Welcome to Urunlu, a small Turkish village in the Taurus Mountains above the Mediterranean coast of Turkey. For the past 25 years we have been the invited guests of the Topkara family where we spend the night in their summer home en route from Cappadocia to the coast on our Turquoise Coast Odyssey. When we first made arrangements to stay with the Topkara family in their village home in 1989, the parents Shefika and her husband made all the arrangements and their young children were delighted to have foreign guests coming to stay. On one Wildland trip, when the multigenerational Whitmore family arrived with their 10 year old grandson at the front door, the Topkara's grandson Onur, who was also 10 at that time 10 years ago, he took his new American friend by the hand and they disappeared down cobblestone pathways to explore and play in the village together.
Today, Shefika and her husband since have passed away. Their three sons, Naim, Nazif and Nail are now heads of the Topkara family village home, and Onur comes home from college in the summer to stay with the family and help around the house. Their original family home is a lovely mountain retreat in the village of Urunlu. The building is a traditional, old cedar and stone Ottoman home down a small cobblestone road surrounded by rock walls covered in blossoming vines shaded by trellised grape vines and big old fig trees; on the upper level of the two-story house fresh picked figs or apricots are drying in the sun.
They used to make special provisions for our small groups to take over their home with make-shift bedrooms on extra beds with a shared bathroom they converted for us with a western toilet. After all these years working with the Topkara’s they have now built a new guest house nearby with 5 bedrooms and private baths for more accommodating privacy and with real beds! So, today we sleep comfortably in the new house and take a lovely short walk on footpaths through the small village to dine and relax with the family in their original home.
The last time Anne and I visited we had never met Naim, Nazif or Nail as the adult head-of-household, so when our guide Alper was introducing everyone in our group and he came around to introducing Kurt and Anne Kutay as the owners of Wildland Adventures, Naim's eyebrow's arose and he exclaimed, "Ah, Patron and Patronessa!", kissing our hands and thanking us for sending such wonderful travelers to stay in their home for so many years. And we thanked them in kind for their generous and warm Turkish hospitality to share village life with our guests.
We are always so grateful to create such close personal relations with local families anywhere we can in the world, to be genuinely invited into homes for a mutual exchange and sharing. To be sure, it’s an opportunity for them to earn extra income, but it never becomes commercialized, like with the Topkaras, even after all these years they just love sharing their life in the village with our travelers. They actually live in Antalya, where Naim runs a motorcycle repair shop and Nail is a plumber. The brothers kept the old village home as a guest house and family refuge when the heat on the coast becomes too much.
During our stay the wives prepare a delicious home-cooked dinner. Although as guests they don’t allow us in the kitchen for long, we are always invited to take a peek at the preparations, have a laugh together, and take some pictures. A typical Topkara family meal includes Turkish green beans, zucchini in olive oil, rice with pine nuts, stuffed pumpkin flower dolma, grape leaf dolma, and baklava for desert. We break the case of wine we bring from the Turasan Winery in Cappadocia and have a memorable night together relaxing on their patio under the grape vines and starry, starry sky overhead.
The next morning we walk back to the house for a delicious village breakfast including menemem (eggs cooked with a local cheddar, fresh tomato and green pepper) with assorted cheeses, olives, fresh bread, homemade jams and local honey. We learn how to make gozleme, a typical flat bread delicately rolled out and cooked on a convex skillet over an open fired stuffed with local white cheese that we dip in a delicious tahini-yogurt-grape molasses mix, served with Turkish tea or coffee. Cok guzel!
Take a stroll on your own through the village and you can’t resist the invitations from other families to enter their homes, see how they live, and discover what preparations they may have going on in the back yard such as stomping grapes or preparing grape molasses in giant vats over an open fire. You don’t need to speak Turkish to have a fun exchange with these friendly village folk.
Now for three generations we have grown up together with the Topkaras so that any Wildland traveler passing through on our Turquoise Coast Odyssey is part of the family.
Keeping it wild,