Now that spring is here we have decided to escape the city and explore the Trakya region, famous for its beautiful scenery, colorful culture, tolerant people and fertile vineyards.
Our first stop was Vize, just 138 kilometers from Istanbul and a world apart. It’s one of Turkey’s expanding network of Slow Cities or CittaSlow. Slow cities are characterized by a way of life that supports people to live slow. Traditions are valued. These cities stand up against the fast-lane, homogenized world so often seen in other cities throughout the world. Slow cities suppose to have less traffic, less noise, fewer crowds.
Taking all of the above into consideration, the entry to the little town of Vize was quite simply disappointing with it’s ugly buildings and somewhat crazy roads but when we reached Vize Castle and took into the beauty of the surrounding countryside we started to relax and enjoy the beautiful spring day.
The ancient name of Vize is Byzia which comes from the Thracian King, Byzas. In Greek mythology, the name Byzia means the fairy of natural resources and sure enough Vize is adorned with rivers, green hills, and heavenly smelling linden trees. Set against the Istranca forest, Vize also hosts many historical monuments from Thracian Kingdom to the Ottoman Empire. We visited its tiny castle to enjoy the views under the shadow of the ancient pine trees and the Gazi Suleyman Pasha Mosque (Little Hagia Sophia) where a soon to be married couple were posing to a photographer to capture their happily ever after. We also tried to visit the amphitheater but it was locked or rather chained.
We knew that the nearby Kıyıköy village was holding more historical and natural gems but by then we were ravenous, so instead went to lunch at Çamlık restaurant just at the skirts of the castle. Commanding a spectacular view, it turned out to be a small restaurant with a simple but delicious menu; roasted baby goat – tender and succulent, salad and an incredible homemade yogurt, which became both our starter and desert.
Afterwards we drove to our destination for the weekend, the Arcadia vineyards and their spa-hotel, Bakucha. Arcadiopolis is the Greek name of the region Lüleburgaz where the vineyards and the hotel is located. Arcadia vineyards is a family project, which took time, a lot of hard-work and passion and the results are impressive. Apart from the vineyards and the hotel, they grew fruits and vegetables in the surrounding fields. There’re also ready-made houses at the estate that could be purchased where the to-be owners can get their hands dirty and grow whatever they wish, with our without the help and expertise of the Arcadia team.
The Bakucha – we are told that the name is derived from Bacchus, the Roman God of wine making and a child’s pronunciation of the word ‘kaplumbağa’ (tortoise) – turned out to be a modern and comfortable hotel with an infinity pool, spa and wonderful views of the surrounding rolling hills.
Since we’ve missed the daily tasting tour, we decided to make a private tasting of our own and decided to start with the whites. The Sauvignon Blanc and the Pinot Gris turned out to be quite spectacular.
The Bakucha is rightly proud of its restaurant; the ingredients came from their own gardens or from the nearby villages, the menu is fine-tuned to match the wines and the desert chef is a genius. For dinner we tried one of their red blends of Cabarnet Sauvignon and Merlot with the fillet and afterwards the 333 Botrytis, a demi-sec desert wine with the excellent mousse au chocolat . Sleep came easy that night.
The next day after a breakfast of more tasty and fresh ingredients, we went for a long walk and afterwards a refreshing swim in the pool. More friends joined and the day passed away slowly, visiting the vineyards and sampling, among other wines, a very memorable bottle of Cabarnet Franc.
That night was a special one – Hıdrellez, a significant day at Anatolia celebrated for centuries. Having its roots in the pagan culture it is embedded in Islam through myths and tradition. Just like the Easter in the Christian calendar, Hıdrellez signifies the rebirth of nature and heralds the beginning of summer. According to legend, Hızır and Ilyas were two prophets who drank from the fountain of youth and promised each other to meet on the night of May 5th every year to give rebirth to nature. Hızır is the protector of plants; he gives life to plants and helps poor people. Wherever he goes, he brings abundance. Ilyas is the protector of waters and according to some, the protector of animals. A match made in heaven.
People believe that wishes made on this night will come true, that sick people will become healthier and it will be the end of bad luck and misfortunes. There are many rituals that are performed in different parts of Anatolia. When I was a kid we used to light bonfires and jump on them. Nowadays my own tested and trusted ritual involves drawing small sketches of my wishes (a single sketch per wish- that’s the important part!) , burying them under a rose bush (or putting them under a vase of roses) before midnight; collecting them early in the morning and throwing them into sea, river or whatever water source I can find.
Do they come true ? Well, some. But no harm in trying.