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Beyond Istanbul: Turkey's lesser known hideaways
From sedate village areas to coastal havens, these four off-the-path spots provide a big, lazy dollop of calm and intrigue
Grand palaces, ancient ruins, magnificent mosques -- there are many things that can pique a traveler’s interest in Turkey.
But get past the popular spots and you’ll find several destinations that even the greatest Turkophiles may not have visited.
Urla: Slow food, slow life
Urla is a slow-paced town a 45-minute bus ride away from Izmir, dominated by the blue waters of the Aegean and grayish-green olive trees.
Unlike Çeşme and Alaçatı, two nearby spots that attract crowds in the summer, Urla has a coastal serenity.
Urla’s history dates back more than 5,000 years. It’s home to the oldest known olive oil press.
It was formerly the ancient Greek city Klazomenai and one of the oldest known ports of the Aegean. Today Urla is a quiet escape and a leader in the slow-food movement and organic farming in Turkey.
Urla offers a variety of activities including scenic drives and swimming in the clear waters of the Aegean from May to September.
A full day here might include a wine-tasting and vineyard tour at Urla Şarapçılık after trying some local specialties at Beğendik Abi, located at the town center.
A walk by the harbor (Iskele) in the afternoon can be followed by a seafood dinner at Yengeç. We recommend Kemal Bey Range for an overnight stay.
Urla Şarapçılık: Kuşçular Köyü, 8028 Sokak No:12, Ukuf Mevkii, Urla/Izmir; +90 232 759 01 11; www.urlasarapcilik.com.tr
Beğendik Abi: Cami Atik Mahallesi, Tatar Cami Sokak No:12, Urla Merkez/Izmir; +90 232 754 2071; www.begendikabi.com.tr
Yengeç Restaurant:İskele Mahallesi, 2121 Sokak No: 6 D:1, İskele-Urla, Izmir; +90 232 752 11 52; www.yengec-restaurant.com
Kemal Bey Range: Kaz Deresi Mevkii, 35440 Urla/İzmir; +90 232 759 05 14; www.kemalbeyrange.com
Polonezköy: A Polish village in Istanbul
If you stick to Istanbul's city center, you'll miss out on what the outskirts of the city have to offer.
An hour’s drive from the historical peninsula is Polonezköy, formerly called Adampol, a Polish village that features breathtaking greenery, impressive architecture and an intriguing history.
After fleeing their homeland in the 1840s, Polish refugees settled in the area, creating a distinctively Polish village within easy reach of the city.
Although the Polish population is now less than 100 people, the village still carries its Polish features and serves as a charming getaway, especially for weekenders with a more active nature.
The important sights include the Polish cemetery, Our Lady of Częstochowa Church and the historic home of Zofia Rizi.
Visitors can trek or cycle through the woods and picnic. Fall brings fantastic photo-worthy colors. If you go during summer, try to coincide with the Cherry Festival in June when Polish culture is celebrated with traditional folk dancing.
Hotels in the village include the Polka Country Hotel, a historic building with distinctively Polish features.
Alternatively, Saklıköy Country Hotel & Club, set in Ishaklı Köyü Plain, is a 15-minute drive away and has an authentic country setting with outdoor activities like horseback riding, ATV drives and paintball.
Note: Public transport is not available to the area so visitors need to arrange transportation.
Polka Country Hotel: Polonezköy/Istanbul; +90 216 432 32 20
Saklıköy Country Hotel & Club: Bayramköprü Mevkii No: 6/A, Ishaklı Köyü, Beykoz/Istanbul; +90 216 434 55 22; www.saklikoy.com.tr
Tepeköy: An old Greek village in Gökçeada
Gökçeada, Turkey’s largest island and formerly known as Imvros in Greek, is a short ferry ride from Çanakkale.
A popular summer getaway for locals, the island’s quiet village Tepeköy is undisturbed by concrete developments and is peaceful and uncrowded even in the peak of summer.
The island’s history dates back nearly 2,500 years, having been ruled by the Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans. Until recently, the village’s population was in the thousands, now it barely has 30 residents.
Most of the residents migrated in the 1960s, but it has seen a reawakening in the past 20 years thanks to Barba Yorgo.
This Tepeköy-native began reviving his hometown by restoring his old house, turning it into a guest house that includes the island’s only Greek tavern.
He has inspired other residents to also run guest houses in the village.
One of the main attractions of the village is the 19th century church, now restored. The old Greek cemetery also attracts visitors but the real attraction here is the view.
The best way to enjoy Gökçeada is by taking a drive to admire the stunning views of the sea, photograph the now-restored old Greek houses, have a picnic at Çınaraltı where a 600-year-old oak tree stands and an antique fountain still functions.
During summer there's the Festival of the Virgin Mary, held each year on August 15. Crowds of Greeks come to Tepeköy on that day for the Orthodox service, which is followed by a communal lunch and a big party with traditional Greek music in the evening.
You can sample local life at Barba Yorgo’s guest house where he'll happily chat with you while sipping his home-made wine.
Barba Yorgo: Tepeköy/Gökçeada; +90 286 887 42 47; www.barbayorgo.com
Gito Yaylası: The Black Sea’s cloud land
If the bustle of Istanbul tires you out, you can find peace and quiet in Gito Yaylası, a plateau nestled between the Kaçkar Mountains.
It's difficult to get to, but this untamed piece of rural Turkey is worth the effort. Visitors need to fly to Trabzon then drive for an hour to Çamlıhemşin dictrict of Rize, then drive for another two hours.
There is not much to do except wake up to beds of clouds, take scenic walks, go on photo safaris and enjoy the local delicacies.
Koçira is the area’s only guest house and it is a testament to the hospitality of the local people. It's worth bringing your camping gear along too as there are some great treks to be done.
Koçira: www.kocira.com (Note: The guest house provides pick-up services for travelers without a vehicle)