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 Trabzon!
IMPORTANT: This post covers the whole province of Trabzon, not just the city. In fact, most of these items are a 1 – 2 hours away from Trabzon ‘City’. Take note because it will take time to drive from place to place, and it will determine where you choose to stay.
The Black Sea region in Turkey is home to some of the most beautiful coastline and mountains in the country. Black Sea in Turkish means Karadeniz, and the Turks from this region have their own accent, dress and lifestyle. Trabzon just a part of that region.
Trabzon is the capital of Trabzon Province and the second largest city of the Black Sea region (to Samsun). Located on the historical Silk Road, it became the trade gateway to the rest of the territory and a melting pot of religions, languages and culture for centuries. It’s legendary history influenced the creation of paintings, theatre plays and operas in Western Europe throughout the following centuries.
Trabzon’s earliest known name was Trapezus, one of the most easterly of ancient Greek settlements – possibly founded in 800 B.C.. Like the rest of Turkey, Trabzon has passed through the hands of many empires. This little narrow strip of city and a bit into the Pontic Mountains were the capital city of the Empire of Trebizond (old English for Trabzon) between 1204 and 1461. Despite its geographic smallness, the city gained great wealth from the taxes it levied on the traded goods via the Black Sea.
Christianity had reached Trebizond by the third century and early Christians sought refuge in the Pontic Mountains south of the city, where they established Vazelon Monastery in 270 AD and Sumela Monastery in 386 AD. Even after the Ottoman conquests of 1461, the Greek Orthodox, better known as the Pontic Greeks, continued to live in this area up until 1923, when they were deported to Greece in the Great exchange.
On to modern day Trabzon, this city of 250,000 boast of a port, the only airport for the Rize area access, a full-scale university, and a very competitive professional football team, Trabzonspor, which has won several titles in the Turkish Super League. Major exports from Trabzon include hazelnuts and tea. The coastal highway has increased and led to some growth, but progress has been slow in comparison to the rest of Turkey.
Personally, Trabzon City wasn’t my favorite city. It was packed to the brim downtown, and there was nothing that truly stood out beside the extensive fortress walls and the historic Hagia Sofia. If you go by our guide, you won’t spend much time IN THE CITY but move on quickly to the more extensive province like we did.
Read on to know what you should see and do in Trabzon, Turkey:
1. Sümela Monastery:
- Located an hour drive south of Trabzon city center, Sumela Monastery is one of the longest occupied monasteries in Turkey. Founded in the 400s A.D. (I think I said 1400s in my video) by the Greek Orthodox, this location is not the easiest to access. The monestary was slowly built and new building added over its long lifetime. It continued to be home to monks for hundreds of years before the great exchange of 1924 when Turkey and Greece uprooted respective countryman from both sides to the newly marked borders.
- Due to restorations, the monastery was close to the public for almost 5 years and reopened to the public in 2020. There is still a lot of construction work being done. Even the road which was once accessible all the way to the top is now closed to the public. In order to travel to the monastery, one must park at the designated carpark and grab a mini bus the rest of the way.
- Without a doubt, this is the ONE place you MUST visit in Trabzon.
2. Karaca Cave
- Located 97 kilometers inland from Trabzon, near the small town of Torul, Karaca Cave was our first cave visit in Turkey! With it’s well maintained walkways and excellent lighting, it’s no wonder why this cave network is one of Turkey’s best and most accessible. The cave stretches for 107 meters and is filled with huge stalagmites and stalactites that have been formed in weird and eerie shapes. Since opening in 1996, cave has become a place of true landmark of the area.
- Located 1550 meters above the sea level, we enjoyed the views of the 4-km-long asphalted road up the mountainside. In addition there are places like stopovers and gardens for tourist to to enjoy.
3. Gümüşhane Siron Kebabı
- Gümüşhane Province, literally meaning “Silver House”, is named so for its silver mines. Situated on the Silkroad, the city is known for its historical structures as well as its natural beauty – Karaca Cave being one of the city’s most important landmark.
- The must try food of the area is the Siron kebab. A local, Kalaycı, created this dish specifically with his hometown in mind. Siron is made by rolling the dry dough with hot water. He combines the meat of the most delicious unprocessed meat of the animals grazing in the Zigana mountains spread over top of the siron, with a layer of yogurt in between. and meat and presented the Ardasa siron kebab, which was also registered, to the citizens. All the favors make this a yummy dish I wish I could find in Izmir!
- While you are here: Nearby is the historic town of Süleymaniye, which, although it is under ruins, it is still one of the must-see places. Merkes Süleymaniye Neighborhood Surp Karabet Church is located in Süleymaniye District. The church’s roof and south wall are mostly destoryed but you can see from above the three basilical, 2-story massive layout.
4. Torul Cam Terrace
- Don’t miss the Torul Glass Terrace! Turn off the highway and follow the road up the mountain. At the top you will find a viewpoint overlooking the city with decent amenities- cafes, toilets, a children’s play area.
- If you are brave enough for a small fee, currently 5 TL, you can walk onto a glass terrace which is 240 meters overlooking the town of Torul, river, mosques, and the ruins of Torul Castle. If you are not so brave you can still see the same sights from the viewpoints from the safety of the mountain side.
5. Hamsiköy Kahvaltı and Sütlaç
- Hasmsikoy is a small village located about an hour drive south of Maçka. It has beautiful scenery and is home to the traditional Turkish dessert sütlaç. You will really experience what life in a Turkish village looks like when you visit. We enjoyed Turkish breakfast here and then a bowl of the area’s famous sütlaç. Restaurant recs is below.
6. Hagia Sofia (Trabzon City)
- Hagia Sofia (Trabzon City), known as the counterpart to the Hagia Sofia in Istanbul, was also built as a church during the Byzantine era around 1240s. The church was used until converted into a mosque by one of the Ottoman sultans. Interestingly enough, during World War I the Russian occupation used as a temporary hospital and depot.
- After the war had finished, it was reused as a mosque until 1964 when it was turned into a museum as a way for visitors to learn about the past. In 2012, local religious leaders were granted approval to veil frescos and the carpet the floor of the museum to make it comfortable for muslims when they reconverted it to a mosque. It also means that it is free to enter.
7. Atatürk Köşkü (Trabzon City)
- In the city of Trabzon, there is a small mansion built in the 1890s by a Greek Merchant. The city of Trabzon gifted this building to their leader of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk. Ironically, Ataturk spent hardly any time in this house (maybe 2-3 visits?). After he passed away, the city dedicated this building to Atatürk, turning it into a museum. The building has been left in the traditional style, most items predating 1937, for people to visit and learn of how the leader of Turkey lived.
- Uzungol, unfortunately, is very much out of the way! In fact, in our original itinerary, we planned to skip this completely. However, due to all the recommendations and my FOMO (fear of missing out – and FONR, Fear of Never Returning), we decided to squeeze it in on our travel from Trabzon to Rize.
- Uzungol, Turkish for ‘long lake’, is a large beautiful lake surrounded by thick, dense forests. Surrounding the lake are several pockets of hotels, restaurants, and shops. We rented an electric scooter and road it around the circumference of the lake taking in the sites. Honestly, it felt way too touristy for me but the day was lovely, and we were glad to explore outdoors. However, if you love a good lake (and can find a decent price hotel) then I think there is enough to do here if you stayed a couple of nights.
- Getting there: Unfortunately it is at least one hour drive south of the coast road from Trabzon to Rize (and an hour return) – 90 minutes from Trabzon City. Just make sure you plan a full day to get there, tour, eat, and return – especially if you are taking public transportation. Many tour agencies in Trabzon sell day trips there, but you can also choose to stay overnight in one of Uzungol’s traditional hand built wooden hotels.
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.
- Flying in and out of the Trabzon’s airport, or Trabzon Havalimanı, is quite a treat. Due to the quick escalation of coast to mountains, the city had to build the runway out into the water, running parallel to the Black Sea coastline. You get an amazing view of the city and the sea as you arrive.
- Turkish Airlines and Pegasus Airlines have daily flights from Istanbul to Trabzon. Pegasus Airlines from Izmir only first direct 2 times a week. All other flights route through Istanbul.
- Bus services from Trabzon to other parts of the province are frequent and convenient.
- Voice Hotel Maçka: Our friends recommended this hotel to us, and this was the perfect place to stay for our family! The hotel is just outside of Maçka town on the road to the Sumela monastery. We had a 1 bedroom +1 salon room which included a kitchenette, mini-fridge, and washer (which has a dual drying system). Everything was fabulous! The staff was kind and quick to respond to any request. The breakfast was fantastic and the dinner was great too if you need an easy option near the hotel. We would definitely stay here again if we ever pass through Trabzon again!
- Gardenya Suite Hotel: This is a perfect little place near downtown Trabzon close to everything but also tucked down a side street so it’s super quiet at night! It was so nice to have a 1 bedroom + 1 salon apartment for our family here. The breakfast was nice, staff was friendly, and everything went off without any issues. We also had a car, and the staff helped us park it at the nearby otopark (free).
MUST TRY FOODS:
- Kuymak (Mıhlama in Rize): 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.
- Sütlaç: popularly originates from Hamsiköy in the Trabzon region. Sütlaç is a baked rice pudding made mostly from cow’s milk, sugar, and cream, with just a few additional ingredients. Some people, including myself, like to stop it with cinnamon. This is a dessert you must try when you visit.
- Ataç Konağı Kebab + Balık Restaurant: This Gumushane restaurant has a huge shaded outdoor space including a playground which is great for kids. This is where we got our yummy Siron kebab.
- Niyazi USTA Restaurant (Hamsiköy): Breakfast stop. Great view but mediocre food. It could be that that there lunch and dinner options are better. Go on weekday to have the whole restaurant to yourself!
- Osman Usta Sütlaç (Hamsiköy): Hamsikoy is know for there beautiful view and dessert, Sütlaç. At Osman Usta’nın Yeri, who has been in business since 1972, the secret to this delicious sütlaç is that it is cooked for a long time and made from organic, fatty cow milk. The rice pudding here is especially delicious because the milk is delicious. Make sure to sprinkle a little cinnamon on top (a little chopped hazelnuts if you dare). I recommend it to everyone.
- Şömine Kafe (Uzungol): The food was NOT worth it but the drive up the mountain is!
- Maya Bakery & Workshop: This tiny little restaurant has several delicious options of pastas, pizzas, cakes, cookies and brownies. Everything was delicious but the service was a little lacking. We came for dinner, and the timing could have been off. The grocery store attached to the restaurant had some fun snacks that I haven’t seen in Turkey before.
- West-bound Ordu was one of our favorites: capital of hazelnuts, cable car rides, and miles of coastline!
- If you are looking for a few extra stops, east-bound Rize is home to Istanbul’s sister church, also names the Hagia Sofia church.
Overall, Trabzon is so amazing. So much history and unlike the rest of Turkey. This Black Sea region is so overlooked by most foreign tourists and it saddened me!
You can Explore Trabzon with us over on our Following The Funks YouTube Channel via our Trabzon Part 1 and Trabzon Part 2 videos and see what all we did in our late afternoon/ morning visit!
Comment below and let me know about some of the questions below:
- Do you want to travel to Trabzon now?
- Have you traveled to Trabzon 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