I love Turkey and I have been planning on visiting the area for quite some time. Our previous visit to this country was in December/January and originally we were visiting black sea region during this period. However visiting in Winter is not very recommended due to the huge amount of snow which falls in the area. Early spring is also not recommended due to the landslides following the rainfall. The best time to visit the Black Sea region (Trabzon and Rize provinces) is during late Spring and Summer. This region as known as the green heart of Turkey and in summer people come here to take a break from the heat which is present in most of the other Turkish regions. During our stay in the region which was of 7 days in Mid August, we barely saw any sunshine. The climate reminded us of rainforests we had visited in other countries; quite humid, low clouds and rain falling very often.
Where to Stay
The main airport serving the region is Trabzon airport and has frequent flights to Istanbul and other countries in the middle east. Recently a new airport (Rize-Artvin) has opened its doors, however flight frequency and destinations are still very limited (so far only internal flights). We stayed in two different places during our stay: Camlihemsin and Araklı. From Camlihemsin we were able to reach the yaylas, Ayder and several waterfalls in the Kackar mountains. While from Araklı we were close to the tea plantations, Uzungöl and Soumela monastery.
A point that needs to be mentioned about the region is the fact that the type of tourism that is catered for is mainly Arabic (Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Dubai) and domestic Turkish. We were the only Europeans around, so if you plan on visiting you must keep this in mind. You may feel uncomfortable if you are a Western (especially a woman) as most probably you will be one of the few women with hair showing and it may be difficult to find European toilets. I got some strange looks especially while driving as well as when people saw my 6-month pregnant belly, but I don’t mind this. On the other hand I must admit that the lack of suitable clean toilets was frustrating, especially for my 4 year old daughter. Apart from this ‘minor issue’ the area is suitable for families with kids. There are a lot of playgrounds and activities for kids, especially near Uzungöl.
After all the boring information here are the Top 10 things to do in Turkey’s Black Sea Region
10. Wildlife of the Kaçkar mountains
We love observing wildlife when we are in nature, especially when we are abroad. Plants, flowers, insects and animals are different from what we have at home. The wildlife in the Kaçkar mountains is quite varied and although we were not able to go for longer treks to reach higher peaks we were still able to get a taste of some of the species. If you are more adventurous and can go for longer treks in the Kaçkar mountains (multiday treks are possible here) you may be lucky to spot wolves, bears or deer.
9. Visit Uzungöl
This lake is the most iconic location of the Black Sea Region and consequently the most popular touristic spot. The result is that anyone who visits the region, stops or stays here with overcrowding possibility during the peak season. In fact it was quite difficult to find parking when we visited and there were traffic jams in and out of the village. So visiting early in the morning is ideal to avoid the crowds. Before actually visiting the lake shores, I would suggest visiting one of the cafes/restaurants situated on the western hills of the lake that offer spectacular aerial views over the lake. Afterwards you can proceed down to the lake and walk all around the lake. There are numerous cafes and restaurants all around the lake as well as some souvenir shops and a large playground for kids. There are enough things to do that you can spend an entire day here.
8. Learn about Christian Traditions at Soumela Monastery
This greek-Orthodox monastery is another top tourist attraction in the region. The most fascinating aspect about this monastery is the location where it is built; in fact it is built on the side of the mountain in the middle of a dense forest. The complex was built where originally a cave-church originating from the 14th century was situated. This is the most spectaular part of the monastery as the original church with all the frescoes is still standing and it has been restored. The legend narrates that monks who were travelling here, had an apparition from the Virgin Mary who ordered them to build a church after saving them from a storm.
If you plan on arriving with your own car, you should note that there is no parking next to the monastery and you will be stopped in a parking some 4km away from the monastery. There are shuttle buses taking you up and down to the entrance. This makes your visit to the monastery quite pricey as apart from the entrance, you have to pay for both the parking and the shuttle bus. Moreover, it is good to know that there is some walking involved, which we loved, as the path taking you to the complex passes from the middle of the forest. It is not stroller or wheel chair friendly as there are a lot of steps.
7. Admire the several stone bridges
Şenyuva Bridge is the most famous one, however there are several of them around the area. These stone bridges date back to the Ottoman empire era. They reminded us of the similar stone bridges we had seen in Northern Greece.
6. Watch the sunrise on the Black Sea
Watching the sun rising on the horizon is always an impressive show, let alone the sun rising on the sea. Our second accommodation in the region was right by the sea and we were lucky to be blessed with a beautiful sunrise on our last day before our departure. The sea in itself is dull and cold, nothing like the Mediterranean Sea I am used to at home. I was not tempted to swim at any point. But watching sunrise always transmits a sense of peace and serenity, a moment during which life slows down and you are left in awe for some minutes.
I remember very clearly that the first word I learned in Turkish was ‘çay’, during our first visit to Istanbul. We had a long layover on our way to Buenos Aires so we decided to go around and stay overnight. As we were sitting down on a bench in Sultanahmet area, vendors were going around people shouthing ‘çay’ and selling turkish tea to locals mainly. Back then, little did I know about how much Turkish people love tea, so much so, that the country ranks 5th in the world for tea production and the main consumers of this tea are the Turkish themselves. As I started to learn more about Turkish culture, watch Turkish TV and spoke to people on our subsequent visits, I learned that tea is a sort of ritual. People drink tea at any time of the day while speaking with their family and friends.
The Black Sea region is where tea in Turkey is grown and processed. As soon as you start driving a few kilometres out of Trabzon you will immediately spot fields of any size with tea trees, even on the sides of the highway and in front gardens. This was the third time we had seen tea plantations, the first being in Malaysia and the second in the Azores. However Turkey’s tea plantations are without a doubt the vastest we have seen. We also visited Doğadan tea plantation at which you can walk among the plantations, look closely at the tools used to cut the leaves and even wear traditional costumes.
4 . Try out Muhlama and other local dishes
Good food is something to look forward to at the end of a long day and Turkey is no exception to that. We found this region slightly limited in terms of variety, when compared to other areas in Turkey. The strong Islamic influence makes alcohol hard to find and dishes mainly consist of grilled meats (beef, chicken and lamb), rice and vegetables. Here are the main dishes that I would suggest trying while visiting Turkey’s Black Sea Region:
- Muhlama – if you stay in an accommodation that serves breakfast, you will surely be served this. It is quite heavy as a dish and I would suggest it for lunch followed by a good walk to burn all the calories consumed. This dish (image to the left) consists butter, cornmeal and cheese.
- Fındık Ezmesi – or hazelnut butter. I had never tasted it before and I didn’t know what I was missing! Hazelnut is another product that is widely grown in the region. Your Nutella hazelnuts, might be actually originating from the region (we have seen the Ferrero factory here). It was my favourite treat for breakfast and when I try to buy it again at home it was nothing like we had eaten in Turkey.
- Börek – these consist of stuffed philo pastry. There are several types of börek and they are not served just in Turkey, but also in Greece and other areas of the middle east. Laz böreği are the typical ones of the Black sea region and they are sweet.
- Sütlaç – this is another sweet and it consists of a baked rice pudding.
- Kofte – meatballs made with lamb, beef or chicken mince usually grilled on barbecues
- Kavurma – served in a dish or pan consisting of sauteed meat and vegetables (image below)
- Dolma – grape or cabbage leaves stuffed with rice (image below)
3. Let water accompany you all the way
Water was a constant companion of our journey in Turkey’s Black Sea region – from rainfall, to waterfalls, to rivers and lakes. This is a region that receives an abundance of water on a yearly basis. As a result there are several waterfalls to visit. You must choose some of them, as it is impossible to see them all. The most accessible and popular are:
- Palovit Şelalesi (left photo)- visible from the road and maybe the most popular waterfall. There may be some traffic jams to get to it, so early morning is ideal.
- Bulut Şelalesi (middle photo) – also popular, but there is some walking involved here (2km). The walk is easy (slightly uphill) as there is a paved trail that you need to follow.
- Gelin Tülü Şelalesi (right photo) – this waterfall can be seen from the road as well (from a certain distance) in the outskirts of Ayder.
Apart from the several waterfalls you can also include rafting on the Firtina river. It is a very popular activity and you can find several companies that offer this service along the road that goes along the river.
2. Learn about Yayla culture
This was a highlight of our stay in the Black Sea region. But what is a Yayla? The word Yayla means plateau or highland. However it also refers to the way of life in these remote mountain villages. Some of the villages are inhabited only in summer; they are so remote that in winter they become unreachable. Locals use these homes to escape from the summer heat that is a constant at lower altitude all across Turkey. There are several Yayla you can visit; the most popular being Pokut and Ayder. Road conditions to reach Pokut and other yaylas at higher altitude are awful (one of the worst I have ever seen) and if you wish to visit, I suggest booking a tour. There are some yaylas like Ayder that are easier to reach, since they are at a lower altitude. Ayder is the most popular and easiest to reach of all yaylas. It is also very touristic and less authentic than other yaylas; with traffic jams and lack of parking facilities (a big parking is currently under construction on the outskirts of the village).
1. Stay in a bungalow
There is no better way to experience the natural beauty of the Black Sea than staying right by the river! Staying in one of the numerous bungalows by the river was the best decision we have made. There are several types of bungalows for all budgets – from romantic smaller cabins ideal for couples with massage tubs, to larger bungalows accommodating larger families. There are bungalows that are situated right by the river and others higher up in the mountains. Since we were out every day to explore, we opted for the more accessible bungalows by the river in the outskirts of Çamlıhemşin. The main road runs along the river so any bungalow that is located by the river is easy to reach. If you want something more tucked away you can choose bungalows at a higher altitude, which offer breathtaking views, but involve winding roads uphill.
We chose Dream River Bungalows because it ticked all the boxes:
- Excellent Location next to the river and a couple of minutes away from the centre of Çamlıhemşin
- Delicious local breakfast served every morning
- Restaurant within walking distance
- Beds and Bathroom located on the same level – on the ground floor level there is a double bed, a sofa which can sleep another person (a child) and a small bathroom. Upstairs there are another two single beds and a small lounge area with a big window where you can watch the river flowing.
- A small private outdoor area, which is vital in our opinion when travelling with young kids. There is also a larger outdoor common area with barbecue, volleyball net and a small pond.
We loved this place overall, even if it was on the pricier side. I am including a link below should you wish to check it out.