You have a weekend for a quick getaway from Istanbul. What do you do? If you don’t want to spend most of your time travelling, a trip to Bursa is a great escape, says Dalia Mortada
Historically noted as the first capital of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa boasts some of the most impressive Ottoman architecture, natural thermal springs and a very close proximity to Mount Uludağ, known for beautiful day-long hikes and skiing. More importantly, at least to an eater like myself, Bursa is home to İskender kebap – a juicy, gloopy, oh-so-satisfying meal of thick pide bread, topped with tomato sauce and a layer of freshly shaven lamb döner, drizzled with butter and served with a creamy dollop of yogurt. But beware: the İskender is very heavy and may call for an afternoon nap post-consumption
Led by my desire to get a fresh breath of non-city air, and my even stronger desire to try the food it’s famous for, I recently took my getaway opportunity to head to Bursa. As I inhaled deeply on my short trek up Mount Uludağ, just 10km from the ancient capital city, I could feel my lungs filling with the unpolluted oxygen.
Located in the Çekirge district, Mutlu Hotel offers comfortable accommodation. Rooms have private bathrooms and can fit up to four people. Two people can stay there for 90 TL, which also covers a 30-minute private thermal bath session and breakfast. Be sure to take time to enjoy the bath; a dip in the hot water is a great way to warm the muscles before a long day of hiking or an even better way to relax afterward. Murat Caddesi 19, Çekirge, Bursa (0224) 233 28 29.
Many fine eating establishments offer Bursa’s famous kebap, but Kervan is conveniently located off Kent Square downtown and serves absolutely delicious offerings, with plenty of options for vegetarians. Kıbrıs Şehitleri Caddesi 141, Osmangazi, Bursa (0224) 254 93 78.
Surrounded by deep green foliage and colourful wildflowers, I couldn’t believe that I was only three hours from the bustling metropolis that is Istanbul (and just a 20-minute cab ride from Bursa’s city centre). The sounds of car motors were few and far between, instead replaced with the distinct buzzing of bees and bird-songs. I knew I was truly outside the city limits when my group passed fresh bear tracks.
After a restful night in Bursa and a dip in the natural hot bath, we began our hike at 09.00, but not before we ate the freshest of breakfasts in Cumalıkızık, a charming village at the foot of Uludağ famous for the morning meal. A table full of homemade raspberry and fig preserves, creamy goat cheese, fried eggs from a chicken coop just metres away and a full pot of tea was the perfect fuel to get us going. Breakfast at Cumalıkızık is a family affair – literally – as visitors are invited to dine in the locals’ homes.
Thanks to its preserved history and traditional lifestyle maintained to this day, Cumalıkızık is on UNESCO’s tentative list as a World Heritage Site. The old stone Ottoman houses lining picturesque alleyways still hold strong as villagers’ dwellings.
Post-incredible breakfast, the climb up a small part of Mount Uludağ was welcome exercise. The view over the rest of Bursa is an unmissable sight, with red terracotta roofs piling the landscape. After an extended stay in busy Istanbul, a hike up from Cumalıkızık is a serene escape.
If you visit the village on a Sunday, you will encounter the weekly market, where you can pick up jars of locally produced preserves and honey. I made sure to leave with a jar of the extraordinary flower-honey I sampled at breakfast – 15 TL well spent.
Try to work up an appetite before you leave Cumalıkızık, because even though it’s famous for breakfast, it is also well known for gözleme (a savoury handmade tortilla-like pastry, filled with cheese or potatoes or meat, kind of like a Turkish quesadilla).
Travelling to Bursa from Istanbul is very easy. Along with the numerous buses that will get you into the city in three to four hours, ferries leave from Yenikapı and Kabataş piers. The Yenikapı ferries run less frequently but are larger, allow cars on board and only take 90 minutes to cross the Sea of Marmara. A one-way ride costs 34 TL. The schedule for these ferries can be found at www.ido.com.
The smaller ferries from Kabataş run every hour or two. A one-way ticket costs between 12 and 16 TL for the 110-minute journey. The Kabataş-Bursa ferry schedule can be found at www.idobus.com.tr. Tickets for the buses or the ferries can be purchased at the station upon arrival.
The one disadvantage to taking the ferry is that they actually drop off at Güzelyalı, a port about 45 minutes (via public transport) from downtown Bursa. From the pier, a public bus takes passengers to Bursa’s metro line, and from there the metro goes to the city centre.
Getting to Cumalıkızık from Bursa is also simple. The main dolmuş station in Osmangazi, minutes’ walk from Kent Square, has a dolmuş that goes to the village every 90 minutes for just 1.75 TL. The ride is about 50 minutes. Alternatively, a 35-TL cab ride will get you there in 20 minutes.