Turkey, off the beaten track

Uzungöl Valley

Turkey expects to receive 52 million tourists this year. Between January and August, it has already attracted 31 million visitors, a 14.72 per cent increase compared to the same period last year.

Cities such as Istanbul, Antalya and others provide wonderful experiences covering historical site visits, shopping, beaches, nightlife and other activities.

But let’s take a step away from the usual hustle-bustle and rush of everyday life as well as the typical go-to-destinations for travellers. Located on the northeast coastline of Turkey, bordering the Black Sea is one of the country’s less highlighted but most unique offerings to global travellers – Trabzon, the largest city in the Eastern Black Sea region of Turkey.

“Tourists from the Middle East and GCC countries are attracted to travel to Trabzon due to its picturesque landscapes – valleys, plateaus, waterfalls and greenery,” says Salih Ozer, attaché of Culture and Information, Turkey to the UAE.

Trabzon is surrounded by dense forests and mountains. This striking city was founded in 756 BC by Greek colonists who aptly named it Trapezous, which means "table" in ancient Greek due to its topography – Trabzon is squeezed between two rivers with steep cliffs on both sides.

Located in the Maçka district of Trabzon is the majestic Sümela Monastery, a site of historical and cultural significance as well as a major tourist attraction. Founded in the fourth century, the monastery is built on a steep cliff at an altitude of 1,200 metres in Altındere National Park and is surrounded by a beautiful forest. The site was recently reopened to the public following the completion of a restoration project.

Also located in the city right by the sea is the Hagia Sophia of Trabzon, which shares its name with a bigger and much more famous counterpart in Istanbul. 

One of the most famous tourist attractions in Trabzon is Uzungöl – a lake situated to the south of the city in the Çaykara district. It was formed by a landslide, which transformed the stream bed into a natural dam. It sits at an altitude of more than 1,000 m high from the sea.

Also located on the northeastern coast of Turkey is the city of Rize, which is famous for its rich mountainous landscape, rivers, tea fields, lush green plateaus, old bridges and more. Rize also hosts the beautiful Kaçkar Mountains with the highest altitude reaching 3,932 m, a favoured destination for trekking enthusiasts.

Covered by spruce trees, the Pokut Plateau situated in Rize's Çamlıhemşin district is over 2,000 m high, and attracts tourists and nature lovers from the world over.

The Palovit Waterfall can also be found in the Kackar Mountains National Park. Another prominent waterfall is the 200-m-tall Bulut Waterfall in the Ayder Plateau. It is one of the tallest waterfalls in Turkey.

Also located not too far away from the Palovit Waterfall is Zikale, a medieval castle located in the Fırtına Valley which is one of the most important historical structures in Çamlıhemşin district of Rize Province. Built-in the 14th-century, this Silk Road garrison outpost sits out on a little notch towering over the Firtina River.

Rize is also home to several Ottoman Bridges built by local stonemasons in the 18th and 19th centuries. Their preservation is truly remarkable as they were built by hand with no machinery.

In recent times, the number of visitors from the GCC and other Middle East countries to various Turkish destinations – with Trabzon among the most prominent ones – has seen a very noticeable increase, with figures growing from 465,600 in 2017 to 575,500 in 2018 and 620,000 during the first nine months of 2019.

Due to the increase in influx of visitors, the number of weekly flights from the GCC and Middle Eastern countries to Trabzon has increased to 1,250 in 2019, from 900 in 2018.

Salih Ozer said: “Trabzon is completely suitable for family tourism and is a peaceful destination for all tourists coming from Gulf countries.”

Trabzon offers some of the freshest and flavourful options as part of its local cuisine. Some of the prominent offerings include Muhlama, a Turkish fondue made with cornflour and plenty of fresh butter and cheese. It is typically served with bread. Being a coastal region, the Black Sea provides well for the country - with anchovies being favoured and cooked in numerous styles. Trabzon is famous for its hazelnuts, it is said that around 70 to 80 per cent of the world’s hazelnuts are grown in Turkey.

“We have many things in common in terms of culture as Trabzon has many mosques, people are very respectful of Islamic traditions and tourists coming from Middle East feel as if they are in their own countries,” he noted.

He highlighted: “Some tourists that are coming from these countries are trying to find peaceful areas away from the city’s hustle and bustle, so Trabzon is powerful in terms of its potential for people looking for peace of mind to spend their holidays with family members.”

“More importantly, we have frequent direct flights from all around the world to Trabzon and this makes it preferable especially for GCC tourists due to the destination’s easy accessibility,” Ozer concludes.