Jason and I have talked about doing a Black Sea Road trip throughout the North East area of Turkey ever since we moved to Turkey, but it has never happened in the last 4 years of living here. On HIS birthday, Jason surprised me by setting aside some dates, finding tickets, renting a car, and making a ‘let’s go’ plan! So in less than 10 days before leaving, we finalized our itinerary and booked all our lodging for 12 nights. It was a little stressful but we made it happen! ***Spoiler: It turned out to be an amazing time, to say the least.
COVID-19 has not made 2020 fun for anyone, even us living the expat life in Turkey, and traveling in the midst of the virus meant we had to be extra careful and mindful of our exposure. You can check out some of our other travels during COVID times to Kalkan this past summer.
Now on to Rize!
Rize is the capital city of the larger province of Rize and hometown of Turkey’s President, Erdoğan. Rize’s climate is perfect for the large growth of vegetation and receives an annual precipitation averaging around 100 inches of rainfall per year making it perfect for growing tea. Introduced in the region in the 1940s and 1950s, tea has changed the destiny of Rize, making it a center for processing and shipping Rize Tea. The second largest crop being kiwis (who knew???)!
The mountainous landscape, rushing rivers, and lush green plateaus make this area perfect for nature lovers. In the summer (non-covid times), this region has over 20 festivals celebrated throughout the different villages. As well, one can explore the castles, stone bridges, traditional mansions, tea farms, and wooden mosques.
The Black Sea region has been an important place for many nations throughout history. Even today there are still subgroups of people with their own culture, traditions, and even language: Laz, Henshin, Pontic. The Laz people, who still speak the endangered Laz language, as well as Turkish, is possibly to most well, known group in the area. The laz böreği is one of my must-try foods for the region.
IMPORTANT: This post covers the whole province of Rize, not just the city. Most of these items are a 1.5 – 2 hours away from Rize ‘City’ in a cluster near a town called Çamlıhemşin. Take note because it will take time to drive from place to place, and it will determine where you choose to stay!
Whatever your reason is for visiting, you will not be disappointed! Read on to read our recommendations for Rize.
What you should see and do in Rize, Turkey:
1. Zil Kalesi ‘Bell’ Castle
- Jason and I both agreed that the location and jutting towers make this a legit 14th century castle! (To be fair, there are a lot of lame self-proclaimed ‘castle’ out there.) Located in the Fırtına Valley (literally “Storm Valley”) within the Pontic Mountains, this medieval castle sits 1,130 m (3,710 ft) up on the edge of a cliff overlooking the valley and river below just 12 km south of Çamlıhemşin.
- Formerly an important watchtower in the Trabzon Empire, the Ottomans then used the castle for military purposes. You can tour the garrison quarters, chapel and head tower.
- Next to the castle is a little cafe that boast of the same panoramic views and sells a mouth-watering rice pudding called Sütlaç.
- Just a quick 6 km drive passed the Zil Castle, Palovit Selalesi (waterfall) boost of being the biggest waterfall (in terms of volume) in the Black Sea region of Turkey. Once you reached there you will find the stunning view of the fall with rainbow colors, you can go to the nearest point and take some risky snaps, but you will most likely get a good misting!
- Parking is the bit issue and due to narrow road you might be need to park the car little bit far away on the safe side of the road. Nearby are picnic tables where families can join a snack or lunch break. Overall it’s the place where you can go and really enjoy the beauty of the fall.
- On the way to the waterfall, a ropes course called Tarzanpark is a perfect stop off for families that have energetic kiddos!
- Ayder Yaylası is one of the easiest mountain villages to get to and over the years, the new road and tours have made it slightly overrun by tourist and buildings. Nevertheless, if you are short on time, this is one of the easiest ‘yayla’s to get too with it’s paved two-lane roads and multiple tour group options from nearby cities.
- If you want a more authentic yayla feel, I would suggest spending more time and traveling by 4×4 vehicle up to Huser Yaylası, Avusor Yaylası and or Gito Yaylası.
- DON’T FORGET TO STOP: There are MANY stone bridges throughout this region dating over 100 years old. Make sure to stop and walk over them to fully appreciate their sturdiness and beauty! (See the pic below!)
- I found this site via Instagram pics! For 5 lira you will get one tea ticket and the opportunity to explore the emerald rows of a Turkish tea plantations. Nearby are a few cafe owned swing. Pay another 5 lira to sit on the swing and snap a pic with a gorgeous panoramic view. It is definitely out of the way and not accessible by public transportation. Rent a car or hire a taxi.
5. Rize Castle (City)
- Rize Castle, or in Turkish – Rize Kalesi, is a partly-ruined medieval castle situated on a hill southwest of the city center. The city cafe offers a panoramic view of the city as well as a lovely place to enjoy a tea or meal. It is free to enter and wander around.
BONUS: Rize Museum (City)
- I marked this as a ‘bonus’ because honestly, if you don’t read or speak Turkish, then you probably won’t fully appreciate it. If you are a longer-term expat with some knowledge and appreciation for Turkish Culture, this I highly recommend all local historical museum! We have lived in Turkey for almost 5 years, and we are always learning new things and perspective about a passed generations and how much change Turks have experienced (literally only 4 generations, just under 100 years, removed from pre-Turkish Republic).
- You can, however, fully appreciate the age and architectural style of the house turned museum from the outside.
MUST EAT FOODS:
- Mıhlama (kuymak in Trabzon): Just learned that these names are regional with slight differences in the recipes. Mıhlama is a dish native to Rize while Kuymak is local to Trabzon. Both use cornmeal and cheese but Trabzon uses a local dry, strong and salty “kuymak” cheese.
- Laz Böreği: A dessert made for special handrolled phyllo dough lined with a thin layer of custard in the middle. It is like eating a baklava stuffed pudding.
- Cornbread or just corn flour pastries: This unfrosted cornflour is used to make a calorie-dense dry cornbread (do NOT this southern USA style).
- Rize Simit: Shaped in a circle like regular sesame sprinkled Simit, Rize Simit instead has a smooth and shiny outside, which gives it a more pretzel-like taste.
Our other tips for this area:
- For our road trip, we flew from Izmir to Ankara on Pegasus Airlines and drove a rental car from Ankara to Rize- stopping in Amasya, Samsun, Ordu, and Trabzon along the way.
- The closest airport to Rize area is still the Trabzon airport (70ish km away). Pegasus Airlines offers a few direct flights from Izmir to the Trabzon airport during the week. Otherwise, all other flight times will have 1 stopover via Istanbul airports.
- Istanbul airports both have daily direct flights to Trabzon then you will need to rent a car or take a transfer to Rize.
- Airbnb near Çamlıhemşin: Little bungalow with a beautiful view. Downsides were being to far from the main road, needing the host to drive you to it, and no hot water except to the shower…
- Ramada Plaza Hotel in Rize: Good hotel but empty due to no tourist. Also it was so hot in our room and there was no way to control the temperature!
- Yilmaz Café (Ayder): Recommended by a friend saying it had the best laz böreği dessert he had ever had, this little restaurant did not disappoint. We cozied up here and grabbed lunch with a little view while the rain past. The family who runs the shop were the sweetest and everything was delicious.
- Zua Coffee (Çamlıhemşin – Senyuva): This modern coffee shop is a stark contrast to Çamlıhemşin and is a little gem tucked away in along the road to Zil kalesi. You will definitely miss it if you are not looking. After making our own areopress coffee for a few days, it was nice to enjoy a fresh latte (and pourover for the hubs) while Sofia napped in the car.
- Kaçkar Pastanesi (Çamlıhemşin – Merkez/City Center): This little bakery doesn’t look like anything special from the outside but all the treats and goodie you chose will be local, made fresh daily, and absolutely delicious – even the cornflour biscuits which I was told to stay away from!
- Liman Lokantası (Rize City Center): Recommended by some friends, this 60 year old restaurant is a great place to taste traditional meals and a ‘must try’ if you are in Rize. They cook in traditional copper pots at wood fired ovens. Not only the tourists but lots of locales visit this restaurant which is an indication of quality of food. This restaurant is a perfect example of slowly cooked fast serving food. Plus, the waiters and manager are very hospitable and extremely kind.
- If you are looking for a few extra stops, west-bound Trabzon is home to Istanbul’s sister church, also names the Hagia Sofia church.
- As you continue eastward, you will hit the boarder of Georgia. Some tourist like to take a quick day trip into Georgian’s second largest city of Batumi to say they have ‘visited’ Georgia.
Overall, Rize has way more to offer than we could do in our meesly 3 day visit – no matter how much we were able to pack into it! While our goals were different for this trip, we would definitely suggest making just 1 long week trip to the Rize area.
You can Explore Rize with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our videos: Rize Provice Part 1 and Rize City Part 2.
Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:
- Do you want to travel to Rize now?
- Have you traveled to Rize before?
- If so, what did you love? What did we miss?!
Check out our other locations on this road trip! This is just a piece of our 8 part video and blog post series of our road trip.
- SPOILERS: Instagram highlights
- My top 5 tools video for how we planned our travels – VIDEO
- Part 1: Explore Ankara, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 2: Explore Amasya, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 3: Explore Samsun, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 4: Explore Ordu, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 5: Explore Trabzon Part 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 6: Explore Rize ParT 1, Turkey – POST and VIDEO
- Part 7: Explore Rize PART 2, Turkey – VIDEO
- Part 8: BSRT FINALE! Explore Trabzon Part 2, Turkey – VIDEO