If it were simply a well-preserved collection of Ottoman houses, Safranbolu could not claim to be unique. But this once obscure little market town tucked away on an old Ottoman trade route between Central Anatolia and the Black Sea has acquired emblematic status for architects, social historians, town planners (the better kind) and conservationists.
Safranbolu is one of the few 20th-century conservation projects in Turkey that bear comparison with those in Communist Balkan countries – places such as Plovdiv (Filibe) in Bulgaria, and Pocitelj in Bosnia. Don’t be put off by the steelworks of Karabük, Safranbolu’s half-sister (as Piombino is to Elba), which you drive through first (actually rather dramatic). In Safranbolu you enter a better world.
A recent visitor was Briony Llewellyn, author of Cornucopia’s article on the great Victorian painter JF Lewis, Drawing from Life. She was inspired by our feature on Kastamonu in Cornucopia 46: ‘In hired car, we drove from Istanbul to Safranbolu. A mass of places to stay in old houses in the old town (Çarşı), but we had booked the Raşitler Bağ Evi at Bağlar, about three miles out, much quieter, with several old houses and a rural feel. I would wholeheartedly recommend this small and friendly hotel, run by Erhan Hangün and his wife, both of whom speak a little English and did all they could to make us comfortable and welcome.’
The latest reports suggest that Safranbolu is a comfortable five-hour drive from Istanbul, and three hours from Ankara. A pleasant hour or two can be added for breakfast near Lake Abant (first exit after the Bolu Dağı tunnel. And the Koru Hotel is a solid standby if you don’t want to drive in the dark on your way back to Istanbul.
The Raşitler Bağağevi also sent the following useful information on buses. Ulusoy and Kamil Koç both run regular services to Safranbolu from Istanbul and Ankara. By bus Safranbolu takes approximately 6.5 hours from Istanbul. Ulusoy departs at 9:00, 13:00, 23:59. Kamil Koç departs at 9:30, 13:00, 17:00, 23:59. From Ankara, the journey is just 3 hours and the two companies between them run 18 services a day.
On foot within the town. There is an upper town (Bağlar, literally ‘Vineyards’, which has much more rural in feel and is where the Safranbolulu took themselves in summer) and the lower town (Çarşı).