A few days ago I took a flight from my beloved Tel Aviv to Turkey to attend World Tourism Forum in Istanbul, a city which I simply adore and have visited so many times that it is hard to count and remember.
I love Turkey, and you know me, I wouldn’t be myself if I wouldn’t find a new region to discover. This time it was Thrace and Edirne.
So if you are looking for genuine, non-touristy (that is going to change after my post goes viral) Turkish region full of historical and cultural heritage which you can enjoy while sipping on some of the best Turkish wines you are in for a treat.
Let’s start from the beginning.
Edirne is an ancient city, founded by Greek, reinstated by Romans and ruled by Bulgarians until Sultan Murad the First conquered it in 1369 and made it an Ottoman capital for 90 years to come.
Edirne flourished under the Ottoman rule, especially architectural wise. Sultans and their families founded mosques, bazaars, hospitals and schools.
Edirne’s Architecture Gems
It comes as no surprise that it was a first sight I have visited in the city. I adore Islamic architecture, and I talk about it on Instagram all the time.
Selimiye Mosque is spectacular by all the means. Interior and exterior wise.
Enormous dome (31,25 meters) rest on a supporting system of eight pillars, surrounded by four slender 70 meters high minarets, which I got to climb.
Yes, you read that correctly. I climbed one of the minarets to its top balcony to admire a panoramic view od Edirne. It was a unique experience, I must admit.
By now I must have visited like thousands of mosques in different countries, and I even got to access one little minaret in Mahan city in Iran but never got to climb a minaret to the top, like muezzins do every day to call adhan.
And let me tell you those muezzins were/are super fit people, to climb those stairs up and down three or five times a day allows you to eat baklava without restrictions every day of your life.
The stairs get more uneven, and the path gets darker and narrower the higher you go. No matter my weak calves and spider webs in my hair, it was so worth it! The unbeatable highlight of my trip.
Another particular thing was to visit Sultan’s Lodge in the mosque, which is usually not accessible to the public.
A place decorated by amazing marble, frescos, stained glass and tiles; holding a special room where Sultan went to reminisce on the past and think about plans for the empire.
The city of Edirne has few other mosques worth visiting, such as Old Mosque and Serpent Mosque.
Grand Synagogue of Edirne
The synagogue brings a splash of colour to the city and is a standing prove of Edirne being a religiously diverse city of various faiths, such as Islam, Judaism, Christianity and Bahai.
Sephardi synagogue in Edirne is one of the most beautiful temples in the world, built in Moorish Revival style, same as The Grand Synagogue in Budapest and Leopoldstädter Tempel in Vienna.
Built during the rule of Sultan Abdul Hamid II in 1907, was restored and reopened in 2015. Its pastel colours are somehow surprising and very calming.
Complex of Sultan Bayezid II Health Museum
The compound of a hospital and medical school as built back in 1488 and been particularly notable for its treatment methods for mental disorders, which included the use of music, water sound and scents.
When you enter “the History of Psychiatry Section” of the museum you find yourself in a music therapy environment from centuries ago. The sound of water spurting from the fountain in the middle joins the mystical sound of reed flute and takes you on a journey back in time.
Medrese-i Etibba which was a medical school of the compound ranked among the best 60 schools in the Ottoman Empire. The madrasa consisted of 18 student rooms and a classroom surrounding three sides of a courtyard with a shadirvan (fountain) in the middle.
Students were specialists in different fields who tried to find out the best treatment by studying valuable scientific literature on medicine.
Edirne – What Else?
Edirne is a pure heaven for architecture enthusiasts like me, but do not worry if this is not your cup of tea. The city is full of spices and colours and an ideal place to savour on some of the local food specialities, such as ‘Yaprak Ciğer’ which are the famous fried livers of Edirne, always served with delicious fried chilli peppers called ‘Kara Aci’.
The fried livers became a trademark of the city, and I won’t blame anybody if they visit solely to try that delicious speciality. As they say in Edirne meat should be sliced as thin as a leaf, floured before frying in sunflower oil for very short time and salted. Always served with crispy, spicy peppers grown in Karaağaç.
The best place to try those specialities is Tulipa Restaurant situated in Karaağaç in a beautifully renovated traditional wooden villa.
Are you more into Pide, Menemen, Köfte or Manti, no worries city have your covered. But be sure that ‘Yaprak Ciğer’ is what takes all the spotlight on the menu in every restaurant here. Check Ydin Tava Ciger, Cigerci Niyazi Usta, Edirne Cigercisi Kemal Usta and Edirneli Kofteci Osman restaurants.
And let’s do not forget great Turkish sweets, Baklava, Turkish Delight and Macun, which I have tried for a very first time in my life on this trip, even though I have been to Turkey at least once a year for past eight years.
This lovely gentleman who I met after exiting one of the mosques, heard that I was struggling with my throat and told me it is an excellent remedy for my missing voice.
I must say that at the beginning I thought he was using a typical salesman’s trick: notice the problem, sell a solution to the said problem. But nevertheless I bought it, and it was yummy.
But being me, I did a little research, and it is true that macun’s origins are medicinal. A local pharmacist created ‘Mesir Macunu’, an unusual mix of 41 spices and herbs macerated in a sugar paste.
The ambrosial medicine cured Hafsa Sultan – the mother of Suleiman the Magnificent and began a tradition that continues today as an after-school treat and a touristy delight.
Local/everyday life of Edirne
You can stroll streets and promenades around Ali Pasha Bazaar to admire the impressive architecture and old wooden houses, to observe locals enjoying their afternoon with friends and families; to shop for fruit soaps in the market.
Yes! Fruit soap. Those were way too cute and too cool not to buy, photograph and mention them to you :) To be honest, Cheryl Howard and I was just crazy about those!
The markets in Erdine are much less hectic than Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, you can shop and admire totally undisturbed, but there is always a place for the bargain and friendly jokes with vendors.
Edirne is no different than rest of Turkey when it comes to having fun. Shisha, tea, backgammon and eventually trying to pull off belly dancing moves to popular Turkish hits. Fun!
If you are not a night owl, you can opt out for a Turkish tea and few backgammon rounds at one of the local cafes.
I like to think I have a reputation of a Good Polish Girl, therefore, I won’t tell you which option I went for.
Wine, oh glorious wine. Elixir of life!
Edirne is a great starting point of Thrace Wine Route called ‘Trakya Bag Rotasi’ in Turkish. Their slogan is: ‘One route, dozen of vineyards, hundreds of flavours’
I had a pleasure to stay at the boutique Bakucha Hotel in Arkadia vineyard, where I had a chance to learn about process how this particular winery makes its wines.
I hope I will be able to drive through the whole Thrace Wine Route during the harvest time to tell you more about it.
But it sounds like a heaven to me. Wine, boutique hotels, fine dining, scuba diving, paragliding, ancient sights, Ottoman cities, coastal views and sailing. Sign me in! Who is coming with me?
Edirne’s Check List
My checklists are always five or more things you should do in the city before leaving, not necessarily the most obvious and touristy stuff.