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POLONEZKÖY

Polonez1

Old name: Adampol

Several districts of İstanbul are named after the homelands of people who were forcibly resettled in them. The most interesting - and unexpected - such place is Polonezköy ("Polish Village"), the small village on the outskirts of Beykoz on the Asian side of the city where a group of Poles settled in 1842 after Prince Adam Czartoryski leased land from the city’s Lazarite community to found an agricultural colony for men fleeing compulsory military service in the Russian army.

Backstory

Originally called Adampol after the prince, the village was at first little more than a dot on the map with just a handful of settlers, but as time passed political circumstances in Europe conspired to encourage more men to join them. In 1848 an uprising in Hungary was unsuccessful, and in 1863 so was another in Poland, both failures resulting in an influx of new colonists.

The immigrant Poles made themselves useful in 1853 when they took the Turkish side in the Crimean War. To reward them, Sultan Abdülmecid I ceded the land to them in perpetuity.

What had once been Poland before being partitioned between Russia, Austria and Hungary regained its independence in 1918. Some of the settlers seem to have considered returning to their birthplaces, but most soon decided that their real home was now in Turkey.

As so often, the new settlers clung to memories of the past, and built their houses from wood and stone in a style more typical of the Carpathian Mountains than contemporary İstanbul. Most made their living as farmers or wood-cutters; some also sold items made from the skin of wild boars. When Atatürk came to visit the new “Polonezköy” he found a thriving settlement that was already starting to make a living out of tourism as word spread of its “otherness”. Early visitors included Gustav Flaubert, Franz Liszt and Pierre Loti who were all keen to see this piece of Central Europe transposed to the Ottoman Empire.

Polonez2But slowly Polonezköy started to lose its identity as the law forbidding non-Poles to buy land there was relaxed and Turks started to move in. Today out of a population of around 800 people, only about 50 still have Polish ancestry and even fewer still speak the language fluently. Nevertheless the village continues to attract the attention of eminent Poles; visitors have included ex-presidents Lech Walesa who came in 1994, and Aleksander Kwesniewski who visited in 1996 and again in 2000.

Today’s Polonezköy still keeps itself to itself, and is that unusual thing in Turkey – a village with no bus services. Lost amid the lovely deciduous woodlands that still ring this part of İstanbul, it retains the feel of a real village and the main street is still dotted with wooden houses, most of them pressed into the service of tourism as hotels or restaurants. Unfortunately, though, you only have to stray a little way away from the main road to find that the newcomers who have jumped on the tourism bandwagon have mainly turned their back on the Polish wood-and-stone eco-style in favour of the usual concrete-box buildings.

Around the village

Polonezköy is a great place to come for a relaxing weekend break, with few must-see attractions to disturb your rest.

The village church is worth a quick look especially for a memorial to the poet Adam Mickiewicz who died in Tarlabaşı in 1869.

There is also a small wooden cottage, Zofia Rize Anı Evi, half-buried amid thick undergrowth, which opens on Sundays to give the curious a glimpse of how life was lived here in the 19th century.

More active visitors can step out on a 5km walking trail which zips around the village.

Traditionally a Cherry Festival is held here every June. I have never been to it so can't vouch for its being worth a visit. Polonez3

Eating

Centrepiece of the village is one of those restaurants whose reputation runs ahead of it. Leonardo’s (tel: 0216-432 3082, www.leonardorestaurant.com) sits in extensive grounds with a sizeable outdoor pool. Popular with wedding parties, it’s one of those increasingly rare places where pork still features on the menu. Also listed are a number of Polish dishes, some of them of doubtful authenticity. Polonaise-style Peking duck, anyone?

Sleeping

Best of the village hotels is probably the Polka Country Hotel (tel: 0216-432 3220, www.polkahotels.com) which was created out of an old farmhouse and then expanded down the hillside to include a restaurant with the air of a British pub and a small swimming pool. Rooms are unexceptional, but the rural ambience should more than compensate, especially if you come with a loved one or a group of friends.

Polonez4Polka Country HotelIf you don’t want to stay in Polonezköy itself there are a couple of hotels buried in the surrounding countryside which are also worth considering.

Closest is the Village Park Country Resort (tel: 0216-434 5931, www.villagepark.com.tr) which has enormous and city-stylish rooms in extensive grounds which incorporate a stream and a K-9 dog training centre where some of the dogs used to guard the Metro are put through their paces.

Alternatively, Saklıköy Country Hotel (tel: 0216-434 5522, www.saklikoy.com) has gorgeous rooms set in even more extensive grounds, this time with riding facilities on site. Despite its relatively remote location, it has something of the feel of a British country-house hotel.

Transport info

Astonishingly, no buses come to Polonezköy. You'll either have to come in your own car or pay a taxi from Beykoz.

 

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