by Inka Piegsa
I was lucky enough to live in Turkey for four years, but I didn’t stay put in my nice little apartment near Bodrum on Turkey’s Aegean Sea. Of most interest – especially for those wanting to avoid typical tourist traps, is Turkey’s Black Sea coast.
Contrary to the harsh mountains of Anatolia and the summer heat on the Aegean and Mediterranean Coast, the Black Sea region is green, green and green, full of pastures, flowers, forests, grazing cattle, hazelnut trees and orchards. Add to this lower temperatures even in the height of summer, a fresh breeze at all times, white and much emptier beaches and plenty of things to see and do, and you will see why this is a desirable destination for the discerning traveler.
First stop: Trabzon
Trabzon, a very important port town located on the ancient silk road, is the birthplace of the Sultan Suleiman the Magnificent and departure point for Marco Polo on his way back to Venice. It has a long history, which is still evident all around.
The Black Sea Turks are quite conservative, but open and welcoming to strangers. There is none of the constant hassle by vendors which you find in the tourist centers, but directions and info are given freely when needed. It’s a modern city with hotels of all categories and several sites like Hagia Sofia and the city walls.
Trabzon is the ideal starting point for excursions to wonderful locations nearby which you can reach by taxi, tour operator or even public transport.
Not to be missed is the Greek Orthodox monastery of Sumela, literally glued to a steep cliff which forms part of the Pontic mountains and overlooks the Altindere Valley and National Park. Founded in 386 under the reign of Emperor Theodosius, the monastery has a long and interesting history.
A full day trip by guided tour from Trabzon to Sumela costs £50. The tour bus leaves you at the parking and then you follow a rather long and steep climb up to the main entrance and walk around the many different churches and buildings which form the main part of the monastery.
The way down to the bus which awaits at a restaurant at a much lower level leads through dense wood, along small rivers, over tree roots and rocks, so be prepared and wear sensible shoes.
Rize’s tea plantations
Another destination in the same direction is the town of Rize, which is the center of tea production in Turkey. Every hill and mountain side is covered with tea plants in different stages of harvest. The bus turns off at Off (yes, the place really is called that) and leads you into a landscape which could be mistaken for Switzerland.
Rivers, waterfalls, chalets, and cows alternate with the green and silver leaves of the tea plantations. Of course there are plenty of tea houses along the way where you can drink and buy every imaginable variety of Turkish tea. Don’t forget to try a tea cologne which makes a nice and very refreshing change from the omnipresent lemon cologne (£2 a bottle).
For nature lovers and romantics at heart there is no better place than a visit to Lake Uzun, some miles further inland from Rize and 100km from Trabzon’s city center.
The lake was formed by a land slide which transformed a part of the Haldizen river into a natural dam. Surrounded by densely wooded mountains, the lake is a nature paradise which can be circumvented on foot in about an hour. At one end stands a mosque the minarets of which are reflected in the water.
You can hike in the mountains if you wish or hire a bike or just sit and enjoy the view and peace and have more tea in one of the many cafes and restaurants which have sprung up.
Food and drink
Trabzon is famous for anchovies which often form the main course. Then there are hazelnuts, cherries and peaches as well as hearty lamb and beef dishes and plenty of vegetables. Turkey does produce great red wine but tea, served in tiny glasses and with plenty of sugar, is consumed all day long. Best of all, a three-course meal costs around £10.
This is only a small selection of Black Sea attractions. The best beaches are to be found around Samsun with holiday hotels and water sports. All in all, if you want a Turkey experience away from the tourist crowds and traps, head for Turkey’s Black Sea coast.
Indirect flights from London to Trabzon begin from £170.