Turkish Delight

Most tourists hug the Mediterranean coast, but Turkey

By TTM on 15 September 2005 in Travel Articles

While the majority of holiday goers frequent the balmy shores of Bodrum and Fethiye, the Eastern Anatolian city of Trabzon and the surrounding area offers visitors good shopping, fantastic alpine hiking trails and unrivalled cultural treasures.

From the shore, the town curves around the busy port of the Black Sea, with its undulating streets and narrow allies leading steeply up to where the main centre of commerce is perched above.  Covered in a slick mist, and being the major city of the region and so close to Georgia, it felt like a frontier town, and with the diverse mix of peoples on the street that morning, flashy Russian traders strolling the streets, buck toothed prostitutes, orthodox burka covered Muslim women and rural fruit sellers from the interior, I didn’t feel out of place with my bags.

Miletian colonists (from west Turkey) founded Trabzon in 746 B.C. Originally called Trapezus, and later Trebizond, it was ruled by the exiled Byzantine Empire until the 15th century. With this influence, the magnificent 13th Century Ayasofya Museum is not to be missed.  Three miles west from city centre, I walked past bustling shops which stocked everything from Nike shell-suits to delicious pistachio and hazelnut treats, out past the old city walls, until arriving at the peaceful gardens surrounding the restored Byzantine church.  Inside I gasped at the impressive dome, in which Christ’s life is depicted in delicate shades of robin’s egg blue, indigos, peaches and golden oranges. Even if you are not religious, the symmetry of the insides with its tone curved arches makes it an attractive place to spend time.

It was on my walk back that I ran into Mr Mustapha, the groundskeeper of Trabzonspor, who gave me a tour of the impressive pitch and who plied me in true Turkish fashion with a spicy hot coffee, chewy rose coloured lokum, some hazelnuts and lots of questions in semi English about football.  And suddenly, with a somewhat surprising should of “Are you sleeping with Brother Jack?!!” he rose to his feet in a spontaneious but joyous rendition of Frere Jacques, encouraging me to sing along.  The people of the city are friendly, once the initial shock of seeing you is gone, and there is always a street you can join kids in having a kick-around with a ball.

The city can get a lot of fog from the sea and however interesting and as culturally different Trabzon is, the real jewels (and often better weather) lie just a short distance inland from the city.  The first stop for me was 46km south, the Sumela Monastery. Found in the Altindere National Park, the 4th century church is in a magnificent setting, lodged like an eagles nest, high up on a cliff face 270 meters above a deep gorge.  Surrounded by the ruins of the monks’ dwellings, the church is covered inside and out with brilliant frescoes.  After staggering up the steep path you are treated to a vista of vast forested hills and sounds of waterfall and hunting hawks.  I was led around wearing brilliant neon construction hats in case of odd pieces of plaster coming away onto my head, good for safety, not so good for sexy holiday snaps.

With all this fresh air, I was keen to get walking, and so took a bus ride, through many attractive small towns (including Caykara, where much of Turkey’s tea is grown) and multitudes of twisting routes.  Finally, before sundown, I arrived at the pretty place of Uzungol, located about 100km from Trabzon and a chilly 1090m above sea level. Surrounded by green mountains and in the distant, snowfields, the two strikingly high minarets of the pretty white mosques caught the setting light, while the mosque was reflected in the alpine lake. Supporting several hotels and pensions, it is a good base to explore from, and it is possible to take day hikes up into the mountains to find the Turkish summer wooden houses and grassy pastures or traipse through the valleys, stumbling on pretty bridges, riverside paths and friendly locals.

And as I set on a verge, munching my oven warm loaf of bread, fresh cheese and pistachio nuts, I wouldn’t have traded it in for a beach vacation any day.

When to go: May
October are the warmest months and the busiest for tourists from the Black Sea regions.

How to get there: Turkish Airlines/BA – buses go from Ankara/Istanbul daily

Visa requirements: Required for UK residents (£10 at airport)




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