Weekend Getaway: Bursa

If you need something new to suppress the bad-weather blues or you just want to get out of Istanbul and into your ski boots, then Bursa offers you a quick reprieve from weekly monotony. From Beşiktaş, Kadıköy, or Yenikapı on the IDO and Budo ferries it’s only a 90 minute to two hour ferry ride away to the seaside villages of Mudanya and Güzelyalı. They have more appeal during the summer, but are good for catching a bite to eat before or after taking the bus into the city. Also, for war history buffs, in Mudanya, you can check out the Mudanya Mütârekesi museum, which is where Turkey and the Allies signed the ceasefire for the Turkish War of Independence. Once you’ve arrived, you have two options: you can take the bus about 45 minutes into Bursa’s city center or you can rent a car. Word to the wise, Bursa and its sights are pretty spread out, so a car will be a little less stress. But, if the price is prohibitive you can use buses and minibuses to take you pretty much anywhere you need.

Weekend Getaway: Bursa
Ulu Camii interior (photo by author)

The bus and metro from the Marmara will drop you off in the center of Bursa. Known best for being the original capital of the Ottoman Empire, there are some impressive relics from that time. The grandest is Ulu Camii (Great Mosque). It’s the oldest mosque in Bursa dating back to 1399 and was constructed in the Seljuk style. It’s famous for its tranquil fountain and world class Islamic calligraphy. Yeşil Camii (Green Mosque) and Yeşil Türbe (Green Tomb) are definitely nothing to scoff at either, with the tomb actually being considered the iconic landmark of the city. The mosque is the original display of the Bursa style with numerous dazzling tiles and multiple rooms you can access on the ground floor. The tomb up the hill from the mosque possesses the same colorful style.

The last stop for downtown Bursa is the Tophane district. Just beyond the Clock Tower that was commissioned in 1900 is a great view of the valley where most of residential Bursa and its suburbs lie. This is the oldest district in the city as evidenced by the tombs of the first two Ottoman sultans Osman and Orhan Gazi. Across the street from Ulu Camii you’ll find Koza Han, which is a traditional Turkish silk bazaar and caravanserai. Bursa’s most famous export by far is its silk. And Koza Han is the most illustrious place to purchase it. If you are looking for more handmade crafts check out Balibey Han, which also houses a pretty good restaurant on the bottom floor and is located just beneath Tophane Hisar. The old city walls give off an even grander vista than from near the clock tower below it. After all this, warm up at Yeni Kaplıca. It’s a traditional Roman thermal bath — a style that the Ottomans once banned, but later made an exception for because of the excellence of design and comfortability of the waters. Here is the best way to warm up after an afternoon in the crisp cold of the city.

Weekend Getaway: Bursa
Yeşil Türbe in Winter time (By Muberra Yenidunya via Wikimedia Commons (CC BY-SA 2.5))

If you like to just relax and don’t feel like trekking around to see dead peoples’ tombs all day then there are some must helpful hints to be aware of. The old city is pretty conservative, so if you’re a big drinker it’ll be difficult to find a bar to hang out in around there, unless Turkish music halls are your thing, which I don’t recommend if you don’t already know. If you do want to go out and let loose or have a few drinks at a bar, check out the area around Uludağ University. It has a younger crowd, obviously, but isn’t too crazy and you can usually find places with bar games and live music on the weekends.

Bursa is the home of Iskender kebap and it should be criminal to not eat it here. For your sweet tooth, pick up some candied chestnuts wherever you can. I neither like chestnuts nor candied foods, but found myself unable to stop eating these. Finally, you can drink the tap water and the water from fountains. I can’t believe it’s been so long since I’ve been able to say that.

Weekend Getaway: Bursa
Cumalıkızık

The big draw in the winter will always be Uludağ. But, before you trek up the mountain either by car or telpher you need to see the village of Cumalıkızık. It’s a UNESCO World Heritage site that sits at the base of the mountain and is a cute village with great spots for breakfast, tea, handmade crafts, and to walk around and see the brightly colored timber houses. There are over 250 that maintain the style of the time of the village’s creation in the 1300s; most of them are even still occupied. It’s a great opportunity to see what a traditional Ottoman village resembled.

From here, it’s time to head up the 2,543 m/8,343 ft. mountain either by teleferik and dolmuş or by car. In the fall, you have some of the best hiking in Western Turkey and in the winter there is definitely the best skiing of the region. Considered one of the ancient “Mt. Olympus’s” you need to be a little careful when hiking because the trails aren’t marked, though they are well defined. You can hike from Sarıalan to Çobankaya to get the best views of Bursa and the Marmara. The other popular hike is called Volfram (starts at an old Wolfram mine) and you can walk or drive there from the hotel area. These will take you to the alpine lakes and eventually the summit. If you want to do both, bring your camping gear because it’s pretty difficult for just a day trip. It is worth it and you can allegedly see a silhouette of Istanbul if it’s clear (I have my doubts that it’s ever clear enough), but the lakes themselves are worth the couple hours of climbing.

Teleferik in Fall (by Ahmet Baris Isitan (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0
Teleferik in Fall (by Ahmet Baris Isitan (Own work) via Wikimedia Commons CC BY-SA 3.0)

For the winter months, Uludağ offers about 15 lifts and 21 different tracks that cover around 20 km of trail and backwoods skiing. Unfortunately, there is no ski pass, as every lift has a different ticket with some as much as 80 TL a day, but some hotels offer deals that give you access to multiple lifts. Thankfully, if you’re carless and didn’t want to lug all your gear up the mountain, you can rent all your equipment for about 25 TL. After a long day it’s good to head back to the hotel and experience the après ski (that I enjoy more than the act itself) with hot tubs, whirlpools, saunas, and overpriced bars and restaurants — maybe bring your own booze.

Of course, skiing may not be for everyone and maybe an all day hike up a mountain is more than you bargained for. In which case head out to Uluabat Gölü and the village of Gölyazı. Around the lake you can take out canoes to any of the eight islands in the lake. Be aware the lake is super shallow, only about three meters deep. You can also walk the roads around the edge where it is almost always peaceful. There are some hills that lie sporadically where you can get nice viewpoints of the lake and villages below.

Weekend Getaway: Bursa
Uluabat Gölü and Gölyazı (photo by author)

The village really worth seeing is Gölyazı. Founded by the Ancient Greeks, you’ll find more artifacts from Roman times. St. Panteleimon Church, which dates back to the 19th century, is the only one remaining and was recently restored by the government. If you walk around, you can find remnants of the old city walls and also a highway. Both date back to the Roman period. There’s also the vibrant green and yellow Yeni Camii. It’s interesting from the outside but the interior really brings the colors to life.

Beyond historical relics, if you just want a peaceful walk and to hang out it in a little village, then Gölyazı still has something to offer. You can sit in the shade of Ağlayan Çınar, an old plane tree where you can sip fresh squeezed juice or have tea and traditional foods. Then you can cross the footbridge while chatting with the local fishermen and take one last photo before the trip back to Istanbul, while you look out over the lake.

Bursa’s elevation makes it a little colder than Istanbul, but don’t let that deter you. The snow cover has a way of making the hum-drum greyness of the city start to glisten like you’re spending Christmas in a medieval Ottoman village. Or, if you stay up in Uludağ it’ll give you the feeling of a wilderness ski resort only an hour away from one million plus people! It’s a big city but the nearby area has plenty of escapes that will grant you the solitude that we all desperately need.

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David Jaques
Dave has been in Istanbul since 2014 by way of Chicago and Oakland, CA. When he isn't working, he's exploring the Country for the best: kebabs, dive bars, or next locations to write about on his blog (amanwithoutacontinent.com). You can usually find him on his couch reading or watching Netlfix, or about town at a basketball game or concert.

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