While Turkey’s Black Sea coast has been the favorite holiday destination of the Turks themselves forever, it’s only in recent years that this marvelous part of the country has come to the attention of foreign visitors.
Stretching for nearly 1,000 miles from Istanbul to the border with Georgia, the Black Sea coast is vastly different from the popular hotspots of the Mediterranean, Cappadocia, and the Aegean Sea. Therein lies the particular allure of the region! Fewer crowds, cooler summers, and plenty of rainfall, which in turn is the reason for lush forests, green pastures, and abundant orchards as well as plenty of family-friendly beaches that make for a Turkish experience of a different kind. In some parts around Lake Uzun (Uzungol), you might even think you are in Switzerland.
Divided into a western and an eastern part, the Pontic Mountains (also called the Pontic Alps) just beyond the coastline get higher and more dramatic the closer you come to Georgia. Caves, vibrant port towns, monasteries, and extremely friendly people welcome visitors to spend at least a few days. Of course, they jealously guard their traditions and culture, too, which is why some insider tips are in order.
The city of Samsun is the best gateway to the western part of the coast, whereas Trabzon is the center of the eastern coast. Both cities have airports you can fly into from Istanbul. The national carrier is Pegasus. Alternatively, you can take one of the many excellent long-distance coach busses from Istanbul. One company I use regularly and recommend is Kamil Koc.
The sea and the orchards mean that food at the Black Sea coast is a delight. Think fresh fish and anchovies, which nearly have cult status, plus cherries, peaches, almonds, hazelnuts, and a very special local honey that will make your mouth water. Consider these highlights of the Black Sea coast:
1. Amasra Is A Delight To Explore
Amasra is the proverbial insider destination. Get to know a romantic and dramatic Black Sea coast town that’s untouched by tourism. Located on a promontory and formed by two islands, Amasra is an ancient town with Roman and Byzantine history. It’s small, so it’s easy to explore. Begin with a visit to the castle. It was first built by the Romans, expanded by the Byzantines, and provided with gates by the Genovese in the 14th and 15th centuries. A tunnel underneath the castle leads to a freshwater pool.
To understand more about the long history of this place, make your way to a small but very well-kept archaeological museum.
Whilst you stroll along, walk past the Bird’s Rock Road Monument, which was carved into the rock on the orders of Emperor Tiberius between 41-54 A.D.
In one of the many small restaurants, you can have your first taste of the famous Black Sea anchovies, called hamsi. For a dip in the cool Black Sea waters, try the Buyuk or Kucuk Liman beaches close to the castle. You’ll be mesmerized by the color of the water: deep green and crystal blue come together in perfect harmony.
2. Stop At Sinop, Birthplace Of Diogenes
Sinop is the northernmost city on the Turkish Black Sea coast. A port town since antiquity because of its natural harbor, the most eye-catching feature of Sinop is that it’s surrounded by the walls of a massive fortress, dating from the 2nd century B.C.
Everywhere in Turkey, many civilizations, from the Romans to the Ottomans, have left their mark, and Sinop is no different. It’s easy to explore on foot. Visit the Alaaddin Mosque, the Sinop Museum, an interesting underground water tunnel, the Pasha Bastion, and a pretty park. Sinop is the birthplace of the Greek philosopher Diogenes, who’s sometimes depicted as having lived in a barrel. Take a selfie at his statue.
It’s a good idea to go on a guided walking tour, conducted in English among other languages, so you don’t have to bother with admission fees, et cetera, and don’t miss any interesting places.
3. Hit The Beach At Sile
All along the Black Sea coast, you’ll find pretty beaches, from small, rocky coves to wide sandy stretches. One very popular is Aglayan Kaya Beach in Sile, just an hour and a half out of Istanbul. Bear in mind that the water’s chilly, even in the height of summer, and the Black Sea can be rough, so only swim if there is a lifeguard on duty.
Sile features an impressively high lighthouse and, on a rock in the harbor, a rather crumbling Byzantine castle. It’s great fun to have fish on one of several fishing Sile boats that have been converted into rather rustic restaurants.
4. Samsun Is Worth A Look
You’ll be visiting so many small and interesting towns along the Black Sea coast, but you should include one bigger city in your itinerary. I recommend Samsun, which played an important part in Turkey’s more recent history! It was in Samsun that, in 1919, Kemal Ataturk stepped ashore and began the War of Liberation that changed the country forever.
Located between two river deltas, Samsun is a place where you can explore stunning canyons and a lively port. Make your way to Samsun’s Old Town, especially Vezirkopru, to admire the well-restored black and white Ottoman houses, or go to Amisos Hill, an ancient site on which a massive gold treasure thought to belong to Pontus king Mithridates was found. There is a tumulus (burial mound) with two chambers that are connected by a lovely wooden walkway among the famed Black Sea pines. Amisos Hill is reached by cable car and, apart from the tumulus, offers cafes and tea rooms for refreshment.
5. Get A Taste Of Hazelnut At Ordu
Ordu provides you with the celebrated fresh sea air and green landscape of the Turkish Black Sea coast. A lively little port town, it sits between beaches and the beginning of mountains that get steeper the further east you travel. Ordu’s claim to fame, though, is producing the best hazelnuts, which are exported all over the world. There is even a Golden Hazelnut Festival in July. If you have a nut allergy, just enjoy the town; otherwise, you absolutely must taste the chocolate nut candy sold everywhere.
Editor’s Note: Some sources indicate Ordu’s Golden Hazelnut Festival takes place in September, so consider checking with a local source like a hotel concierge or tour company before you go.
6. Copper And Cherries: Discover Beautiful Giresun
Located on a peninsula with a castle-crowned island just off shore, Giresun is another example of the dominating colors of the Black Sea: green for landscape and blue for the sea. But there are two additional features that make Giresun an absolute must-visit: the many craftsmen who produce the most beautiful copper wares, from vases and trays to table tops, and the cuisine. Giresun is renowned for its pide (flat bread), anchovy paste, and black cabbage dishes, but most of all for its succulent cherries. Eat them fresh from the market or in delicious cakes and ice cream. Giresun and cherries are practically synonymous.
7. Taste The Real Thing At Rize’s Tea Plantations
Tea, rather than coffee, is Turkey’s national drink and most of it is produced in the tea plantations of Rize Province. The town and province are located approximately 50 miles east of Trabzon. It’s best to stay for a night or two in Trabzon and to explore the eastern part of the Black Sea coast or go inland on a guided day trip rather than driving through the rather hazardous country roads alone.
Interestingly, tea plants weren’t introduced to the region until the 1940s, but since then, they have become a major source of income as the climate is extremely favorable. A trip to a Rize tea plantation leads through hills, which are lined with waterfalls. At a plantation, you can see the entire process from planting and harvesting to drying. In the pretty wooden Ziraat tea garden and shop, you can of course taste excellent tea and buy other tea products like soap and, to my surprise, fresh-smelling tea cologne!
8. Jaw-Dropping Sumela Monastery
Many posters of Turkey feature a picture of Sumela Monastery glued to a sheer mountain cliff -- one of the most iconic sights in Turkey.
A day trip from Trabzon takes you there, and it’s the only way to see this marvel of architecture. It is a 1,600-year-old Orthodox monastery dedicated to the Virgin Mary built 3,900 feet up in the Pontic Mountains. It has a long history and has undergone many changes. Today, it’s a museum with many chambers and frescoes. The bus from Trabzon deposits you below the monastery, and then you have to climb up along rather slippery paths and steps through the woods. The way down follows another path to a small restaurant by a river where the bus waits to take you back.
9. The Ultimate Chill Out At Lake Uzun
This trip leads inland to romantic Lake Uzun (Uzungol) and a landscape that resembles Switzerland. Rolling hills, dense forests, Swiss-style chalets, waterfalls, and fat cows greet you on your way to the shallow lake surrounded by woods. You can walk around the lake in about 40 minutes, then sit in utter peace and quiet in one of the two tea rooms and look out at a white mosque at one end. Lake Uzun offers a more romantic and calming than you could find in the most expensive resorts.
This is not a tourist area, so driving yourself off the main roads is not a good idea. Many of the roads are hazardous, and opting for a driver or tour by bus is the best idea. Bring good walking shoes for day trips. In these towns, odds are, no one will hassle you or try to entice you into their shops as they do in Istanbul or the other tourist centers in Turkey. People are very friendly and helpful, and if you learn just two Turkish words: kolay gelsin, which means “take it easy” but also serves as a general greeting, doors will open.