The Black Sea region, one of the seven regions of Turkey, is located along the northern Black Sea coast of the country and runs. It also borders the Marmara region, south-east of Anatolia and east of central Anatolia.
The unique feature of the inland Black Sea is that its coastline is made up of six different shared countries – Turkey, Romania, Ukraine, Bulgaria, Russia and Georgia. The length of the Turkish Black Sea coastline extends 1595 km.
There are some stories of the Black Sea region, producing 85 percent of the world’s hazelnut supply, to get its name.
One of its waters is difficult to navigate without the coastal islands and ships without ports docked in a storm that leads to many ancient wrecks. Another version says that in ancient Turkic languages the words “black” and “north” are the same, hence the name may come from the meaning of “the North Sea”.
Our local guide Zeki Cirit’s version is that the Black Sea got its name from the colour of its waters, which is always black or grey due to heavy clouds over it almost all year round.
Our media familiarisation trip, hosted by Parlo Tours, began in Trabzon city, which we arrived at after taking a domestic flight from Istanbul. Our itinerary would include a long road trip starting from there back to Istanbul, a distance of close to 1,070km.
The capital of Trabzon province, Trabzon is the biggest city in the Eastern Black Sea region. It derived its name from the Greek word trapezos, which means “table”, as Trabzon looks like a table from the air.
Our first stop in the city was a 13th century Byzantine church that looks out to the Black Sea. Hagia Sophia, which means “Holy Wisdom”, is the second oldest church in Turkey after the 5th century Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The historical building was once used as a museum but after 2013, it was converted into a mosque. As we walked inside, we saw remnants of Christianity-based frescos on the walls and ceilings.
Next, we visited the 19th century Ataturk Pavilion, where the much-revered Mustapha Kemal Ataturk, founder of the Republic of Turkey, stayed whenever he was in the city. The white stone-and-brick building was constructed in 1890 by an Ottoman citizen named Konstantin Kabayandis as a summer house. Featuring Renaissance architecture, the unassuming three-storey building incorporates underground heating, which was considered a luxury back then.
For our first Turkish lunch, we had beef slices and meatballs, which are famous in the Black Sea region. It’s interesting to note that the meatballs there are not round, but rather like patties. Nonetheless, the meat is extremely juicy and tender, thanks to cattle fed on organic food. The restaurants in Istanbul are known to get their meatballs – mixed with onions, bread crumbs and herbs – from this area.
After lunch, we had some traditional Turkish coffee but, despite being a coffee person, I must say I preferred Turkish tea instead of their coffee.
Of plateaus and castles
The second day took us to Rize province, a tea-growing region that is also known for its organic cotton.
After stopping by a riverfront restaurant for a delicious lunch consisting of grilled farmed trout and Turkish cheese fondue called muhlama (or kuymak, as it is known locally), we headed towards the scenic Ayder plateau.
An alpine village located in the town of Camlihemsin, Ayder is a quaint summer resort popular with Middle Eastern tourists. When we arrived in the afternoon, tourists were seen on a grassy slope, soaking in the sun and cool breeze, with cows and dogs for company.
The main attraction there is the Gelintulu Waterfalls, also known as Bride’s Veil, which rises majestically over 1,350m. As we looked up to the highest point, we also caught a glimpse of a snow-capped mountain. The water flows down in a gentle stream flanked by beech and cedar trees. Our hotel faced the waterfalls, so waking up in the morning to this scenery was pure bliss.
The next point of interest in the area was Amasya Castle, located on the Harshena Mountain in the picturesque Amasya city. The Amasya province is famous for a variety of apples known as Misket, believed to have grown there from as long as 2,000 years ago.
Located 700m above sea level, the Amasya Castle overlooks the city, which is divided by the 461km long Green River. Constructed on a rock mass, the original castle was first built way back in the 3,000 BCE, while the current structure, mostly in ruins now, was erected circa 350 BCE during the Hellenistic period. It was also restored a few times during the Roman, Byzantine and Seljuk periods.
Aside from bath ruins from the Ottoman period and ancient water systems, visitors can also view the five tombs of the Kings of Pontus (3rd century BCE), carved out of limestone right into the sheer rock face.
In the city today, many old Ottoman houses have been conserved, with some converted into charming boutique hotels and inns.
Lunch in Amasya was a wonderful meal of sarma (rice and meat wrapped in grape leaves), red beans with diced meat, and a tomato-base chick pea dish with a type of pea-sized okra.
History and heritage
The archaeological site of Hattusha, located in the Corum province, is a must-visit for history buffs. The 3,800-year-old Unesco World Heritage Site is the Hittite capital city and rests at the south end of the Budakozu Plain, on a slope rising approximately 300m above the valley.
The area consists of the Hittite city area, the rock sanctuary of Yazilikaya on the north, the ruins of Kayali Bogaz on the east and the Ibikcam Forest on the south. An 8km-long wall surrounds the city area, marked by the Lion Gate, Sphinx Gate and Kings Gate.
A short walk took us to the ruins of a Hittite temple from the 13th century BCE known as the Great Temple, located in the Lower City. As we looked around, Zeki told us that over 20,000 rock tablets have been found at this historical site.
What I liked about this place was the sweeping view of the surrounding terrain and undulating hills. That, and a sense of awe that filled me when I was standing at the very spot where ancient civilisations once stood.
Excavation work continues to reveal precious artefacts from different eras. Although key artefacts are on display at the Ankara Museum in Turkey, we did see a cube-like green stone from Egypt – presented as a gift to the Hittite king – that was once used as an altar.
Another unique UNESCO site we visited on me is a typical Ottoman city caravan trade that played a key role in many centuries.
I got its name from “saffron” to the word used to grow while bolu means “a lot”. Saffron tea, lokum, chewy desserts and pistachio nuts, hazelnuts and other fillings.
Located in Karabuk Province, the city has more than 2000 wooden terracota tiles that have been around for over 300 years. These buildings have become part of the new restaurant, hotels, motels and shops, the majority of people living in the city.
Along the cobblestone road winding connection various brown-paned, white house facades are relaxed and pleasant.
You can find shops selling olive oil soap tin containers, decorative ceramic souvenirs, handmade leather shoes and glass jewelery. In the afternoon, enjoy a coffee or tea on the stool at various cafes.
The hotel retains its original traditional interiors but with basic modern comforts.
For those wanting to fix Istanbul, do not despair because there is plenty of time to visit all the must-do blue mosques and other landmarks nearby, the Grand Bazaar and more.
The Black Sea area as a whole is not disappointing, giving the ancient monuments, alpine scenery and charming town scenery. I will miss seeing a lot of houses and the pagoda of the dome of the mosque embellished with beautiful slopes along the coast.