While most visitors to Turkey flock south to the Mediterranean or west to the Aegean, the Black Sea (Karadeniz) merits a close look, particularly because it is so different from the other coasts. After Trabzon's big-city hubbub, relax in tiny fishing villages or head inland and climb to scenic alpine yayla (mountain pastures) in the Kaçkar Mountains. The spectacular coastline makes for a lovely route across Turkey to other parts of Anatolia. The region boasts more than two hundred species of plants, one hundred of them as yet unnamed. A real heaven for nature-lovers and botanists, the Black Sea region enjoys an oceanic climate and is full of lushly green tracts, forests, rivers, and waterfalls.
This is also a deeply historic region, filled with the legacies of civilizations and empires that have ebbed and flowed like Black Sea waves. Castles, churches, monasteries, and architecturally important mosques recall the days of the kings of Pontus, the Genoese, and the Ottomans. It is here that Julius Caesar first declared, “Veni, vidi, vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”) as he vanquished the formidable empire of the Pontus on the Black Sea. Queen Hippolyte and her tribe of female Amazon warriors supposedly lived here, and the seafront chapel at Yason Burnu (Cape Jason) marks the spot where Jason and his Argonauts once passed by.
The Black Sea's busiest port, Trabzon mixes cosmopolitan flair with a laid-back vibe. Here Ankara and Istanbul seem very far away. The gracious medieval church (now mosque) of the Ayasofya blends seamlessly with the very modern Atatürk Alanı.
The Greek Orthodox Monastery of the Virgin Mary, better known as Sumela Monastery (46 kilometers south of Trabzon), is one of the historical highlights of the Black Sea coast. Perched on the high cliffs of the Zigana Mountains in Altındere Valley (declared as a national park in 1987) at an altitude of 1200 meters, the entire site is blanketed with beautiful forest, offering spectacular views of lushly verdant landscapes.
Uzungöl (Long Lake) is a beautiful body of fresh water, 99 kilometers long, near Trabzon. Located in a valley between high mountains, the area is most famous for its spectacular natural scenery. With its lakeside mosque and forested mountains that recall Switzerland, Uzungöl is idyllic in every sense of the word. Due to the climate, fog is very common, with the surrounding greenery of the mountain forests serving as backdrop.
The tourism hub of the Kaçkars, this high-pasture village lies nestled in a scenic valley at 1300 meters. Here snowy slopes slide towards Ayder's rooftops, and waterfalls cascade to the river below. Charming alpine chalet structures dot the steep hillsides, and all new buildings must be in traditional style (sheathed in wood). Ayder is home to thermal springs, and a visit to the gender-segregated bathhouses to test the waters (at 55 degrees C) will prove an utterly relaxing treat.
At an altitude of 300 meters, some 20 kilometers inland from the coast, Çamlıhemşin marks a climatic transition point at the junction of two rushing rivers, serving as a gateway to the majestic Kaçkar Mountains. Revel in the breathtaking mountain views as you listen to the Fırtına River (Storm River) rushing by. Çamlıhemşin itself is just a small town of 2,355 people but possesses a deeply appealing authenticity. The locals are ethnically mostly Hemşin.
The Machakheli is a historically and geographically significant valley along the river Machakhlistskal that flows between Turkey and Georgia. Large portions of this remote region were part of the Georgian kingdom until its fragmentation in the late fifteenth century. The valley eventually fell under the rule of the princes of Samtskhe, followed by the Ottoman Sultan, Mehmed II, in 1479.