One of my indulgences is keeping an eye out for “secret deals” & promotions that are sent by those online booking agencies. If there are any good ones, not that far away from us, they make great weekend getaways and often work out cheaper than staying at home. Let’s face it, I live in a stunning country with a diverse landscape which means I can entertain most whims without using my passport. Our coastline stretches for scenic mile after scenic mile with blue flag beaches and coveted coves. Nose the car inward a few kilometres and you will often find yourself in a fairy-tale landscape where rivers sparkle and the scent of pine wafts refreshingly under the nose and ignites old memories of Radox baths. Enchanting red roved houses sit precariously on mountain slopes, their tatty white plaster and wooden shutters adding to the Hans Christian Anderson effect. Villages like these would not look out of place in the Tuscan hills and, one such village close to me is also home to a vineyard or two.
As I am browsing these great deals, I come across it. It’s a place I’ve been to a lot but, only on day trips. It’s on the excursion list from Didim and plenty of tourists and residents wind their way up the mountain road in small busses to partake in the taste of fruit wines and wander the pretty cobbled streets smiling tipsily while buying pashminas and herb encrusted soaps. The place is idyllic come rain or shine and I feel it fits the bill this weekend away as, I have done so much beach time recently, it will make a lovely change.
Trip advisor is my next port of call, just to check the reviews. They are all good and all mention the great hospitality of owner Mustafa and, his fabulous breakfasts. Well, as a foodie, how can I resist? A click here and a click there and we are booked into the Doga Pansiyon for two nights, including breakfast at 150tl…that’s a snip at approximately 50 quid.
Myself and a girlfriend set off around 11am and, having both been to Sirince numerous times, we do so confidently. How hard can it be? After a pleasant hour or so driving, we arrive at the entrance to a village heaving with tourists and cars. These are narrow streets, cobbled in places and lined with foot passengers wearing flip flops. I pay extra care to my manoeuvres as we meander through, occasionally stopping to ask stallholders if they know the Doga Pansiyon; no-one does.
Out through the back end of the village we go, higher and higher up the mountain and into the solitude of the forest. A clearing gives way to a dip to the right off the main track where an elderly man in flat cap is busy doing nothing. Shouting to him, I ask him if he knows the Doga Pansiyon. He shakes his head.
“What about down there, I point to the white houses behind him.”
“Only one there” he says.
“Up there” I point ahead.
More head shaking. Thanking him anyway, we decide to continue upwards past gnarled olive trees and as we round a tight curve, the overhanging pines create a shadow that not even the sun can dapple.
“I feel like Hansel or Gretel” I say to Donna.
“No,” she disagrees, “more like Thelma & Louise.”
“Hmmmmmm” I say, “neither of those stories had a good ending.”
We keep climbing as the road narrows. There are no houses, just mountain green.
“Should we turn round?” Donna says.
“Just a bit further” I say, having spied black iron up ahead.
It’s a large arched gate; padlocked, behind which sits a lonely path and large green shed in the distance. Looking back out across the valley, it’s blatantly obviously that all of the houses are on the other side of it and we are high up on one of those sand coloured lines you see in the distance. A three point turn later and we are heading back the way we came. Once more we stop and ask an Amca who tells us to go to the Jandarme station. There is a turn to the left that leads into the heart of Sirince; if we were to make our way through there we would surely break toes. We sit, stuck on a tight corner with cars back, side and front of us and while away the minutes by asking an Amca if we can turn right. “No, that’s not allowed” he says. Hmmmmmmmmmmm
At the other side of the village, we turn left and once again head up. Not so much forest here but the road is appalling and my car is not having a good time. We drive until we can drive no further. My car has turned into a snob; it’s nose pointing upward. Driver and passenger sit tilted back as if we have just taken off. Splutter splutter, the car says and then silence. “Hell” I say giving up on clutch control and pulling on the handbrake. The handbrake creaks, the car groans. “Grab the handbrake” I say to Donna. She grabs it with both hands and holds on for dear life as I start the engine, press down on the clutch and the brake, utilising all I ever learned on the Fulham Road during rush hour. “You can let go now” I tell her as I prise her fingers from the brake and on a wing and a prayer, start to turn, clunking over large chunks of broken slab that jut upward and threaten to puncture the soles of our feet. We are actually on/in what calls itself a hotel car park and its full, leaving not much space for turning around but, I manage. As we face down the mountain, a man appears and retrieves something from his car. I shout from the window and ask if he is a tourist. “No” he says. Might as well ask him if he knows the Doga Pansiyon while we are here, I think. He does and begins to give me directions but, I interrupt him and say I have been up, down, back, fourth and round again and still can’t find it. At this, he takes his mobile from his pocket, makes a note of my number plate and tells me to drive back into the village and stop at the market where his friend will help us. Thanking him, we take our leave and clunk back down the mountain.
Back in the village, we head toward the market but then, on a whim, I pull over at the Jandarme Station. Getting out of the car, I then step over the small wall and find myself in the domain of three Jandarme officers relaxing in a small courtyard. They are instantly alert but none of them reach for a gun; so far so good. Once again I ask locals for directions but they don’t appear to know. One reaches into his pocket, pulls out a mobile and makes a call. As he is doing so, one of the other officers nods at me and points behind me. I turn and see a smiling man with a phone to his ear. It’s Mustafa, the owner of Doga Pansiyon, come out to find us. He has obviously been notified by mountain top man, Jandarme officer or, possibly both.
He greets us and asks if we have made a reservation. Confirming this, I then ask him to show us the way in the driving seat thinking, as he is a local, he will be used to these treacherous roads. He smiles and takes the wheel obligingly. We drive about a hundred yards and are back at the little tight corner I mentioned earlier; the bend and the small road that leads into the heart of the village. It is currently like a car park; vehicles inch back and forth trying not to scrape each other. Eventually we get past and wouldn’t you know it, we head straight into the road we were told was off limits! Mustafa toots his way through and I put my head down to avoid the annoyed gaze of the crowd. At the end of this thoroughfare, we take a narrow alleyway and clunk up the uneven road to the smell of burning clutch. It must only take minutes but if feels like hours. Donna and I exchange worried glances but Mustafa is oblivious to the smell as he chats away, establishing where we are from and what we do. He has obviously never driven on the Fulham Road during rush hour.
Five minutes later we sit drinking coffee, waiting for his wife to finish preparing our room as the jovial Mustafa tell us stories of illegal builds and how he himself will be going to prison for it. I offer commiserations. “It’s ok” he shrugs “I’m looking forward to a decent sleep.”
A quick turn-around later and we are wandering through the village in search of a little refreshment. Settling into padded bolster cushions, we sip fruit wines as we listen to the waiter make tourist chatter at us. Politely but in no uncertain terms, we tell him in his native tongue that we are “married; married to Turks and been here a while.” He leaves us alone.
Supping wine in the afternoon makes us peckish and so we wander along to a little lokanta and order mezes. Plates of Haydari (garlic yogurt), acil ezmesi (tomato & pepper paste), humus (garlic, tahini & chick pea dip) and sarma (stuffed vine leaves) arrive, complete with a basket of warm village bread. It’s delicious. Around half an hour later we ask for the bill as we are sated and in need of a nap. Ali the friendly waiter asks where we are from.
“Didim” Donna replies
“Ah, Doga Pansiyon” he says
The village drums are already beating it seems.
The stroll back through the brightly coloured thoroughfare is pleasant, even though it is uphill. A cool breeze blows through this mountain village; it stirs the flowers, sets off the wind chimes and releases scent from the fruit and flowers along the way.
The weekend getaway has begun. I’ll let you know how it went next time……..