Turkey: Black Sea

Exploring the Black Sea and Eastern Turkey

This program may be consider in two chapters; Black sea and Eastern Anatolia. These are two diverse regions in terms of landscape, etnic variety, food etc. The drive from Rize to Kars via Artvin/Hortum Valley is like a trip between different dimensions. Often reminds me of transmitting people from the planet to Enterpriser in Star Trek. Along the Black Sea Coast, we will explore the ancient monasteries, alpine mountains, lakes, evergreen lush Black Sea tea plantations, hazelnut groves, yaylas(high pastures), wooden homes, bag pipe, rich folklore and jokes. Then we sneak into the eastern borders of Turkey where where Turkish, Georgian, Armenian, Caucausian, Kurdish, Arabic, Persian cultures clush on the volcanic highlands.


Day 1: Istanbul to Trabzon:

Arrive in Trabzon. Check in to our hotel, and enjoy a superb welcome dinner.

Day 2: Trabazon

Formerly Trebizond and in ancient times Trapezus, is a busy, modern provincial capital. Visitors reared on stories of the peacock brilliance of  the Comneni and expecting to find the remains of their glittering places will be disappointed. The Towers of Trebizond, Rose Macaulay’s ‘fabled city' is in the past now, but there is still a lot of charm and an original character here to impress the visitor.


Sumela Monastery and the Hagia Sophia Church are the highlights of the day.

Sumela Monastery

According to an  ancient tradition Sumela Monastery was established c 386 by two monks

from Athens, Barnabas and Sophronius. In his dream Barnabas was told by the Blessed Virgin to found a monastery in her honour in the Pontus. He and his companion were guided by a famous icon, the Panayia Atheniotissa, which it was believed had been painted by St Luke, to a cave sited near a spring high up on Mount Mela. The monastic settlement was known as Panagia tou Melas, Our Lady of the Black Mountain. In time, this became Soumelas in the Pontic Greek dialect.

Trabzon’s most renowned monument is the magnificent Church of Haghia Sophia, which stands on a high terrace  overlooking the Black. After the Latin invason to Constantinople in 1204, Komneni Dynasty has escaped to Trabzon and established the Komneni Kingdom and built this church, referring the glorious Hagia Sophia Church of Justinian in Constantinople. The restoration of Haghia Sophia and its priceless works of art is now complete and it is open to the public as a national monument, recreating something of the past grandeur of the past of Trabzon.


Day 3              Uzungol (Long Lake)

Trabzon and eastwards is always known with its “yayla”s (highlands), where one can see the all tones of green, beautiful wooden houses, the most picturesque villages, mystically grazing cows in the mist. Uzungol, often disappears in the mist, one great spot, the most glandour of all yayla villages. We hike around the lake and the village and stay one of the local wooden inns.


Day 4-5                       Rize/Ayder

Today we drive back to the coast and continue eastwards toward Rize, the tea capital of Turkey. We go up to the famous yayla of Rize called Ayder, where many trekkers and mountaineers approach the summit of Mt. Kackar. For two days we explore very panoramic yaylas hamlets, with breathtaking views of Firtina(Thunder) Valley, enjoy the incredible number of wildflowers, meet friendly Laz or Hemsinli people, may coincide a gentlemen playing “tulum” ( Turkish Bagpipe – Were celts around here? Yes they were.)


Of course, during our Black Sea expedition we taste the famous local dishes, trout in famous black sea butter, honey, muhlama, hamsi (national fish in this area – a myth), kaygana (omlet with hamsi). (Did you know that in Black Sea area they have parfume made of hamsi and tea)



Day 6 Artvin:

After our morning hikes, including spectacular castles and waterwalls, in the afternoon,  we drive to Artvin, a small city on Georgian border, on hilltops like a falcon crest. Artvin area accommodates 4 national park, which are among the ecological hotspots of the world.


Day 7: Kars

We drive through the one of the most beautiful gorges from Artvin to 6000 feet Kars. This is the passage from Black Sea to the east of the world. Little is known about the early history of Kars, but it seems likely that it attracted settlers from the earliest times. In AD 961 the Bagtarid kingdom of Kars was founded by Mushegh, the brother of Ashot III, the Merciful, (951-977) who had made Ani his capital. The Bagtarid dynasty came into being in 806, when Ashot Bagratuni was recognised as prince of Armenia by the Abbasid Caliph Harun ar-Raschid. The Bagdarit continued to rule until the mid 11C when, weakened by the attacks of the Byzantines and the Seljuks, they disappear from history. In 1053 the Seljuks Turks attacked Kars and in 1064 the city was taken by Alp Arslan.

It is an amazing fact that in 1950s there was an opera house, local culture centres for improvised music and drinking tea in Kars. Now there is not much of it left, but it is still an amusing and poor city. Kars is the home of the impressive Armenian site called Ani, which is the highlight of the day.

Day 8: Dogubayazit is the last town of any size before the Turkey-Iranian border. Sited on a plain 1800m above sea-level it is wreathed in dust clouds in summer and racked by icy winds in winter. A place of few attractions, it is just a convenient centre for visiting one of the most attractive and most exotic buildings in Turkey, Ishak Pasa Sarayi, and for exploring the bleak, fascinating, countryside around Mount Ararat.

Dogubayazit owed its importance in the past to its proximity to a trade route, which linked NW Iran with the Black Sea port of Trabzon. It suffered severely during the 19C wars with Russia and during the first World War, when it came under Russian rule again. More recently it became a staging post for the long-distance lorries which carry goods to and from Iran.


Day 9-10: Van is a hub to explore the extensive amount  of historic relics of the Iron Age Urartu Civilisation, Seljuk and Ottoman Turks and 10 century Bagdarit Armenian Kingdom. Our visits in van area include, the unique Akdamar Church on Akdamar island, the 10 century Armenian Church with the most exquisite stone carved exterior decoration, Urartu relics in Van, which was the capital of Urartu Kingdom, and Hosap, Van Castle, one of the best location on earth to watch the sunset, and maybe an opportunity the see famous Van kilims and Van cats (indigenous to this area, with one yellow and one blue eye)


Day 11                        Istanbul

Return to Istanbul. Have a farewell dinner and whatever you may wish.


Day 12            Transfer to Airport.

DURATION :           12 days (11 nights)

STARTING POINT:           Istanbul Airport

ENDING POINT:           Istanbul Airport          

GROUP SIZE  :           2 to 12

DATES  :           July-October 



Price includes :

* Best accommodation available.                    

* All bus, minibus and boat transportation in Turkey.

* All meals, bottled drinking water and all beverages,

beer, wine and other locally produced drinks.

* All entrance fees to museums and archeological sites.

* Certified professional guide.


does not include :

* All air fares to, from and within Turkey.

* Personal expenses such as drinks, laundry, tips.

Copyright 2011, The Dragon's Path.  2105 Mapleton Ave. Boulder, CO 80304 303.415.9974