The yearning to leave daily life far behind and take to the road tempts us all occasionally. We dream of driving through the green countryside with a spouse or friend beside us, our favorite music playing, and no particular destination in mind. I hope you will not be too envious when I tell you that recently we did exactly that. We jumped into the car and set out. The road carried us to the coast between Assos and Edremit on Turkey’s northern Aegean coast, where we let our fancy take us sometimes down to the blue sea of the gulf and sometimes into the foothills of Kaz Dagi, the ancient Mount Ida.
Our wanderings began at Assos, today known as Behramkale, a serene and picturesque seaside town. Fishing boats are moored at the small jetty, and the traditional buildings along the waterfront are hotels, guest houses, and restaurants. As we sat in Nazlihan eating delicious fish, we learned from Hilmi Selimoglu that until fifty years ago this building and many others here were used for the storage and sale of acorns that were exported to France and Italy.
The sun was sinking in the sky and it was nearly time for the famous Assos sunset. Watching this magnificent display from the jetty or from the Temple of Athena, we became lost in deep thought. This was hardly surprising when we remembered that it was here Aristotle established his first school of philosophy.
From Assos, we traveled eastwards to Kuçukkuyu, the road gliding between olive trees, through which we caught occasional glimpses of the blue Aegean winking at us. The drive was so enjoyable that we had no intention of stopping, but the sight of meadows carpeted white with camomile proved irresistible. With all the eagerness of fluttering butterflies we plunged into them. Then, remembering that we were heading for the village of Adatepe and the nearby Altar of Zeus, we got back into the car. Adatepe, with its stone houses, has become a refuge for escapees from urban life. Leaving behind the slender cypresses reaching into the sky, we walked to the Altar of Zeus.
The mother goddess Rhea kidnapped Zeus from her husband Cronos and brought him up with her sister Ida on the mountain named after her. When Zeus overthrew his father Cronos to become himself, master of gods and men, he often visited Ida on her mountain. It was from here that he watched the Trojan War. We also watched from this sacred place dedicated to Zeus, but what we saw was the splendid beauty of the Gulf of Edremit. Out to sea, the island of Mytilene was visible, with Cunda Island and Ayvalik to its left beyond. The shore of the Gulf stretched out below us.
But we were travelers and the road beckoned. Setting out again to return to the main road, we noticed the Adatepe Olive Oil Museum on the left. In the Gulf of Edremit olives are a central part of life, so a museum dedicated to the manufacture of olive oil was no surprise. Here you can watch the olives being pressed for oil by traditional methods, and numerous pieces of traditional equipment are exhibited.
Best of all, you can taste the delicious oil with freshly baked village bread.
Our next stop was Yesilyurt, a village founded in 1355, but at first, we had difficulty discerning the houses amongst the foliage. The houses have wooden shutters and colorful flowers hanging in swathes around the windows. At the highest point in the village, we came across Ongen Country, a hotel built of local stone. On the advice of Mehmet Ongen, we set off on a hike through the mountains. As we strolled through groves of olive, oak, evergreen oak, fir, and pine trees, gathering bunches of bay and thyme, time seemed to slip away unnoticed. As Azra Erhat describes in her book Blue Anatolia, Mount Ida is a place rich in poetry and legend. The massive mountain has several high peaks which pierce the clouds and countless springs bursting from the rock water the lush greenery. Paris, a famous mythological hero, grew up here, and it was on the mountain that he fell in love with a nymph named Oinone and that Aphrodite was chosen as the most beautiful woman in the world’s first beauty contest.
And not all the legends of Kaz Dagi date from antiquity. Some date from more recent times, such as the stories of Sarikiz and Hasanboguldu.
The best place to hear all these tales is the Ethnographic Museum in Tahtakuslar, so we headed there. Passing through Altinoluk, the most popular holiday resort in the region, we came to Güre, and from there followed the signposts to Tahtakuslar. The Museum, where founder and director Alibey Kudar told us how this small but fascinating museum of Turkmen culture had won a UNESCO award and grant. From him, we listened to how, when Sultan Mehmed II was preparing to conquer Istanbul, he ordered ships and stocks to be built from timber growing on Kaz Dagi. To fell the timber the Tahtaci Türkmen clan, which at that time was living in the Toros mountains in southern Turkey, was settled here. The Turkmen clans preserved many of their former shamanist beliefs, one of which was veneration of the goose (kaz in Turkish), which was regarded as representing purity, sublimity, and proximity to God. Since they held Mount Ida to be sacred, the Türkmen people called it Kaz Dagi or Goose Mountain.
We expected that the story of Hasanboguldu would be a romantic and ancient tale of love, and we were surprised to hear that the name, meaning Hasan Drowned, refers to a tragic incident which took place only 80 or 90 years ago. Two boys were playing on the rocks above the pool, and one of them, Hasan, lost his balance, fell into the water and drowned.
From Gure, which is famous for its thermal springs, we drove on past Akcay, a pleasant seaside town, and turned left at the signpost to Zeytinli. This road took us through the village of Beyoba to Sutuven Falls, which plunges 17 meters into a deep pool. The area around is an attractive picnic area with wooden tables, where families were enjoying their vine leaf dolmas and grilled meat.
Above the falls the mountain stream cascades down its rocky course, forming numerous pools, and we followed it for about half a kilometer until we came to Hasanboguldu. Despite its melancholy associations, we were enchanted by this beautiful spot. We carried on even higher, keeping to the path so as not to get lost. This was certainly a place where nymphs and spirits of all kinds might have lived, and perhaps still do.