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A lovely, unpretentious old Ottoman farmhouse where the family live the life of a traditional Ottoman estate and welcome guests with food grown with their own organic produce.
Ten miles from the city of Kastamonu, near the scattered village of Kavacık, the İzbeli Konak is an old-fashioned country house at the heart of an estate in the foothills of the Ilgaz Mountains. It is this range, rising to 2,587 metres, that traps the moist air floating up from the Black Sea and shields Kastamonu and its fertile farmlands from the arid central Anatolian plateau to the south. From the comfort of the divans lining the walls, you look out over a dishevelled orchard of plum and apple. Beyond, in the mist, is a sea of sweet chestnut, oak, beech and pine. Tea bubbles away on the wood-burning stove.
The İzbeli family, or İzbelizade, as they appear in Ottoman records, have been among the great and the good of Kastamonu since the 17th century, though family lore traces their roots to Bukhara in the Turkic heartlands of Central Asia, and they bear the distinguished title of seyyid, descendants of the Prophet. They were granted this fertile countryside by Mehmet IV – “the Hunter”, as he was known – in 1651. It was a timar estate: in lieu of tax the İzbeli were to raise sipahi, or cavalry, to send out each spring on the great Ottoman campaigns that would reach the walls of Vienna. As a mark of their good fortune, the İzbelizade endowed Kastamonu with a new mosque, a soup kitchen and a library. The 19th-century family town house still stands in the bazaar district.
Today the family has a matriarchal head, Sabiha İzbeli, who lives in the broad-roofed house at Kavacık, in a private apartment occupying one of the four corners of the first floor. Her mother, İzbelizade Hafız Selma Hanım (1864–1947), was a redoubtable leader in the Turkish struggle for independence after the collapse of the Ottoman Empire in the First World War – the area around Kastamonu was the only region of the Black Sea unoccupied by foreign forces. A formidable bluestocking, Selma Hanım was a founding member of every solidarity society going, including Kızılay, the Red Crescent. She was also Kastamonu’s first woman MP.
Her daughter Sabiha is another determined woman: a shelf is full of medals for achievements – in midwifery, charity work and more lately tourism. Alongside is a photograph of her looking every bit the Hollywood star. Now she does her bit for the economy, offering an all-day breakfast that has been voted one of the ten best in Turkey. This keeps the roof on the house, gives the house its purpose and provides Kavacık’s women with useful employment doing one of the things they do best; no one leaves the table hungry…
By Berrin Torolsan with photographs by Solvi dos Santos
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