In contrast to the raging Black Sea, the surrounding region is home to tranquil seaside villages and quaint Ottoman-era towns – all connected by inexpensive dolmuses.

Teşekkür ederim” (thank you very much), I said politely as I declined the offer to enter the blacksmith’s workshop in the narrow by-lanes of Safranbolu’s market, Yemeniciler Arastası. I was weary of incessantly being hassled by touts at the Grand Bazaar in Istanbul, about 400km west of here, and expected him to hard sell his wares were I to step in.

But fascinated by the stunning display of metal crafts in his shop window, I stood a little longer, and finally gave in to his disarming smile. After a quick tour of his workplace, he poured me a cup of çay (traditional Turkish black tea served in small curved glasses) and never once tried to sell me his curious creations, such as metal shields, swords and miniature figurines.  Instead, we sat looking out into the spacious courtyard, with him chatting animatedly in Turkish and me in English, both of us laughing and smiling at whatever we could deduce from each other’s hand movements.

As I stepped out of his shop, the Ottoman town of Safranbolu was bathed in the hues of sunset. For the first time since my arrival in Turkey three days ago, I felt genuinely welcome into the lives and hearts of its people, and found myself falling in love with my serene surroundings, vastly different from the bustling city life of Istanbul.

The Black Sea rages along the north coast of Turkey, and in striking contrast to its reputation for inhospitable waters, the Black Sea region is home to some of the country’s warmest hospitality. Charming seaside villages, rugged mountain outposts and quaint Ottoman towns – all connected by frequent and inexpensive dolmuses (mini buses) – are interspersed across a verdant countryside dotted with Turkey’s iconic blue-domed mosques.

The Old Town of Safranbolu is an apt first stop on a visit to this coast. Stuck in a 14th-century time warp, it sets the pace for the rest of the trip – women clad in colourful hijabs (head scarfs) bask in the afternoon sun, old world cars traverse the narrow lanes, and foreigners are so rare that the local shop owners are delighted to offer you tea and conversation.

Ancient Ottoman houses adorn the town’s mountain slopes, each with identical slate roofs, large windows and rustic exteriors. There are no fancy resorts, but some houses have been beautifully restored into pansiyons – small family-run guesthouses that offer unpretentious comfort and hospitality.

Yildiz Konark Pansiyon is one such 400-year-old guesthouse, run by the amicable Genghis, whose family has lived here for generations. The house retains its Ottoman character with a wide courtyard, wooden interiors and fascinating relics such as gold studded swords and old wooden chests with ornate carvings ­– reminders of the conquests of the Ottoman Empire. It is these well-preserved houses that have earned Safranbolu the status of a Unesco World Heritage Site.

Safranbolu was named after the saffron it once traded on the spice route, and peddlers in the Yemeniciler Arastas still sell perfumes and colourful handmade soaps made from the saffron harvested 22km outside of town. Nearby, Bistro Bindalli is a cosy family-run cafe where travellers can sample a local variety of pilav rice, delicately flavoured with saffron and accompanied by cecik, a yoghurt-based dish garnished with cucumber and mint.

Though 90km inland, Safranbolu’s residents speak fondly of the sea. And many are drawn to the relaxed vibe and delectable seafood of Amasra, located 101km northwest on roads that cut through rolling plains and dense pine forests. But just before the dolmus enters town, the forests clear out to reveal the Black Sea in all its powerful glory. Visible from the coast are hidden alcoves and tiny uninhabited islands strewn across the turquoise waters, while inland, majestic Genoese forts and crumbling Roman ruins decorate the lush mountain slopes.

The residents of Amasra are fiercely proud of their town, with an incredible range of local Amasra products, including Amasra fish, a delicately spiced preparation of the daily catch, and Amasra salad, a floral display of seasonal fruits and vegetables, including a formidable amount of beetroot. The trend of eating locally is visible across the Black Sea coast, with residents choosing to endorse “made in Turkey” products over their foreign counterparts, even though Istanbul is home to some of the world’s most international cuisine.

A rickety bridge hanging over the Black Sea connects an island off the coast of Amasra to the lush Karadeniz mountain range. Follow the 2km- to 3km-trail up the steep mountain face until you find a vantage point to experience what might be the most magnificent sunset you ever see; on a clear day, the red and pink hues of the sky reflect on the blue waters, while on overcast days, the sun peeks from behind dark altocumulus clouds to create an eerie, painting-like sky. 

About 74km east, Amasra’s lesser-known and rarely visited cousin Cide sits on a breathtaking stretch of coastline, set against a dramatic backdrop of jagged sandstone mountains. Unlike the beaches of the Mediterranean coast down south, Cide’s postcard shores are devoid of the customary seaside paraphernalia – no beach shacks, no seashell peddlers, no fancy resorts. Even the best hotel in town, Yali Otel, is an unassuming off-white building without a prominent signboard or even a reception desk.

But the sleepy coastal hamlet by day transforms into something of a mini carnival by night. A flea market appears by the sea after sunset, with colourful traditional Turkish gowns, dresses and scarves on sale; and the beach transforms into a bohemian hangout, complete with shisha and Turkish music.      

Villages like Cide are scattered all across the coastline, and since dolmuses connect nearly every small village and town in Turkey’s north, the toughest part of the trip is choosing which ones to visit. On the road from Amasra, 12km before Cide, a small winding road leads to Gideros Bay, where the Kure mountains part to reveal pristine turquoise blue waters, clear enough to see the sea bed from the shore. It seems like a personal swimming pool, surrounded by lush greenery and the tiny village of Kalafat, which has a handful of charming Ottoman houses.

A cooler, wetter alternative to southern Turkey’s scorching summer, the Black Sea region is also home some of the country’s most colourful countryside. During the long, 540km bus trip east along the coast from Cide to the small seaside city of Ordu, the landscape transitions from dense green forestland to rolling plains with gorgeous yellow sunflower fields to meadows dotted with wild purple grass. Arrival in Ordu is marked by the appearance of chic cafes on one side of the road ­­and – if you arrive after dark – a shimmering stretch of the moonlit coastline on the other.

Ordu is the focal point of northern Turkey’s hazelnut belt. The Sagra chocolate factory (Selimiye Mh) on the outskirts of town produces some of the country’s – and the world’s – finest hazelnut chocolates and spreads, and its in-house cafe invites you to indulge. At night, Ordu’s trendy beach cafes buzz with the city’s younger crowd, where live bands take the stage and the vibe compels you to try the gulnane (rosemint)-flavoured hookah. Teleferik Café (Ordu-Giresun yolu), next to the town’s cable car station, is one such café; and Fergana Café (Atatürk Bulvarı) is ideal for delicious Turkish coffee and conversation.

End the night with a cable car ride to the top of 450m-high Boztepe hill, where you can witness the magnificence of the region’s lights against the striking contrast of the Black Sea, while sipping a cup of hot çay.