Roadside-Initiative #3: Cittaslow Gerze

In a small town at the Black Sea we meet people who love their home and work with creativity, passion and joy to preserve the beauty of life in Gerze.

As we enter Gerze, we immediately recognize the snail with the houses on the snail roof, which we know from our last visit in Italy. It is the logo of Slowfood, a food initiative from Italy that works with its global network to ensure that foodstuffs are produced in traditional craftsmanship and valued with appreciation. We think about asking people in charge in the municipality for an interview, but then we lose ourselves first in a café, where we enjoy cake and baklava. After we found a hotel with a wonderful view to the Black Sea, we take a stroll through the city, buy fresh strawberries and cherries on the market and a few gadgets in a local supermarket. The hunger drives us to the little lane full of Bistros overlooking the sea. We enjoy dinner at dusk and the colorful lights that illuminate the promenade at night. Before going to bed, I research about  the Cittaslow logo and find a wonderful piece of work: a film about Gerze, which makes me write an email to the maker.

The sun awakens us in the morning and we decide spontaneously and completely against our normal habits to stay a day more in Gerze. Somehow we feel comfortable and our otherwise unbroken drive for movement makes a break. We enjoy one of the most extensive breakfast buffets we have seen so far in Turkey, with many small, homemade delicacies and are happy to see the chef arriving with fresh ingredients from the market. We also visit the big Friday market and push through the narrow alleys full of life, enjoying the colourful foodstuff and the elderly ladies from the region who offer their vegetables and fruit, milk and homemade cheese.

After so much excitement, we need another break and sip our Çay in a café right at the market to watch the bustle. A man sells whole honeycombs, others varieties of olives, there are living chickens and the vendors praise their goods with deep voices. The potatoes are piled up in dizzy pyramids, of which almost nothing will be left in the evening. The whole town and all the surrounding villages seem to be on their feet and enjoy the hustle and bustle. Back at the hotel I received an answer to my mail and we are glad that we stayed.

We visit the town hall on the same day and are welcomed by the mayor. He is an attentive man with intelligent eyes, who tries to make life in Gerze pleasant for the people of Gerze. That is why he is supporting the team that runs the Cittaslow project to the best of his ability. We get to know Dilem and Caner, who work directly at the Cittaslow project, and Özgür, who is actually a civil engineer,  but is also invested in the project. His private passion for photography and film is very valuable for the project and he is the director, cameraman and editor of the touching film about Gerze.

We learn that more tourists visited Gerze in the past and that the people of the city decided against bunk beds and mass tourism, as practiced in some places of the Mediterranean Sea. They want to preserve the lifestyle that characterizes Gerze. This is not only the lively market, the beautiful cafés, where one knows and meets. It is also the natural beauty of Gerze, which stretches from the sea to the green interior. And it is the craftsmanship.

We are very lucky that Adnan and his charming wife Deniz have time to meet us and we get the opportunity to visit the workshop where Adnan conducts the wooden toys workshops and the exhibition space where one can find a lot of amazing handmade wooden toys. We are welcomed and guided with a natural warmth, which shows that the people of Gerze are concerned about their specialties and that they are appreciated because they themselves value it and love to make it accessible to others.

Hence it seems almost natural that Gerze has became a Cittaslow. Because the main purpose of them is to preserve the life value cities. Cities should be places that serve the people who live there. To provide people with a healthy and clean environment, with authentic products and home-made specialties, the preservation of art-traditions and public spaces that invite to develop and express such as beautiful public squares, parks and a functioning infrastructure.

We are enthusiastic about the concept of Cittaslow, the hurdles to get the label are high, and there are 7 main requirements, which must be worked on in order to retain the award. These include recycling, bicycle-friendly infrastructure and the ban on genetically modified crops in agriculture, as well as the need to enhance urban marginal areas, involve marginalized groups and pool forces by working together with other initiatives that are committed to these values.

The team in Gerze has already been able to implement a few requirements, further plans include the opening of a cycle path, the development of other tourist offers such as holiday homes with their own vegetable garden in front, so that guests can pick delicious vegetables directly in front of the houses and developing workshops where one can learn how to do wooden toys or cooking workshops.

What strikes us: the passion with which everyone we meet makes a contribution to highlight Gerze’s special features and develops things further. We are aware: Cittaslow is only the framework in which everything is done and bundled. The power, creativity and love for their home really drives these people and we are deeply touched by so much commitment.

We are able to spend another day with Özgür, his wife Şule and Caner. Özgür wants to make a few settings with the Tandem and we are more than happy to be able to do that. We get the opportunity to see even more of Gerze, once again learn about untrammeled hospitality and in the end hardly get away from the farewell breakfast, which is served with a lot of small delicates on Sunday morning.

As we leave we are still dazed by so much cordiality, passion and spontaneous friendship. We meet the mayor by chance at the bakery and he gives us the bread we just wanted to buy as a gift. This is the point where journalistic objectivity is gone and one can just say: Visit Gerze. Feel this unconditional hospitality, undisguised authenticity, love for their home town and the beauty of these people!


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