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.  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.


Day 1:  Trabzon

On your arrival in Trabzon, your guide will escort you to the region’s most celebrated site, the Greek Orthodox Sumela Monastery, one of the historical highlights of the Black Sea coast.  Perched on the high cliffs of the Zigana Mountains in Altındere Valley 46 kilometers south of Trabzon, the entire site is blanketed with beautiful forest, offering spectacular views of lushly verdant landscapes.  Founded in the fourth century CE and abandoned in 1923, the monastery is one of the oldest and most important monasteries of Orthodox Christianity in Turkey. On the way to the main church lie the remains of a nineteenth-century aqueduct, a guards’ room, a library with a fireplace, a kitchen, a bakery, and a vaulted refectory.  The church, formed in part from a natural cave and also built in the shape of an extended apse, is covered both inside and out with colorful frescoes depicting everything from the Virgin Mary to the Last Judgment.  We will stay in Trabzon for two nights.

Day 2:  Trabzon

After breakfast we will visit Atatürk Alanı, nestled in the leafy, hilltop neighborhood of Soǧuksu, was built in 1903 for a wealthy Trabzon banking family in the Black Sea style then popular in the Crimea.  With fine views and lovely gardens, it was bequeathed to Atatürk when he visited in 1924.  Next we will visit the Aya Sofya (originally called Hagia Sophia or the “Church of Divine Wisdom”) that sits majestically on a terrace close to the sea.  Built between 1238 and 1263 and influenced by Georgian and Seljuk designs, the Church (now converted into a mosque) houses stunningly beautiful frescoes of the Annunciation, the Visitation, and Doubting Thomas.  The Italian-designed Kostaki Mansion, built for a Russian merchant in 1913 and mixing elements of rococo, art nouveau, and neoclassical architecture, briefly hosted Atatürk in 1924 and again in 1937, and now houses the Trabzon Museum.  

Day 3:  Trabzon - Ayder

After breakfast we will leave Trabzon for the natural beauty of the mountains.  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 range.  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.  We continue on to Ayder, the tourism hub of the Kaçkars, a high-pasture village that 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.  We will stay overnight in Ayder.

Day 4:  Ayder - Trabzon

After breakfast you will be brought to the airport for your return flight.

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