A Taste Tour In The Homeland Of The Hittites

Centered Around Çorum, The Kizilirmak Basin Gastronomy And Trekking Route Combines Rich Nature And History With Authentic Cuisine On A Marked Trail Of 190 Kilometers.

Two and a half hours from Ankara by car and an hour from Merzifon Airport, Çorum is Anatolia’s eco-tourism capital. A sister trail has been added this year to the 385-kilometer Hittite Way that opened last year: Kızılırmak Basin Gastronomy and Trekking Route. Totaling 305 kilometers with its biking and jeep trails, it is marked, like its counterparts in Turkey, with red and white stripes and yellow signs. A distinguishing feature of this trail, which combines the ancient trade and migration routes, is the opportunity it offers to sample local specialties like crocus soup, knotweed with Turkish-style pastrami, eggs with strawberry goosefoot, ‘yırtma’ lentils, savory ‘muska’ pastries with nettles, morel mushrooms and ‘kara çuval’ halvah. And so we head to Çorum for a long and full weekend.

IN KUNDUZ FOREST
Endless rice paddies, the breathtaking beauty of Kunduz (Beaver) Forest, and the enchanting curves of the Kızılırmak River disappearing in the distance… We travel through these magnificent natural landscapes to Osmancık, home of the region’s prized dishes. Historic Kandiber Castle and Koyunbaba Bridge greet us as we enter this town ideal for breakfast by the river. Vegetables stuffed with black-eyed peas and broad beans, spinach beurek, country cheeses and rice halvah pack a lot of energy, and we get up from the table raring to go. Now for a spectacular nature walk. The village of Tepelice, famous for its oxygen-rich air, is our starting point. Following the signs along the nine-kilometer trail, we turn off at the forest road going to Başköy and arrive at an old mill after leaving the crossroads behind. Degenerating into a path after it crosses the Kolaylı river, our route brings us to a beautiful valley. In an area surrounded by dense trees, we climb the slope leaving the riverbed on our left. The valley gradually deepens, offering unforgettable views with tiny waterfalls. At the end of the valley we come first to fields, then to the village of Hacıveli. The benches on the covered bridge are a good place to rest. The road, formerly used by the local villagers to reach Kargı Pazarı, is lined with farms from here on. You can try trout, water buffalo yoghurt and ‘sırık’ kebab with rice stuffing at some of these farms, which offer accommodation and meals. Whether you forge on from here to the 1.646-meter- high Kargı Highland is up to you. You may come across traditional co-op baked bread and wheat ‘keşkek’ as you trek through this area. Besides the wafer-thin ‘yufka’ bread, the ‘bazlama’ with mountain herbs is also very tasty.

SCENIC PATHS
We are up the next morning for a refreshing walk around İskilip. Our 11-kilometer trail between Yalakyayla and the village of Akpınar follows an old migration route. We begin our hike on the forest road immediately behind the only house on the highland. Starting out in the thick shade of pines, our road is soon reduced to a path. Snaking down slopes that look out over the valley below us, it descends gradually to Kamberin Pınarı and its fields. Then we make our way through fruit orchards to the Selbasan River on the road to Ahlatçık. Following a brief pause at the village fountain, we are in the hills overlooking Elmalı Valley. An ice-cold ‘ayran’ in the village of Akpınar at the end of the mule trail refreshes us. And for lunch there is of course İskilip dolma. This local dish, the preparation and serving of which is a veritable ritual, is said to be a legacy of the Ottoman army. Cooked in a single cauldron without mixing the rice and the meat, it is similar to a dolma since it is stuffed into a white cotton sack. Cooked for up to 12 hours, İskilip dolma is best served with vinegary cucumber-and-yoghurt ‘cacık’ and tart okra soup. After we eat, we tour Çorum province’s historic town of İskilip. This town with its houses that harmoniously juxtapose wood and stone and its rock tombs, castle and handicrafts market is also famous for its strawberries. The sweet-smelling İskilip strawberry is said to be ripe for the picking up to September. Meanwhile the town’s last surprise is Çatalkara House of Art and Culture with its exhibition of paintings by Bedri Rahmi Eyüboğlu. As we depart from the area we leave you with the words of this famous painter, who lived briefly in İskilip: “To love this world warts and all, to love it and not let one jot go to waste…”

SOME ‘MUST’S
Photograph the dance of the colors in the forests of Kargı and Osmancık between October 15 and November 7.
Take a hike in the foothills of Mt. Kösedağ and enjoy the scenery on the natural terraces.
Camp on the shores of lakes Örencik, Gökçedoğan and Gölbel.
Visit the wooden houses built without using a single nail in the Kargı and İskilip highlands.

A BOOK, A WEBSITE
Traveler, writer and photographer Ersin Demirel has written a book titled The Kızılırmak Basin Gastronomy and Trekking Route, with the support of the office of governor of Çorum province. Included in the book are the marked trails, GPS coordinates, maps and detailed information about the area. Available at touristic venues in Çorum, it can also be accessed free of charge on the internet.
 www.gastronomiyolu.com