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Situated on a narrow peninsula at Turkey’s northernmost point, Sinop is like a Black Sea island with its good-natured people and streets where time passes slowly.
As someone who has covered Turkey’s northern coast from İğneada to Hopa, I never expected to encounter such an unusual town on the Black Sea. I thought I had come to an unfamiliar island lost behind the last green hills on the Samsun-Sinop road. Nor was I mistaken. Every corner of Sinop, which resembles an unopened oyster lying hidden in the wilds of the Küre Mountains, home of the oldest forests in Europe, exudes the tranquility of an island. I immediately hit the streets to explore it.
A CITY THE SIZE OF YOUR HAND
There’s an air about Sinop that takes a person’s urban fatigue away. Just take a walk along the quay and listen to the sounds: the putt-putt of fishing boats, the waves pounding the rocks, the cries of the gulls, the greetings of the shopkeepers. The picture is no different in the back streets where time comes dropping slow. There always a sense of languor ready to descend on a person at any moment. The cluster of little settlements at Boztepe, to the north of the tiny peninsula on which the city is situated, are called an ‘island’ in any case; indeed all of Sinop is like an island. You can understand time by just having a look around yourself here. Wafting up from bakeries, the fragrance of ‘nokul’, a savory pastry unique to the region, announces breakfast time. And while the rising roar of traffic indicates it’s time to go to work, the activity at the coffeehouses on the shore is more reminiscent of a lunch break. When fresh fish by the crate load are delivered to the restaurants from fishing boats bringing back the catch, it means evening has come, and the sea has long since been stained red by the time the flashing light on the breakwater starts saluting ships. If you’ve climbed up to the castle before sunset to lose yourself in the Black Sea’s endless expanse, it’s time now to head for the restaurants at the harbor for your evening repast.
SINOP’S RELAXED VENUES
A place of exile as little as twenty years ago, Sinop has put on a completely different face today with the addition of the airport and the Black Sea motorway. For over a hundred years until the 1990s, the Historic Sinop Prison was a dungeon for many a Turkish writer, poet and thinker. Now it has been converted into a museum and film set. Sinop no longer wants to be remembered as a city of sadness where ideas are held captive. And the local folk, tolerant, easy-going and firmly attached to life, are putting their faith in their young people most of all. They wholeheartedly support the town’s transformation into a city of culture, tourism and education. A project to develop Sinop University as one of the Black Sea’s largest is among the hottest topics in town. There is time yet perhaps for Sinop to become a giant university town, but it’s already been a city of art for some time. Attracting artistic spirits thanks to the tolerant environment it offers young people, Sinop is preparing to hold its third international biennale, the first of which was held in 2006. The local people are also highly confident that they boast the Black Sea’s finest beaches. Hamsilos Bey with its fjord-like coastline, Akliman with its island landscape and big breakers promising rare, unmatched opportunities for surfers, and Karakum Plage with its black sand make Sinop the Bodrum of the north in summer. And the unexpected richness of the nearby area is an added boon. Like Sarıkum with its sugar-sand beaches and beech forests where horses range free. If you like, you can visit the old villages with their wooden houses that have been designated a nature preserve, and watch the wild birds taking wing from Lake Sarıkum while inhaling the scent of the oleanders.
JOURNEY TO THE FAR NORTH
One of the most interesting spots at Sinop is the lighthouse that stands at the northern tip of the country. Some 22 kilometers from the city center, the lighthouse can be reached by following the signs that say, ‘See Turkey’s northernmost point’. Settlement thins out significantly in the last five kilometers, giving way to pastoral landscapes. Green hills and herds of goats surrounded by wooden fences and a sense of solitude as far as the eye can see will accompany you all along the way as you wind down to the shore where a spectacular view awaits you at the end of the road: basalt rocks pounded by tempestuous waves and rising immediately above them the slim elegance of İnceburun Lighthouse, guardian angel of the local people who have made their living from the sea for centuries. If you aren’t content merely for your soul to be renewed by the salt drops whipped about by the wind, you must take a tour around the area. Towns such as Ayancık, known for its stone tiled village houses, handwoven textiles, boat landing and cave, not to mention the natural treasure of the lake called Akgöl; Gerze, of White Whale Aydın fame; Erfelek, famous for its Tatlıca Falls which were opened up for tourism in the 1990s, and Boyabat with its castle are just some of the candidates for a stop on your trip.
FAREWELL TO THE WATER NYMPH
As a reminder of its history, at the entrance to the city stands a six-meter statue of Diogenes, the ancient philosopher who when asked by Alexander the Great if he wished any favor requested only that Alexander not come between him and the sun. Evidence of life in this city, which is rumored to have been named for the mythological water nymph Sinope, goes back five thousand years. With a past stretching from the Amazon Queen Sinova to the Argonauts, Sinop has for centuries been a safe harbor for ships fleeing the Black Sea’s rough waters. Appearing surprisingly modest to people from big cities like Istanbul, Sinop’s city center is nevertheless a delightful choice for a tour. Sakarya Caddesi, which joins the main road leading straight from the historic Sinop Prison to the end of the peninsula, is the city’s commercial center. At the midpoint of the avenue, the Alaaddin Mosque, dating to 1214, is the city’s oldest Islamic monument. Sinop Museum, on the square with the Courthouse and Governor’s Office, is one of the oldest museum initiatives in Turkey. For the library named for Rıza Nur, one of Sinop’s iconic figures, just follow Aşıklar Yolu towards Karakum from the inner harbor. A doctor who served in the War of Liberation, Nur was also a founding member of the first Turkish parliament and the country’s first minister of education, and his office is worth seeing. If you have seen the North Castle Walls overlooking the Black Sea, then the coastal coffeehouses near the breakwater await you for bidding farewell to Sinop. As the gentle Black Sea breezes caress your face, you will feel Sinop’s calm arms embrace you once again with the ‘islander spirit’.
‘İNCEBURUN, LIKE THE COAST OF SCOTLAND’
“I’ve been in Sinop for six months now shooting a TV series. Sinop is a special refuge for people who want to get away from it all and just rest. With its people, its nature and its weather, it’s one of Turkey’s loveliest and most surprising places. With its endless coastline and tranquility, Sinop looks like a place I could imagine living in the future. The wind here is like none I’ve seen anywhere else. Since the city is surrounded by the sea on three sides, it gives the feeling of being an island. Besides their abundant fish, the seaside restaurants are also very pleasant in Sinop. And Inceburun with its melancholy landscape at the northernmost point is like rural Scotland. Sometimes I regret not having gotten to know Sinop sooner. If I didn’t miss my kids, I wouldn’t even return to Istanbul. I’d try to stay here a lot longer.”
HOW TO GET THERE
Turkish Airlines flies round-trip to Sinop daily with connecting flights from Ankara and Izmir as well.
WHAT TO BUY
Embroidery, handmade hunting gear and ship’s models made of wood are sold at the shops around the harbor.
WHAT TO EAT
Besides ‘nokul’, a local savory pastry that can be made with raisins, walnuts, tahina, ground meat or cheese, you can also try ‘mantı’ (ravioli a la Turca) with walnuts, and Black Sea fish in season.
WHERE TO STAY
The hotels near the Tersane district are a good choice for those wishing to stay in the city center. The hotels and bed&breakfasts of varying quality along the shore at Akliman and Karakum are more popular in summer.