safgulWhat do you imagine when you think of Turkey? Maybe it’s the mosques and the palaces, but maybe it’s the lovely old wooden houses that were once a mainstay of towns in the 18th and 19th centuries.

Today many of these fine buildings are slowly crumbling to dust, unloved and unforgotten, some of them literally held together by sheets of tin. Increasingly, though, they are being snapped up and converted into boutique hotels that offer visitors the chance to play Ottoman for the day.

It’s a trend that started in Safranbolu, where conservation supremo Çelik Gülersoy and his Touring and Automobile Club of Turkey bought and restored a couple of the finest mansions in a place which is now listed as a UNESCO world heritage site for its Ottoman townscape. It took a while for the idea to catch on, but today you can stay in Ottoman-style hotels in places as far apart as Reşadiye, near Datça, and Ünye on the Black Sea.


Lovers of all things Ottoman should head straight for Safranbolu to get to grips with the basic structure of the typical 18th and 19th-century Ottoman house. Most of the mansions here have stone-built ground floors where animals would have been stabled. Above that one or two more stories of wood and brick jut out one above each other, their windows sometimes fitted with grilles so that women could look out without being seen. Inside, rooms usually opened off central sitting areas. Most served multiple uses, with sedirs (divans) ringing the walls for use as seating during the day and as beds at night. Meals were taken at low tables that were stored in built-in cupboards. Bathroom facilities were also housed inside cupboards.

Finest of all Safranbolu’s places to stay is the Havuzlu Asmazlar Konağı (Tel: 0370-725 2883, www.safranbolukonak.com), authentically restored under Çelik Gülersoy’s supervision and with a wonderful pool in the breakfast room so that the sound of refreshing running water could soothe the residents’ fevered brows in summer.

Today some Safranbolu hotels suffer from overly lavish decoration and from the attempt to shoehorn in too many beds. No such problems detract from the lovely Gülevi (Tel: 0370- 725 4645, www.canbulat.com.tr), redesigned by the award-winning architect İbrahim Canbulat, while the Selvili Köşk (Tel: 0 370-712 8646, www.hotelselvilikosk.com) has one of the finest top-floor communal sitting areas. Most people stay in the Çarşı area, but there are more fine mansions in Bağlar, where some families used to pass the summer, including the enormous and intriguing Gökçüoğlu Konağı (Tel: 0370-712 81 53, www.gokcuoglukonagi.com).

For a more rural take on the Safranbolu experience, head east to Yörükköy, home to the cosy Yörük Pansiyon (Tel: 0370-737 2153).


Safranbolu may boast the largest number of restored Ottoman-house hotels, but it’s remote Reşadiye, near Datça, that is home to the single finest example in the country. The huge Mehmet Ali Ağa Konağı (Tel: 0252-712 9257, www.kocaev.com) was originally built in 1809 for one of the petty lords who ran the remoter outposts of the Ottoman heartlands more or less without reference to İstanbul. Bought as a ruin in 2002 by Mehmet Pir, a businessman with a passion for the past, it was painstakingly restored, with attention paid to every last detail, right down to the 70,000 hand-made nails used in the repairs. A stay here will be a dream come true for the lucky guests who land a room in the main building rather than the modern annex.


At the other end of the spectrum from Reşadiye’s lavish grandeur is the delightful İlk Pansiyon (Tel: 0358-218 1689) in Amasya which was once home to an Armenian priest. Tucked out of sight of the main street, the hotel’s five rooms have been painstakingly restored by the architect Ali Kemal Yalçın. Expect low beds on the floor, simple bathrooms in the cupboard and a stove to heat the rooms in winter. It’s a real Ottoman dreamer’s hangout.


Nothing like as well known to foreign visitors as it deserves to be, Kastamonu is home to many huge and magnificent Ottoman konaks (mansions), two of them successfully converted into a creakingly authentic hotel, the Toprakçılar Konakları (Tel: 0366-212 1812, www.toprakcilar.com), by Gülsen Kırbaş. The success of her venture has spawned imitators such as the Sinanbey Konağı (Tel: 0366-212 6021, www.sinanbeykonagi.com), while Mrs. Kırbaş herself has now added a second restoration, the Uğurlu Konakları (Tel: 0366-212 8202, www.ugurlukonagi.com), to her portfolio.


Very few foreigners make it to Göynük, a lovely small town on the road between Beypazarı and Taraklı. That’s a shame since, aside from its colourful Monday morning market, the town also houses the glorious Akşemsettinoğlu Konağı (Tel: 0374-451 6278, www.goynukotel.com), an Ottoman-house hotel with perhaps the loveliest top-floor lounge in all Turkey. Rooms are high ceilinged and unostentatious. Breakfast is taken Ottoman-style around low tables on the cobbled ground floor.


The recent restoration of the Germiyan neighborhood of Kütahya, the town best known for its pottery, included the creation of a hotel inside the huge and elegant Ispartalılar Konağı (Tel: 0274-216 1975, www.ispartalilarkonagi.com.tr). The rooms here are decorated in a style that celebrates bindallı, the heavy gold embroidery on maroon velvet once favoured for Ottoman wedding dresses. Immediately across the road a restaurant is housed in another restored house. Just up the road a third accommodates the Kent Müzesi (City Museum).


One of the loveliest of the newer Ottoman-house hotels is the Şehitoğlu Konağı (Tel: 0272-214 1313, www.sehitoglukonagi.com) in the center of Afyon, a town where the restoration of street upon street of ertswhile crumbling wooden houses has created a very Ottoman atmosphere. Decorated in muted towns of beige and gold, the bedrooms come with hand paintings of Afyon in original arched niches, while delightful tiled bathrooms hide in the cupboards. Breakfasts in the equally inviting restaurant feature balkaymak, pairing Afyon’s thick heavy (clotted) cream with honey.


Mostly famous for its chickens, Mudurnu is a Safranbolu in miniature where the Hacı Abdullah Konağı (Tel: 0374-421 2284, www.mudurnukonaklari.com) is a lovely Ottoman restoration within spitting distance of the atmospheric old bazaar area and hamam (Turkish bath). Rooms are pleasingly unfussy and overlook a small garden that houses a restaurant and tea garden.


A recent addition to the ranks of the restored Ottoman-house hotels is the Sebile Hanım Konağı (Tel: 0452-323 7474, www.sebilehanimkonagi.com) in the none-too-obvious old quarter of this Black Sea town, up the road from the stretch of stone wall that marks a lost late Ottoman palace. Comfortable beds decked out with crisp white linen adorn rooms of varying sizes, some of them with lovely elaborately carved stone fireplaces. Ditto with the restaurant-cum-breakfast room on the ground floor.


After Safranbolu, Antalya probably boasts the best choice of Ottoman-house hotels hidden away in the old, walled Kaleiçi district in the town centre. There’s something to suit every taste here, with some of the hotels lavishly decorated in Ottoman style while others favour a modernist look. Every wallet is also catered for -- even those on backpacker budgets will be able to find an Ottoman house to accommodate them. One caveat for purists -- although a few of the Kaleiçi hotels such as the Atelya Pansiyon (Tel: 0242-241 6416) and the Ninova (Tel: 0242-248 6114) are genuine restorations of old buildings, many are reconstructions, the original building having proved beyond repair.


Ankara may be a mainly modern city, picked by Mustafa Kemal Atatürk to be the capital of the new Turkish Republic, but it does still have an old Ottoman quarter up in the walled Hisar area above the Museum of Anatolian Civilizations. Here the small Angora House Hotel (Tel: 0312-309 8380) was the first hotel to capitalize on that heritage. It’s still a great place to stay, one of the best in town for those who like to bed down in historic surroundings.


In the hills above Selçuk, the old Ottoman Greek town of Şirince has become almost too popular for its own good. The best way to appreciate it is to put up at one of the old houses that have been turned into hotels so that you can appreciate it after the tour groups have left for the day. Of the various options, the Kırkınca House Hotel (Tel: 0232-898 3133, www.kirkinca.com) makes an excellent choice.

Other possibilities:

Safran Hotel, Bursa

Tel: 0224-224 7216, www.safranotel.com

Çeşmeli Konak, Altınoluk

Tel: 0266-396 6848, www.cesmelikonak.com

Babüssaade Konağı, Eskişehir

Tel: 0222-233 7877, www.babussaade.com

Kitap Evi, Safranbolu

Tel: 0224-225 4160, www.kitapevi.com.tr

Me'vaların Konağı, Beypazarı

Tel: 0312-762 3698, www.mevalarinkonagi.com



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