This piece originally appeared on Yabangee.com, Istanbul’s home for expats, by expats.
There’s no denying that life in Istanbul can be a bit hectic. It’s what makes this city so intoxicating. But there are times when you need to get away from the craziness to clear that hangover. Thankfully, if you’re despairing over the seemingly endless sprawl while engulfed by someone’s sweaty underarms on the metrobüs, there’s an easy escape: the Belgrade forest.
Nestled between the northern reaches of the city and the Black Sea, the forest is a mere 15km north of Taksim Square and is one of the few remaining truly green spaces in Istanbul. The forest is an extremely popular day getaway for picnickers, runners, cyclists and city-goers looking for a breath of fresh air. Even though it’s currently winter, arguably not the friendliest season to be traipsing around in a forest, we made the most of a sunny day and decided to check out some good old fashioned nature.
The Belgrade forest (Belgrad ormanı) has long been an important natural resource for Istanbul. Stretching for over 13,000 hectares, it acted as a water source for the city, and a network of aqueducts and reservoirs are still present in the forest today. Hardly in the Balkans, Belgrade forest gets its name from the fact that in the 16th century the area was populated with Serbians brought in by Sultan Suleiman I to tend to the infrastructure that provided water for the burgeoning city.
Today the forest is a mere quarter of its original size, but is one of the most popular destinations for Istanbullular trying to escape the daily grind of the city. Even in winter the place is gorgeous. We went a few days after the first snow of the season, and while in the city most of it had turned to slush, it was still in its pristine condition in the forest, giving the entire area a wonderful Narnia-like feeling. In spring and summer the forest is resplendent in its greenery and it becomes a perfect getaway from the oppressive city heat. If you’re (un)lucky enough in the warmer months you might even be treated to a visit by a snake or a wild boar.
There are plenty of walking tracks to choose from upon arrival, but we opted to head towards Valide Bendi, home to a spectacular Ottoman reservoir resembling Helm’s Deep. Technically you aren’t allowed to walk on it anymore, but should you choose to do so there’s only a little bit of barbed wire to stop you and the views are incredible (not that we are advocating breaking the law, of course). After being subjected to non-stop noise in the city I’ve come to appreciate moments of serenity, and it doesn’t get much more serene than hearing nothing but the sound of the wind whipping through the trees.
On our way we met Mehmet and Mehmet, two old locals who had been making a habit of Sunday picnics for the past decade. They were kind enough to share their banquet with us, but I would highly recommend being a bit more organised and packing your own picnic (if only to avoid the ridiculously overpriced kiosk). There is a large barbeque area in the centre of the forest, where for a small fee you can cook your food without the hassle of bringing your own equipment. After a hearty meal if you’re feeling energetic there’s even a designated jogging trail, complete with exercise machines every few hundred metres for you to work off the kilogram of köfte you just ate.
On the way back to Bahçeköy don’t forget to pay a visit to the Ataturk Arboretum, easily one of the best botanic gardens in Istanbul. For 10 lira (5 for students) you can witness over 2,000 species of trees while strolling around lakes filled with ducks and birds. In autumn it’s particularly spectacular, with the oak trees shedding their leaves in all of their glory. If the scenery’s making you feel particularly romantic, you can even get married there – it’ll only set you back a cool 4,000 lira.
With the construction of the third Bosphorus Bridge threatening some of the forest, now has never been a better time to go and get your fill of nature. Summer or spring may seem like the idea time for this green getaway, but if you like things a little more relaxed than winter is the perfect season: there is hardly anyone there to spoil your peace and quiet.
Getting there and back: From Taksim you can take the 42T bus to Bahçeköy, which is a scenic ride in itself, following the Bosphorus almost all the way to the Black Sea. There’s also bus 42M from the Zincirlikuyu metrobüs. From Bahçeköy it’s about a 2km walk to the main entrance and car park.
Click here to view this post at its original home on Yabangee.