and we were glad to explore outdoors. However, if you love a good lake (and can find a decent price hotel) then I think there is enough to do here if you stayed a couple of nights.
  • Getting there: Unfortunately it is at least one hour drive south of the coast road from Trabzon to Rize (and an hour return) – 90 minutes from Trabzon City. Just make sure you plan a full day to get there, tour, eat, and return – especially if you are taking public transportation. Many tour agencies in Trabzon sell day trips there, but you can also choose to stay overnight in one of Uzungol’s traditional hand built wooden hotels.

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

  • For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
  • Flying in and out of the Trabzon’s airport, or Trabzon Havalimanı, is quite a treat. Due to the quick escalation of coast to mountains, the city had to build the runway out into the water, running parallel to the Black Sea coastline. You get an amazing view of the city and the sea as you arrive.
  • Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines have daily flights from Istanbul to Trabzon. Pegasus Airlines from Izmir only first direct 2 times a week. All other flights route through Istanbul.
  • Bus services from Trabzon to other parts of the province are frequent and convenient.

Lodging: 

  • Voice Hotel Maçka: Our friends recommended this hotel to us, and this was the perfect place to stay for our family! The hotel is just outside of Maçka town on the road to the Sumela monastery. We had a 1 bedroom +1 salon room which included a kitchenette, mini-fridge, and washer (which has a dual drying system). Everything was fabulous! The staff was kind and quick to respond to any request. The breakfast was fantastic and the dinner was great too if you need an easy option near the hotel. We would definitely stay here again if we ever pass through Trabzon again!
  • Gardenya Suite Hotel: This is a perfect little place near downtown Trabzon close to everything but also tucked down a side street so it’s super quiet at night! It was so nice to have a 1 bedroom + 1 salon apartment for our family here. The breakfast was nice, staff was friendly, and everything went off without any issues. We also had a car, and the staff helped us park it at the nearby otopark (free).

MUST TRY FOODS: 

  • Kuymak (Mıhlama in Rize):  Just learned that these names are regional with slight differences in the recipes. Mıhlama is a dish native to Rize while Kuymak is local to Trabzon. Both use cornmeal and cheese but Trabzon uses a local dry, strong and salty “kuymak” cheese.
  • Sütlaç: popularly originates from Hamsiköy in the Trabzon region. Sütlaç is a baked rice pudding made mostly from cow’s milk, sugar, and cream, with just a few additional ingredients. Some people, including myself, like to stop it with cinnamon. This is a dessert you must try when you visit.

Restaurants: 

  • Ataç Konağı Kebab + Balık Restaurant: This Gumushane restaurant has a huge shaded outdoor space including a playground which is great for kids. This is where we got our yummy Siron kebab.
  • Niyazi USTA Restaurant (Hamsiköy): Breakfast stop. Great view but mediocre food. It could be that that there lunch and dinner options are better. Go on weekday to have the whole restaurant to yourself!
  • Osman Usta Sütlaç (Hamsiköy):  Hamsikoy is know for there beautiful view and dessert, Sütlaç. At Osman Usta’nın Yeri, who has been in business since 1972, the secret to this delicious sütlaç is that it is cooked for a long time and made from organic, fatty cow milk. The rice pudding here is especially delicious because the milk is delicious. Make sure to sprinkle a little cinnamon on top (a little chopped hazelnuts if you dare). I recommend it to everyone.
  • Şömine Kafe (Uzungol): The food was NOT worth it but the drive up the mountain is!
  • Maya Bakery & Workshop: This tiny little restaurant has several delicious options of pastas, pizzas, cakes, cookies and brownies. Everything was delicious but the service was a little lacking. We came for dinner, and the timing could have been off. The grocery store attached to the restaurant had some fun snacks that I haven’t seen in Turkey before.

Nearby:

  • West-bound Ordu was one of our favorites: capital of hazelnuts, cable car rides, and miles of coastline!
  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, east-bound Rize is home to Istanbul’s sister church, also names the Hagia Sofia church.

Overall, Trabzon is so amazing. So much history and unlike the rest of Turkey. This Black Sea region is so overlooked by most foreign tourists and it saddened me!

You can Explore Trabzon with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Trabzon Part 1 and Trabzon Part 2 videos and see what all we did in our late afternoon/ morning visit!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Trabzon now?
  • Have you traveled to Trabzon before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just a piece of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO

TURKEY: Top 5 sites in Ankara, Turkey

Little Recap:

Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan!  So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen!

***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.

COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.

While Istanbul is the largest city in Turkey, Ankara is the country’s capital! This city has a population of 4.5 million in the city centre and over 5.6 million in the province. Just like any capital, it’s a center for the nation’s museums and the performing arts.

When the establishment of the new Turkish Republic happened on 29 October 1923, so did Ankara too became the official capital, replacing the consistently chosen Istanbul by former empires. Its more central location makes it an important commercial and industrial city and the hub of Turkey’s road and railway networks. 

Even though Ankara is the ‘new’ capital it is not a new city. The region dates back to the Bronze Age and the Hatti Civilization back in the 2nd millennium BC – crazy LONG time ago. From there follows the normal progressing of rulers: Hittites, Phrygians, Lydians, Persians, Galatians (who were the first to make Ankara their capital), Romans, Byzantines, Seljuks, and finally to the Ottomans until the First World War.

Unlike the big city vibes of Istanbul, the country’s second largest city has a more family and residential feel to it. Parliament, embassies, and companies’ headquarters bring lots of foreigners to this city, but it tends to be all work.

Read on to know what you should see and do in Ankara, Turkey:

1. Anıtkabir – Atatürk’s Mausoleum

  • If you have very little time in Ankara, this should be your first stop. The most historic monument for the Turkish Republic, the Anitkabir, sits on an enormous hilltop and holds the mausoleum of Kemal Atatürk, Turkey’s first president. There are four parts: Ceremonial Plaza, the Road of Lions, the Hall of Honor, and Peace Park. The plaza along, being able to hold 15,000 people will impress upon you its size. Admission is free and there is so much to learn about Turkey here!
  • I could write a post just on this site alone (maybe I will?). But until this here are a few things you don’t want to miss along the way:
    • The Road of lions is a pedestrian-only lined with lion statues symbolizing peace and power.
    • General Ismet Inönü, Kemal Atatürk’s friend, comrade in arms, General, chief of staff, diplomat, prime minister and second president of the Turkish Republic is honored in a cenotaph beneath the western opposing colonnade.
    • As you climb the monumental staircase to enter the Hall of Honor, excerpts from Atatürk‘s speech given on the 10th anniversary (1932) of the republic’s proclamation are inscribed in gold on either side.
    • In the large pavilion – the Hall of Honor, continually guarded by military men, the huge marble cenotaph weighting 40 tons is cut from a single block of stone. Atatürk‘s actual tomb is beneath it. If you happen to be there around noon you witness the changing of the guards!
    • Make sure not to miss the 3,000 meters of War of Independence museum located under the Hall of Honor.

NOTE TO ANYONE VISITING TURKEY (NOT JUST IN THE ANITKABIR): Atatürk’s memory and legacy are revered and protected by law. Do not be disrespectful or joke about their national hero.

2. Ankara Castle

  • The views of the sprawling city from the top of the castle spread out before you and invite you to snap a few pictures. The build date isn’t know but historian say it postdates the capture and destruction of Ankara by the Persians in probably 622. Just like the city, the castle has fallen through many hands such as the Roman, Byzantine, Seljuk, and Ottoman empires.
  • This area is well equipped with great local restaurants, fantastic souvenir shopping where lots of locally made products are available at a very fair price. You do not want to bargain here because merchants are very fair and will feel insulted if you bargain. If you are buying multiple items, they usually give a discount. My purchases here were fairly priced and much more affordable than other tourist areas like Cappadocia.
  • The castle isn’t accessible by car and you will have to walk for a bit before you get to the stairs to climb up. It is a challenge with the steps so if you are in poor health or aged I might just look around the many shops that spread out at the base of the castle. They are worth browsing as well. It is definitely not baby stroller friendly nor handicap accessible.

3. Hamamönü Area:

  • This small neighborhood boast of it’s restored 1920-1930 houses now filled with cafes, restaurants, and artist shops.  For tourist who want to get a sense of what old town, they can step back into time here. Take a break and enjoy a Turkish coffee made over a sand fire from one of the many cafes.
  • When you go to Hamamönü, you must visit the house of Mehmet Akif Ersoy and the tomb of Muhsin Yazıcıoğlu at Tacettin Dergah. Unfortunately it is difficult to find information in English about this historic significance as you are walking around. .
  • You can go to Hamamönü by bus or the city bus. If you go with your own car like we did, you can park on the side of the main road or find a little parking lot.

4. Gençlik Park

  • Opened in 1943 on former marshlands, this 68 acres park is almost at the center of the city. The garden and play areas for kids invite you to relax and get away from noise and stress of the nearby city. The park has several nice outdoor cafes and seating areas where one can relax. The outer sidewalk lining the park makes for a nice long walking loop.
  • Unfortunately when we visited the pond/fountain was not functional. As well, the fair attractions, including the ferris wheel, were also not operational on the day of our visit (we did go at 8 a.m. or it could have been COVID related).
  • The Republic Museum and War of Independence Museum are walking distance from one entrance/exit to park.

5. All the Museums:

  • Unfortunately, we did not have time to make it to any museums (2 year old, work, and nap times…) but I left a list of ones you don’t want to miss! (Like I have mentioned before, not all museums have English translations or cater to foreign speakers…)

Few things we missed:

If you have time, here are a few other sites that would be fun to consider:

  • Altın Köşk (Definitely on my list for next time)
  • Roman Baths
  • Upside Down House (Ters Ev)
  • Kuğulu Park

Our other tips for this area:

Getting There:

Lodging: 

  • Anka City Hotel: We would absolutely stay in this hotel again! With 1 and 2 bedroom apartment style options, it’s small but perfect for a family visit to Ankara. The staff was amazing and breakfast was excellent – complete with your choice of cooked eggs!

Restaurants: 

  • no special Turkish recs but is you are an expat like us, you are always on the lookout for good Mexican food and Sushi…
  • QuickChina: May be my favorite Asia restaurant in all of Turkey and they are ONLY IN ANKARA! Great service, tons of options, and everything is delicious.
  • Rancheros: This is the most authentic Mexican restaurant vibes and food I have found in Turkey yet.

Nearby:

  • If you are looking for a few extra stops, NorthEast-bound Sinop is the highest point along the Black Sea Coastline of Turkey.
  • Drive the East bound inland route towards Samsun, stopping the night in Amasya like we did.

Overall, Ankara is the heart of the Turkish Republic. For history lover or Turkish history enthusiast, the capital city must be on your visit list. You can Explore Ankara with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Ankara video!

Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:

  • Do you want to travel to Ankara now?
  • Have you traveled to Ankara before?
  • If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!

Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just the 1st of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.

  • SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
  • My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
  • Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
  • Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
  • Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO