The largely modern town of ISPARTA is set on a flat plain that’s dominated by 2635m Mount Davraz to the south. Its only hint of romantic appeal lies in its chief industries: rosewater and oil, distilled here for over a century, and carpets, manufactured in industrial quantities. While the lakeside town of Eğirdir, 12km east, makes a more appealing base from which to explore the region, Isparta’s surrounds blossom with colour come the annual rose harvest.
Until the 1923 exchange of populations many Greeks lived in Isparta, and their old residential quarter is a fifteen-minute walk southwest from the town centre, near the Devlet Hastanesi (State Hospital). The once handsome lath-and-plaster houses are now crumbling, but there are a couple of restored nineteenth-century churches to admire.
Isparta’s Archeological Museum (Arkeoloji Müzesi) holds a reasonable collection of local finds, including some fine Roman grave stelae, plus assorted items from a nearby Bronze Age burial site. The ethnography section includes a wonderful felt-and-reed yurt, which, along with some fine old carpets and kilims, attests to the region’s bygone nomadic culture.
Isparta: the Rose City
Isparta: the Rose City
Endearingly nicknamed the Rose City, Isparta ranks among the world’s biggest growers of the renowned Damascena rose, and exports rose oil all around the globe. Eco-friendly British brand Lush are buyers, and the rosewater is shipped out to the grand mosque at Mecca. With a 200-year history of rose oil distillation, harvest time, in May/June, in Isparta is more than just a boost to the economy (a mere 1kg of rose oil retails for around €8000, making it a profitable venture). It’s also a time of celebration for the villagers’ featuring a two-day Isparta Rose Festival, and a plethora of home-made rose marmalades, ice creams and cosmetics hit the markets.
Alia (wessentialtravel.nl), a collective founded by Dutch rose specialist Joanne Klein Wolterink in conjunction with Isparta’s Sebat Rose factory and Dutch eco-cosmetic brand, Natucos, run small-group rose harvest tours (from €20 for a half-day tour, with lunch; local homestays can also be arranged). The tours include the chance to help villagers with the morning rose harvest; explore the factory, including a demonstration of a traditional distillation kettle; sample organic rosewater cosmetics; and, most entertainingly, frolic on a 30cm-thick “bed” of roses.
Tours are also available for the lavender harvest (July/Aug) and the chamomile harvest (April/May). As this book went to press, a luxury wellness centre, set amid the factory’s acres of plantations, was expected to open shortly.