The old town of Safranbolu, nestled in the hills south of the Black Sea, is a must for anyone interested in 19th-century Ottoman architecture and material culture.


We made a long day’s drive, more than 500 kilometres/300 miles from Kapadokya to Safranbolu. Decided not to detour en route to spend a night in Hittite land; we wanted to return to Istanbul a day early, in case navigation issues arose. Which they did.

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Google Earth, with thanks

After we left Kapadokya, beautiful river-valley scenery gave way to more prosaic upland plains where farming dominates right up to the approaches to Ankara, the Turkish capital city since 1923; metro population about six million.

What you need to do is get onto the eastern beltway around Ankara going north. Instead of a simple off-ramp, you have to negotiate two loops, with a treacherous fork between them:

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Be sure to bear left at the indicated spot (a really busy place) or you will travel many miles before you can turn around … So I’ve been told … Did I mention it was a long day?

The approach to Safranbolu winds through Karabük, a town with a steel foundry, heaps of coal, railway tracks set on a flat in a river valley with long even slopes rising to plateaux. The city of Safranbolu proper we navigated with many an uncertain braking, looking for we knew not what; found ourselves creeping down a two-lane parkway, not fast enough for some local youths who shouted derisively as they careened by — the only instance of disrespect we experienced in the entire month, not counting the Istanbul taxi driver.

0 Safranbolu approach

Thanks Google Maps

Whatever guided us on the right way to the old town — a distinct enclave on the slopes of a ravine below the modern city — we found ourselves in the middle of a charming village in which almost everything looked old.


Delicious fresh berry juice, 5TL/$2.50 in the market.

We had booked two nights in the Hotel Gulevi, which TripAdvisor rates No. 1 of 17 hotels in Safranbolu. It was marked on Google Maps on the iPad, but we couldn’t find a trace of it — so after driving around and around in a pouring rain, we finally asked a parking attendant at the gate of an open field across from where the hotel should have been and he pointed to one of several whitewashed redroofed houses directly opposite … The hotel was just about exactly where it should be … Was there a hint of its identity, a sign, like? In microprint, perhaps …

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Gulevi proved a treasure. Beautiful old wood everywhere inside:

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In back a comfortable shaded sitting area and a fine expanse of lawn where toddlers roam free:

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Very nice breakfast served in a sunny corner of that back building. Dad came by for a chat. Classical music chirped away in the bushes.

Two young families were enjoying a weekend away from their busy lives in Ankara; the men worked in the American embassy there. They raved about Safranbolu, the Gulevi Hotel and a little restaurant they liked so much they returned for a second dinner. (Took us some looking to find but wow! delicious dinner for two under $20; but the name … gone … It’s across from the back of the fancy Cenci hotel; just a little place; it’s beside a pathway up the steep hill behind.)

Out and about in the delightful market area:

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The name Safranbolu roughly translates as Saffron City. One of the great centres of saffrron production is the nearby town of Davutobası. Safranbolu’s market teems with saffron dealers. We ignored the mountains of ground saffron and went for the little jars of the dried stigmas of the saffron crocus; paid about $10 each, with a hilarious handout attesting to the many health-giving properties of saffron. Paula got some saffron soap; it has had daily use in the shower and is still going strong five months later.

A short hike past the market and up to a ridge-top park with vistas in two directions … this is westerly … the modern city can be seen in the distance upper right:

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Along that stone pathway we find a folkloric museum in a restored Ottoman house:

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Loved the old wood, the strange shapes …

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Pretty clear the guys had the run of the place …

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… women not so much …


But you got to really dress up back there …

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Sitting room:

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Cubbies shaped like the pass-through for food:

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Sumptuous furnishings …


Cool stuff in an adjoining shed:0710 shed

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