Off the typical beaten path of Turkish travels lies the Anatolian city of Malatya. Most famous now for its principal export of apricots, of which it produces a huge portion of the world's share, the city provides a warm and welcoming entry into Turkey — as well as acting as a useful stopping point on the way to many other treasures throughout the country.
Conveniently located two-thirds of the way across the country to the east, Malatya is an inflection point: To the west lie the more famous tourist destinations of Istanbul, Ankara, Izmir, and the Mediterranean coast, while to the east are the less developed but, in my personal opinion, more ruggedly beautiful mountain and plateau cities and provinces.
Note: Unfortunately, a number of my favorite cities in Turkey close to Malatya, such as Diyarbakir, Urfa, and Gaziantep are no longer safe to travel to now due to the spillover of the war in Syria.
In the winter, travel between cities may be hampered due to snow on mountain roads; however, Malatya offers more than enough cafes and local charms to fill a relaxing, and filling, two days.
All of the destinations in downtown Malatya are accessible by foot, bus, or dolmus — Turkish mini-buses that run on set routes but will stop whenever a passenger proclaims "inecek var!" Dolmuses are not the place to be shy.
Malatya itself can be reached by flights into the Malatya airport, or by taking a direct bus from most other Turkish cities — although, if coming from Istanbul, take the plane. It will save you 20 hours.
Where to Stay
The Hanem Hotel and the Grand Akkoza Hotel are both centrally located in downtown Malatya. Four and three star hotels respectively, either one promises an incredibly comfortable stay. The Grand Akkoza also has a traditional Turkish hammam and sauna in its basement, although it is also open to non-guests. Note: Both the hammam and sauna are only open to men.
Day 1: Downtown Malatya + the Bazaar
After settling into your hotel, spend the first part of your day grabbing a relaxing brunch, Turkish coffee, and laid-back hookah at Nostalji Historic Cafe and House. Originally a historic Malatyan house built in 1840, Nostalji represents what a typical well-off Ottoman house would have looked.
Both the coffee and the hookah are fantastic here. Although, be warned, that for those not accustomed to the strength of Turkish tobacco and coffee, the mixture may send your heart racing ... take it from personal experience.
A selection of typical Malatyan foods can also be found at Nostalji, with the lahmacun being a must have. Pide, often compared to a Turkish pizza, is more like a burrito: It is thin flat bread, covered in tomato stewed ground beef, onions, cilantro, and served with lemon slices for added flavor. It is best eaten rolled into a delicious wonder tube.
After food, become more acquainted with downtown Malatya. Within a five minute walk from Nostalji, and from both the Hanem and Grand Akkoza hotels, is Yeni Cami, a beautiful all white mosque that serves as both a center point for the city and as an easy visual reference point.
Immediately surrounding the mosque on three sides are the bazaars of Malatya. Humming with life, the bazaars sell everything from roasted chicken to carpets to fresh veggies to, most importantly of all, Malatya's prize apricots.
Behind Yeni Cami, in the maze of side streets growing out of the bazaar, is Yildirim Kuruyemis (Yildirim Dried Foods). Go here for all the apricot glory of Malatya — and be sure to get the chocolate covered dried ones. They are worth the trip alone!
You cold now? You're probably cold ... Malatya in the winter can be a little frigid. Luckily, within another five minute walk from Yeni Cami and the bazaars is Kanal Boyu (officially Şht. Hamit Fendoğlu street), one of the hippest parts of Malatya.
A tree lined boulevard with a canal in the middle of the street dividing oncoming traffic, Kanal Boyu is home to a wide selection of cafes and hookah bars that are the favorite of Malatya's college students and young adults.
Gülüoğlu Cafe is a chain that is slowly opening locations in the US that is known for cheap delicious baklava; Mado is another chain that is slightly more expensive but offers amazing Turkish style dessert waffles — huge delicious baked monstrosities covered in fruits, nuts, ice creams, and various syrups; Mobidick Cafe is a local cafe that has a great hookah selection, Turkish cafe snacks, and Turkish teas and coffees.
Any location along Kanal Boyu is a good choice. The best bet is to see whichever one you like the look of from outside and head on in!
For those very cold, try sahlep, an extremely thick Turkish winter drink made from orchid tubers. Served with cinnamon and sometimes ground pistachio, it feels like drinking a warm marshmallow. It's awesome.
For those inclined, most cafes also offer complimentary sets of backgammon, called tavla, with which you can while away hours of time.
After some well deserved relaxation along Kanal Boyu, stretch your legs and walk along the street. Although the street is mostly cafes, there are some uniquely Turkish stores along the road selling a wide variety of nuts as well as a surprise Domino's.
Following the canal, you will pass by the Malatya Museum plaza (complete with wooden windmill) before reaching Waterfall Park (Şelale Parkı). A terraced footpath leads to the top of the falls, which provide a unique mini panorama of downtown Malatya.
Heading back down from the falls, retrace your steps along Kanal Boyu until you reach a small left turn right after the Domino's for Beşkonaklar Caddesi. Immediately make a right and follow the street towards you see five old Ottoman mansions. Like Nostalji, these old Ottoman houses were from the older days of Malatya and are the beş konak (five residences) that the street is named after.
Situated inside one of the houses is Malatya Mutfağı, a restaurant serving traditional Malatyan dishes: Various types of grilled meatballs, lentil soup, grilled eggplant, and analı kızlı soup — a soup made of meatballs in dough, chickpeas, and tomato broth.
Take your time here. Eat the food, enjoy, relax, take a load-off and enjoy the famous Turkish hospitality. There will be plenty of food, and it's best to enjoy it.
Day 2: Battalgazi
I'm sorry, everything up to this point has been a lie. You see, this whole time you've actually been in new Malatya. Old Malatya (Eskimalatya) actually lies 12 miles outside of the city in the town of Battalgazi.
So, for a look of Turkish provincial life and a unique chance to grab a feeling of even older Turkey, grab yourself a bus and hit the road! Mini-buses to Battalgazi run from outside the Grand Akkoza Hotel along the largest street in Malatya — Cevre Yolu.
The buses only take cash, but it should be a nominal fee of five liras or less for a one way stop. Keep your eye out the window, though, as the bus driver will only stop when there is a passenger looking to disembark.
When you reach the center of Battalgazi (seen below), bravely yell "inecek var!" and the bus driver will push to the side of the road.
The central square of Battalgazi offers a perfect chance to see life in a smaller Turkish town. The main square acts as both a commercial area for farmers to unload their wares, as well as a social gathering spot.
If you're thirsty or in need of a snack, a number of Turkish tea houses ring the town's main square. Ask for a çay and settle in to enjoy the people watching!
Now that you're warm and caffeinated, it is time to check out the historical jewels of Battalgazi. A quick five minute walk from the town's main square is the Silahtar Mustafa Paşa Kervansarayı, a renovated Ottoman caravansary where weary merchants would stop on their long trading journeys for a safe place to rest with their wares while on the road.
Today, the caravansary is sanitized to the point of no longer looking hundreds of years old. But it is still used by local merchants who sell pottery and local craft goods, which makes it awesome in our book.
Buy your fill from the caravansary? Well good, now it's time to fill your soul with our favorite attraction in Battalgazi — Ulu Cami. The mosque, at over 700 years old and built by the Seljuk Turks, has a raw power. Maybe it is the mosque's plush carpets, or its beautifully intricate and somehow still intact turquoise tile work, or maybe it is the humbling nature of knowing that even after all this time it still attracts worshippers — whatever the reason, Ulu Cami awes.
Although it is an active house of worship, visitors are welcome to enter the mosque and explore its central courtyard. Please note, though, that everyone should remove their shoes before entering the mosque. Women should also make an attempt at covering their hair with a scarf, and both genders should cover their legs (although it's winter, so hopefully you're covered already).
Jen's note: Sure, big ol' mosques are grand and huge and "WOAH LOOK AT DEM DOMES" impressive, but there was something even more magical about the simplicity and silence of the Ulu Cami. Something more authentic.
After your fill of Ulu Cami, go back to Battalgazi's main drag, grab some more lahmacun from whatever place tickles your fancy, and catch a bus back to Malatya proper.
Welcome back to Malatya proper! It's been a busy two days; you've seen more unique parts of local Turkey than pretty much anyone you meet with the exceptions of actual Turks and expats in the country.
To celebrate, you can always stop off for a quick tour of the Malatyan Ethnography Museum (Etnoğrafya Müzesi) — thrilling, I know!. Although small in size, the museum provides a quick snapshot of the various cultures that have passed through the region.
Also, the museum is located once again conveniently on Beşkonaklar Caddesi.
After a full day of walking, you must be ready for a meal. Well, for the last full meal in Malatya, head over to Hacıbaba Et Lokantası (Hacibaba's Meat Restaurant), for some of the most delicious and tender Turkish kebabs of your life.
With a more ornate decor, the restaurant has a luxuriant and opulent air. But don't worry! The food is super hearty, and will leave you feeling maximally contented.
Definitely consider going with the kuzu tandır kebabı (slow roasted lamb kebabs) along with a cup of ayran (a yogurt drink that perfectly balances out spice). If this meal doesn't have you leaving Malatya with a smile from your face to your stomach, nothing will.
Iyi yoculuklar! (Safe travels!)
And if any of you have questions, feel free to reach out in the comments. I had the pleasure of living in Malatya for a year, and I will do my best to answer anything you throw my way.