The best views from Sinop, Turkey's loveliest Black Sea resort town, are toward the south and the mainland, thanks to the city's peninsular perch. In the mornings, boats bob in the picturesque harbor near to where fishmongers call out to potential customers. It's a telling wake-up for this medieval city, which has always relied on the sea. An important trading port that's served the likes of the ancient Hittites through to the Ottomans, Sinop has become a fishing hub and an ideal jumping-off point for travelers seeking a summer-holiday alternative to the country's popular (and heavily touristed) Aegean and Mediterranean coasts.

The coastline of the Black Sea, or Karadeniz in Turkish, may have cooler water temperatures and cloudier skies, but the region's charm (like Maine's or Scotland's) lies in its craggy beauty, long history, and low-key, off-the-beaten-path vibe. Sinop's idyllic setting may outshine its ancient architecture – the city's been fortified for 4,000 years – but a walk along the crumbling city walls offers a panorama of both. That memorable stroll is matched only by a ride around the forested peninsula's promontory: The road inches up and up until bicyclists find themselves straining toward the edge of a cliff. On the way back, exhausted pedalers cool off at one of several little swimming areas, where they generally have the sea to themselves. Sandier beaches are found just northwest of town.

Sinop's compact waterfront, lined with tea gardens, seafood restaurants, small hotels, and the requisite statue of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, founder of modern Turkey, invites aimless strolling and menu perusing. But for a fresh fish feast, head directly to Okyanus Balikevi, a family-owned spot located above Mevsim Balik, one of the town's oldest fish markets. Depending on the season, you might be served bonito, scorpion fish, bluefish, red mullet, sea bass, mackerel, or hamsi, the Black Sea anchovy with a cultlike fan base from here to Istanbul.

Walk a few blocks inland to discover some of the area's more landlubber-friendly specialties, such as cevizli manti, delicate boiled dumplings doused with melted butter and chopped local walnuts, served with yogurt. At Teyzenin Yeri Manti Salonu, you can watch the female staff methodically roll, slice, fill, and fold the manti throughout the day. Or go for the decadent, similarly buttery islama, a dish of yufka, walnuts, and shredded chicken, at Sinop Sofrasi, inside Pervane Medresesi, a 1262-built seminary with a small courtyard now lined with shops and cafes.

What else is there to do? You might visit the old fortress prison, poke around some 13th-century mosques, peruse the charming model-ship souvenir stores – or just make like a Turk and park yourself along the water with a cup of tea.

More information: While you can drive to Sinop from Istanbul in about nine hours, flying is much quicker and easier. At this time, flights are suspended due to runway maintenance in Sinop, but they're expected to resume in October 2013. (Until then, you might fly into Samsun Airport and drive 2.5 hours along the coast.) From Sinop, a great road trip along the Black Sea coast beckons to the east, through bustling Samsun and the charming hamlets of Ünye, Ordu, and Giresun to the port city of Trabzon and, beyond that, the rugged Kackar Mountains.