Turkey’s Black Sea coast

Destination Turkey | On the road

Turkey’s Black Sea coast: An epic road trip back through time

By Feride Yalav-Heckeroth, Woojin Lee and Nick Migwi

Scroll down

Down arrow icon

It’s extraordinarily beautiful – crammed with jaw-dropping scenery, ancient history and traditions – and is the perfect backdrop for an epic road trip.

And yet few international travelers make the journey to, much less know anything about, Turkey’s Black Sea region, or Karadeniz.

Down arrow icon
It’s not hidden away. Karadeniz covers almost one-fifth of Turkey’s total area, stretching between the cities of Zonguldak and Rize. And those that do make it here are rewarded with sprawling green valleys, bold mountains, cascading rivers, historic villages and friendly locals.
With a milder and sometimes damper climate than some of Turkey’s hotter destinations, the region still mostly moves to the pastoral rhythms of agriculture, including the cultivation of its famous tea.
Heavily forested and rich with flora and fauna, Karadeniz is most popular as an escape for Turkish urban dwellers longing for fresh mountain air, nature and serenity.
For international visitors, it’s a place to discover some of the country’s most beautiful areas of untouched nature on foot, to stay in mountain villages, to delve into local culture and to discover historic sites that are not on the usual trodden paths.
From white water rafting to a traditional blacksmith market, one of the world’s oldest monasteries and a city mentioned in the ancient Greek poem “Iliad,” here’s what can be found on a road trip down Karadeniz’s scenic coast.

Road Trip

Total 1,222 km759 miles

50 miles

50 km

Explore the six destinations
Compass icon

You are exploring

Safranbolu

Safranbolu

The ancient hot metal town with a sweet secret

41.2493° N, 32.6831° E

Down arrow icon

A typical Ottoman city, which saw its heyday in the 17th century, Safranbolu is a UNESCO World Heritage Site that exhibits some of the finest and most well-preserved examples of Ottoman architecture.

Visiting here is like time-traveling back to the pre-industrial era. The city’s finely preserved cobblestone streets lead past meticulously renovated historic frame houses, mosques, inns, bathhouses, fountains and shrines.

Safranbolu’s craftsmanship and material wealth are displayed in its architecture, which influenced the rest of the Ottoman Empire. The town played a key role in the caravan trade as a waypoint on the main East-West trading route.

Safranbolu has finely preserved cobblestoned streets.
Once a key post on the main East-West trading route, Safranbolu is famous for its craftsmanship.
The city’s wealth is visible in the elegant architecture of its timber-framed old buildings.

Top attractions include the Cinci Hamam, the Köprülü Mehmet Pasha and Izzet Mehmet Pasha Mosques, the Incekaya Aqueduct and the Old City Hall and Clock Tower.

Safranbolu is said to take its name from saffron, which is grown and traded locally. It’s also famous for its lokum, or Turkish Delight, which is much lighter and less sweet than traditional versions found elsewhere in the country.

Made with the mineral-rich waters of Safranbolu and natural sugar, the historic city’s own lokum is filled with coconut and hazelnut, saffron and pistachio, rose or mastic.

Down arrow icon
Another essential site in Safranbolu is the city’s historic Blacksmiths Market, where only a few master artisans continue to preserve traditions, hammering out the intricate locks and door knockers that can be found on nearly every house in the city.
Built in 1796 by Izzet Mehmet Pasha, the grand vizier during Ottoman Sultan Selim III's reign, the market once had more than 100 workshops.
Today, only four of these remain. Beautifully handmade teapots, pitchers, trays, locks and door knockers with complex patterns and decorations still hang outside, displayed proudly. Inside, the smiths hammer away at glowing metal.
Cihan Ünal, the market’s only young blacksmith, is on a one-man mission to keep these traditions alive. “I really want to continue this job,” he tells CNN.

“The young generation doesn’t learn it because it’s dirty, because it’s dusty, because there’s smoke, because it’s hot. But in my case, I want to do it myself and pass it on for other generations.”

Cihan Ünal

Safranbolu's only young blacksmith

Amasra

The pretty port with hidden depths

41.7470° N, 32.3855° E

Down arrow icon

With charming houses stacked up around two natural harbors, the pretty Black Sea port town of Amasra is a popular local destination thanks to sandy beaches and small eateries serving local fish.

It’s also an ancient treasure trove thanks to the Persians, Greeks, Romans, Byzantines and Ottomans who have all coveted this strategic coastal location. It even rated a mention in the ancient Greek poem “Iliad.”

Experts believe that the town was once an ancient city with monumental public architecture. Much of this is believed to still be located below ground level, especially underneath newer constructions that make excavations difficult.

Some artifacts have been unearthed. These, ranging 3,000 years from pre-history to Roman times, are on display in the small but impressive Amasra Museum.

The remains of Amasra Fortress reach across to an offshore island connected by the Boztepe Arch bridge.

Over the water – and best appreciated by boat – stands Amasra Fortress. Built by the Romans and enhanced by successive empires, it reaches from a narrow strip of mainland to an offshore island, connected by the Boztepe Arch bridge.

Amasra is popular with Turkish tourists who flock to the two main beaches, Küçük Liman and Büyük Liman, in warmer months. The seafront is filled with restaurants that serve locally caught fish, traditional meze and stunning sunsets all year round.

Down arrow icon
For archaeologist Fatma Bagdatli, who moved here six years ago, Amasra’s beauty lies in both its ancient wonders and its tranquillity. “The people of Amasra protect their history for a long time,” she says. “When you come here you feel the nature, the silence, the smiling people and it’s a very peaceful place.”
Amasra’s original name is believed to have been Sesamusm but this was changed in honor of Amastris, the niece of the last Persian king, who is said to have held sway over the city about 2,300 years ago.
Little is known about Amastris, although she is believed to be the first queen to issue coins and was later murdered by her own sons for meddling in their affairs. Today, she’s celebrated as a powerful woman who ruled at a pivotal time in history.

“I love Amastris, Queen Amastris, because this is a strong woman in history, because she founded the city like a king, like a man.”

Fatma Bagdatli

Archeologist

Trabzon

The Silk Road fortress port with its own sense of style

41.0027° N, 39.7168° E

Down arrow icon

Draped over steep-sided green valleys that spill down toward the Black Sea, Trabzon is a city that’s as brimming with history as the rest of the region.

One of Turkey’s oldest trade port cities and a key stop on the Silk Road, Trabzon has for centuries been a destination where different ethnicities, cultures and languages mix.

A mixture of modern apartment blocks and renovated Ottoman-era architecture, the city was once the capital of the Empire of Trebizond and still has defensive walls, some dating back to Byzantine times.

One of the city’s main sites is the Hagia Sophia Mosque. Built in the 13th century, it’s extensively decorated with beautiful minute frescoes that crowd its vaulted ceilings and main dome.

One of Trabzon’s main sites is the Hagia Sophie Mosque, built in the 13th century.
Down arrow icon

Sumela

The gravity-defying monastery

40.6901° N, 39.6584° E

Down arrow icon

Trabzon also gives its name to a surrounding region blessed with incredible scenery. Amongits most riveting historic sites is the Sumela Monastery, one of the world’s oldest, built right into a cliff in the Pontic Mountains, overlooking the Altındere Valley.

Pilgrims have been making the trip on foot here for 1,600 years. The reward for climbing the more than 100 steep steps is the monastery’s inner courtyard, which reveals itself like a small, hidden village sheltered within the cavernous mountain walls.

Believed to date back to 386 C.E. and taking centuries to build, the monastery is composed of around 70 rooms built into and around the jagged façade. It has a rock church with stunning frescoes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.

There’s an aqueduct and a library, as well as living quarters for the monks.

Sumela has a rock church with stunning frescoes of Jesus and the Virgin Mary.
Sumela is believed to date back to 386 C.E.

Guide Yuksel Malkok says the monastery was founded, according to legend, by two monks inspired by a dream of the Virgin Mary, who told them that she’d flown to the mountains and left an icon in a place called Sumelas.

“So they came here, found the icon and built this church.”

The monastery was abandoned in 1923 after Turkey and Greece agreed to uproot millions of people in a population exchange, sending Orthodox Christians to Greece. Today, it’s a tourist attraction.

During a restoration period between 2015 and 2017 a secret passageway was also discovered leading to an altar with frescoes depicting heaven and hell.

Down arrow icon

Uzungöl

A jewel in the mountains

40.6194° N, 40.2961° E

Down arrow icon

A 90-minute drive into the leafy countryside southeast of Trabzon port leads to Uzungöl, a lake and village situated inside an evergreen valley and surrounded by rising mountains.

On the shore, the twin-minareted white Uzungöl mosque appears to float serenely over the water, adding to the natural majesty of this idyllic alpine setting.

Visitors either come here for the day to stroll by the water and eat local Karadeniz specialties in one of the many lakeside restaurants, or to stay longer to explore the hiking trails that meander into the mountains, which are often bedecked in clouds due to the high elevation.

The most memorable experience, however, is reserved for the true adventure seekers who book a paragliding tour with one of Uzungöl’s outdoor sports centers. The thrill ride includes bird’s eye views of the sprawling valley in deep green and blue - one of the most bucolic landscapes in Turkey.

The twin-minareted Uzungöl mosque seems to float serenely over the lake.
Many daytrippers come to Uzungöl to stroll in the countryside and eat at a lakeside restaurant.
Down arrow icon

Rize

The tea capital of the world

41.0255° N, 40.5177° E

Down arrow icon

Rize province and its eponymous coastal city are among the most visited areas along the Black Sea coast, including the many alpine villages of the Çamlıhemşin district, which offer tourists a chance to delve into local life in the wild mountains where biodiversity is king.

Rize is famous for its tea production, estimated to account for 10% of global production, much of it drunk in Turkey – the world’s leading tea consumer.

Experimentally farmed in 1912, Turkish tea plantations soon thrived due to the region’s perfect tea-growing ecosystem, helped along by regular rainfall. Tea factories soon followed.
Today, rows and rows of tea plantations in hues of verdant green are a common sight in Rize, as well as the women who hand-pick leaves and collect them in traditional fabric sacks that they carry on their backs.
Tea is prepared in a double boiler, with boiling water on the lower kettle and brewed leaves on the top. It's served in tulip-shaped glasses that are filled with strong tea brew first and then mixed with boiling water, the ratio depending on how dark the person wants their tea.
An essential part of Turkish life, tea is often offered to guests as a welcoming gesture. In Rize, a çaydanlık (double boiler) is always hot and ready on the stove.
For adventure seekers, Rize’s well-known Fırtına Valley and the torrential Fırtına River that descends from the mountains have become synonymous with white water rafting tours that are as challenging as they are scenic.
With a professional guide and a bit of training, visitors can take on the strong currents and waves of the river for an adrenaline-filled experience accompanied by excellent views of the lush valley.

Related stories

Credits

Writer

Feride Yalav-Heckeroth


Producer

Bijan Hosseini


Videographer

Nick Migwi


Editors

Barry Neild, Mark Oliver, Carlotta Dotto, Tom McGowan


Designer

Woojin Lee


Photo editor

Jennifer Arnow


Web Developer

Midnight