How best to enjoy Turkey’s Black Sea coast

On my recent trip to one of Turkey’s most beautiful regions, I made one big mistake: I didn’t stay long enough. I didn’t realize that there was so much to do and see, which simply couldn’t be crammed into just three days. This however is easily remedied, because I’ll be back some time in the future and this is what I’ll do:

I will not make the city of Trabzon my base, as I did this time around. Although pleasant enough, there is not all that much to see in Trabzon proper. Certainly no ancient ruins or wonders of nature nor extraordinary beautiful beaches. Bear in mind, that you can cover about 600 miles all along the Black Sea from Istanbul to Trabzon, always going east. Along the way, you will discover a plethora of lovely beach resorts, because on a visit to the Black Sea you want to combine beach vacation with trips into the Pontic and Koroglu mountains and all the impressive sights they have to offer. On my recent stay I did not once hit the beach or dip my toes into the water, I was too hellbound on going on my trips.

Next time, I’d choose places like Agva, Sile, Giresun or Amasra to park myself for about a week. They all have a decidedly Mediterranean feel to it, without the hype and glamour of the Costa del Sol or the seedy atmosphere of Bulgaria’s Sunny Beach. The beaches are pretty and very clean, many enclosed by coves which makes them sedate and quiet. Giresun in particular has a doubke harbor and, just a few miles off, boast the only island in the Black Sea, Girsesun island. It’s topped by a roofless temple and surrounded by endless legends.

Each of the beach resorts has a promenade with tea gardens, kids play grounds and other attractions, not to mention tip top hotels and restaurants. The secret however is, that the entire region is not a touristy affair at all. Few foreigners, drawn to the attractions of Istanbul and/or Cappadocia venture here and even Turks are rather sparse. This of course, has a lot to do with the weather. The waters is cool even in the height of summer, the sky is often grey or overcast and it rains… a lot. Which in turn is the reason for the boundless green vegetation, the best orchards in the country, the tea plantations around Rize, the fabled hazelnuts, cherries and apricots. Streams, some ending in awesome waterfalls, cut through the mountains which rise to about 4000m and are covered in forests nearly right up to the top.

I was lucky to have three days of uninterrupted sunshine in July which was bliss. Always a cool breeze from the sea and the green sparkling like a sea of emeralds. Just observe the weather forecast when you plan to go.

Having mad me new base in either Giresun, Ordu or Amasra, I’d repeat the trips I went on. First to Sümela monastery which is one of the most famous sights in all of Turkey.

Then, again, to the beautiful Lake Uzun and to the fabulous mountain town of Ayder which makes you feel as if you have come to Switzerland. Don’t miss out on Rize and the tea plantations and a chance to sample the best, fresh tea, black or green and to try out tea cologne which smells very nice and not at all of tea.

Ayer

Tea plantations

One day trip I missed out on this time and which I will definitely make next time is across the border to Batum in Azerbaijan .

It might also be a good idea to hire a car, although there are plenty of tours available. I’m not usually fond of guided tours, but these are just a cheap and easy means of transport to get  you to your destination. Then, you are left alone and can do what you please until it’s time to return. No ‘tour guide’ drags you into a factory, carpet shop or ceramics workshop or recommends a ‘typical’ restaurant. Which is yet another indication that a trip to the Black Sea feels like travel and not at all like tourism. Hopefully, it’ll stay like that for a while longer.

And lastly…even if you go in the best of weather, don’t forget to bring sturdy shoes and a cardigan for your mountain trips. Sandals won’t get you up the cliff to the Sümela monastery.

 

 

Bulgaria – a country which grows on you!

Some countries have it really easy. They are so beautiful, so full of stunning monuments and breath taking landscapes, that a first time visitor can’t help but falling in love the moment they set foot in it.

And then, there is…Bulgaria. I went to visit for several reasons: first, I was intrigued because I have never been to a Balkan country before. Secondly, I wanted to go on a short trip not too far from Turkey and Bulgaria is the closest you can get to. And finally, I love the Turkish Black Sea coast and had heard that the Bulgarian counterpart was equally beautiful, so naturally, I wantef to see for myself.

As I happened to be in Istanbul, I took the coach to Burgas which was only a six hour ride. If you have read my story, a single woman traveler’s nightmare, then you will know about the disastrous first impression I got on Bulgarian soil. But, maybe it’s fate that things are starting off badly, because they are bound to get better.

After I had finally found a roof over my head and a bed to sleep in, I made my way towards the Black Sea and  the resorts of Sunny Beach. The travel Gods were with me and the place lived up to its name. The rain stopped, the dense fog lifted, the sun came out and illuminated a stretch of a 5 mile long sandy beach. Quite deserted now in winter, but easy to imagine full of life and fun in summer. Many, many new condos and holiday homes have sprung up along the coast line and further inland, with the foothills of the famous Bulgarian mountains just visible in the distance. Not bad, but nothing to get overly excited about either.

Bulgaria's Black Sea coast

Then, when sitting in one of the few open cafes and enjoying a really good coffee, I learned that Bulgaria is the country of wine and roses. Several small wineries are to be found along the cost road and a country which is the world’s foremost exporter of roses simply can’t be ugly. Imagine the fields in full bloom and the scent that must be wafting in the warm air. The image reconciled me with the many sex clubs and casinos which were interspersed with the new condo buildings and did little to improve my opinion.

But the people did. As I found out soon enough, Bulgarians are very hospitable and will go out of their way to explain things to visitors. They have an easy smile and quite sweeping gestures and make you feel welcome in no time flat .I was grateful when I was directed to the historical town of Nesebar, an island connected to the mainland by a causeway about 80 miles from Burgas.

Approach to Nesebar

The remains of 42 byzantine churches have been discovered on this island alone and many well preserved monuments from Greek, Roman and byzantine times make this place fascinating. In addition nearly all the houses are traditional wooden Bulgarian structures and some have been converted into very pretty and cozy restaurants.

The food on offer, including meat, fresh fish and a variety of excellent cheeses further helped to develop quite a fondness for Bulgaria. Conclusion: never be put off by first impressions. Some countries just need to work a little harder to find their way to a traveler’s heart, but if you look deep enough, get to know the locals and discover beauty in unexpected places, they will definitely grow on you and make you want to see more.

I didn’t have the time to travel further but I’m sure it wasn’t my last visit to Bulgaria.

A single woman traveler’s nightmare

Do you know the feeling that when arriving at a destination all you want to do is turn on your heel and run back to where you came from as fast as you can?

My arrival in Bulgaria could not have had a worse start and provoked just such an urge. I had taken the coach from Istanbul to Burgas, just 100 km beyond the border from Turkey and as there was only one bus per day, I knew that it would arrive at 3am. Not the best of times, but so what, there would be a bus terminal and I had booked a hotel (or so I thought).

You notice that you are n Bulgaria when the road was suddenly full of potholes and so worn out, that your teeth rattled in your mouth. You further notice the  total absence of streetlights. The coach negotiated the narrow street with only its headlights, until it reached what looked like a town because at last some lights were visible. To make it all worse, a dense fog had risen. By my watch the few dim lights which were discernible had to be Burgas.

Sure enough, the bus stopped, the attendant came up to my seat and shouted:’ Burgas. Your stop!’

No bus terminal, just a stop on the side of a totally abandoned road, hardly a light on, pitch black night and dense fog. I was unceremoniously dropped from the bus and so was my bag and there I stood looking after the receding tail lights of my safe heaven which the bus so far had been.

One lonely taxi was luckily waiting and I grabbed it and told the driver the name of my hotel. The first thing he did when I was inside was central lock all doors. It might have been a reflex, but I absolutely hate that. Anyway, he seemed to know where I wanted to go but I noticed that we driving in circles until finally arriving very near to the starting point and at the doorstep of my hotel.

Daylight inspection the next day revealed that the hotel was just across the road from the bus stop, I could have walked in a few seconds, but the fog was so dense and it was so dark that I didn’t even see the neon sign.

Then the  receptionist informed me that, indeed, I had a reservation, but only for the next day. Great? ‘Are you telling me that you have no room for me now,’ I asked. ‘Yes, we do, but it’s a suite and it’s more expensive.’ What was I going to do? Sit in a chair in the lobby and  wait the next few hours until according to her reservation, it was ‘tomorrow?’. Highly unlikely.

I guess now you understand why all I wanted was to run back to Istanbul. But…as is so often the case, after a very bad start things turned around totally when I went to visit Nesebar, a World Heritage Site on  Bulgaria’s Black Sea Coast the next day. Situated  about 50km from Burgas the old town of Nesebar is  located on a peninsula, formerly an island, connected to the mainland by a narrow isthmus.

Thousands of years of history and civilizations have passed through Nesebar and the small island has the remains of no less than 41 churches, byzantine, Bulgarian and modern. When the Greeks and Romans settled in Nesebar they constructed an angora and a amphitheatre.

Basilica in Nesebar

One of many ancient sites

19th century wooden house

In the 19th century, traditional wooden Bulgarian houses were added and the rich mixture of cultures confined within such a small space makes for a unique town-museum because it’s all lived in and inhabited. The discovery of a wonderful restaurant, the  consumption of a yummy  Bulgarian salad followed by fish which had just been caught accompanied by a glass of the fabled Bulgarian red wine made me forget the terrible start to my trip to Bulgaria.

Just look at the menu!!

A crisp Bulgarian salad