The spectacular scenery and great roads of Eastern Turkey make for a wonderful Eastern Turkey road trip. On this trip we are not travelling by car from Western Turkey, but starting out from Trabzon in the north on the Black Sea and doing a round trip as far south as Dogubayazit, to see Ishak Pasha Palace. The return trip goes along different roads, the prize being the ruined town of Ani – a once Armenian town and one of the best ruins in Turkey today.
What You Will Find in This Post
Our Eastern Turkey Challenge.
One week in which to travel from Trabzon on the Black Sea Coast of Turkey as far south as Dogubayazit and back.
Renting a Car in Turkey
Our first Turkish car journey – a return Izmir-Gallipoli jaunt on the west coast some four weeks previous – was booked on line through Economy Car Rentals before leaving Australia.
That worked out well, but this time we just walked into a Turkish Airlines office near Hotel Ural in Trabzon, and requested two Onur Air tickets to Istanbul for a week’s time and on the spur of the moment asked about car rental.
In the blink of a Turkish eye, a call was made and all was arranged. We could collect our small diesel vehicle (always choose diesel for fuel efficiency in Turkey) the next day from that very spot at a cost of 80 tl/day including insurance.
I just love the way things work out in Turkey.
Encouraged by our success we asked if we could collect it at their office at 10 am but drop it off a week later at 4.30 pm and in a different location (Trabzon Airport).
Yes. Of Course. We just call had to call the car rental guy half and hour beforehand and he would meet us there.
Map of Eastern Turkey
Eastern Turkey Road Trip Itinerary
More detailed posts on the different aspects of the road trip will be linked as they are completed. So strap yourself in for the ride.
Trabzon is still sometimes known as Trebizond. A flashback to when it was an important trading town on the Silk Road. Then it traded with Persia and the Caucasus region. Caucasus is that mighty area between the Black Sea and the Caspian Sea occupied by Russia, Georgia, Armenia and Azerbaijan. Trabzon is a port town and again today it trades with the same areas.
As is sometimes the case, we were squeezing this week in before our departure from Turkey and we did not have more than a day to devote to Trabzon, but we liked what we saw. It rains a lot on the Black Sea and it did so while we were in Trabzon. We purchased one of those body hugging clear umbrellas and took to the streets. The streets were decorated with strands of overhead lights which is quite a common and enchanting sight in Turkey and during the day were full of intriguing shops and markets.
Day 1 Trabzon to Yusufeli (243.9km) 5/10/2013
Hotel Ural was close to the Trabzon Seaport and the main road that led east along the coast toward Rize – perfect for a quick getaway. Things were happening fast. No sooner had I sorted out our GPS (brought with us from Australia) than it was time to turn onto the D925 prior to the town if Iyidere. Misty rain filled the Iyidere valley which explained why the steep slopes were covered in neatly groomed tea bushes. Little did we know the surprises that awaited us on our way up and over the Kackar Mountains to Ispir. Surprises that deserve a separate post.
From Ispir our route would take us on the D050 to Yusufeli. Turkey is on a race to achieve power self sufficiency and are galloping down the hydro electric path. I found the impact of the dam projects on the grand mountains and valleys quite daunting, but Marty had a more pragmatic outlook, suggesting that in (many?) years to come nature would have restored the injustices. About half way along the D050 we were driving on brand new road while the ravaged hills watched silently.
Our GPS broke into my thoughts urging us to Please rejoin the route. Unusually it had no suggestions on how to do so and only showed our lonely vehicle wandering willy nilly over a blank screen. At the same time the road degenerated and I (as human navigator) nervously eyed another road across the river wondering if that might be our supposed route. Our actual route led through quarries and between rock crushing plants and I had a gut feeling that a security guard would bar our way at every turn.
I was relieved when we eventually arrived in the adventure tourism centre of Yusufeli – the alternative of retracing our steps in the dark was unimaginable. Shortly after calling Birol at the Greenpiece Pansiyon for directions we saw the cheery face of his daughter who in a typical Turkish gesture had been sent to flag us down.
Day 2 Yusufeli to Tortum (71.9 km) The Georgian Valleys 6/10/2013
The Valleys south-east of Yusufeli were part of Georgia in the 10th Century and reached prominence between 1184-1213. Hence the proliferation of churches in this Islamic Country. I had many marked that sounded fabulous both south east of Yusufeli and north-east of Artvin. We only saw three! You can read about them in more detail in this post Exploring the Georgian Mountains in North East Turkey by Budget Travel Talk.
+ Barhal (Altiparmak) Detour (54km) 10th Century Georgian Church
+ Ishan Detour (42 km) Church of the Mother of God 7th Century Georgian Church
+ Camliyamak Detour (16km) Oskvank Kilisesi 10th Century Georgian Church
Suggestion: Skip Barhal or stay the night at Karahan Pansiyon if they can gain entry to the church. There is a Georgian church at Tekkale before Yusufeli on the D050 which could be visited time and road permitting.
Eat at: Arzet Lokantasi 08800 Inönü Cd. Yusufeli
Day 3 Tortum to Dogubayazit 7/10/2013
Being time challenged we steadfastly bypassed Erzurum and turned toward Dogubayazit, stopping later for a tea break and wander in Horasan.
Horosan is a prosperous town with a small market selling huge cabbages and everywhere an abundance of men drinking tea. Not feeling comfortable in the all male establishments, we ended up finding a tiny cafe with a seat out front and ordered our tea. When it came time to leave the owner refused to take payment – a CUSTOM we had first been beneficiary of back on the N925 in the Iyidre Valley.
It is a lively bustling town and we spent some time shopping and getting a general feel for the place. Later it occurred to us that there hadn’t been any other westerners there. In fact the only other westerners we saw on this whole trip (outside of Trabzon) were a family and a couple at our Dogubayazit Hotel.
Click here for our special Tortum to Dogubayazit Post.
THE SPECTACULAR ISHAK PASHA PALACE, DOGUBAYAZIT (Click on the Title to see photos of the Palace)
DAY 4 Dogubayazit 8/10/2013
Dogubayazit is famous for it’s Kurdish heritage, the Ishak Pasha Palace, the Iran border crossing, a Noah’s Ark site and it’s proximity to Mt. Ararat.
Unfortunately I contracted Dogu Belly so we spent an extra day while the worst of it passed. Click here to see What Dogubayazit was like.
Suggestion: Accommodation is more expensive here than in a tourist area like FETHIYE. I suggest paying more than you normally would and ask to see the room first. Our room was a little too spartan for our liking and the one staff member who did the daily chores was stretched to his limit.
Eat at: Tad Lokantasi. I remember this Lokantasi as being at 101/c Abdullah Baydar Cad. The internet lists it’s address as 134 Carsi Cd – maybe that is their office address – We certainly never went to that address. They served consistently good food and were welcoming. (This was not the origin of my upset stomach).
Day 5 Dogubayazit to Kars 9/10/2013
From my Diary:
Driving through the outskirts of Dogubayazit and looking forward to seeing Mt. Ararat, I noticed a young boy probably around 8 years of age at the side of the road. He was sweeping the dirt at the front of a tiny office or was it his home? It was his attitude that struck me – energetic – bouncy – joyous even.
He completed his job as I watched, tipping the only furniture – a cheap once white plastic stool – and tapping it to remove any remaining grains of dirt. Standing to attention he admired his efforts proudly. He was standing in what to my eyes looked like a garbage dump which might generously be termed a recycling yard. I wished with all my heart that his positive energy would help him to prosper in life…
That scene happened in an instant but had a lasting impact on me. It seemed to me there was far more poverty in Eastern Turkey than in the West.
The awe inspiring Mount Ararat.
After admiring Ararat and the surrounding steppe dedicated to horse rearing, I put the car seat back and slept for an hour, still feeling decidedly unwell. When I awoke Marty raved about the scenic mountain road and villages we had been through. Yada Yada. Where was the photographic proof, I asked?
The area around Ararat has been sensitive for a long time and there is a large Turkish Military presence.
An intriguing town where shops bulge with huge rounds of cheese, saturated honeycombs and soft cheese stored in sheepskins; where butchers proudly hang beasts in their shop windows and where trees shed autumn leaves over cafe tables reminiscent of New York City.
On our late return from Ani, Marty slowed to accommodate a wandering flock of geese, while I pointed out the smoke from individual chimneys that had risen to sit like a cloak over the city.
Suggestion: Kars is an intriguing town so make sure to put it on the Itinerary, preferably as a stop over.
Eat at: Ocakbasi Restaurant, 276 Attatürk Cd, Kars. Not the one on the corner, but the one next door that has been transformed into a whacky cave affair. Popular with locals.
Day 6 Kars to Artvin (209.6km) 10/10/2013
We could not leave Kars without one last City walk and then we regretfully hit the road toward Ardahan. Our GPS wanted to take us via Erzurum – it must have known about the impending roadworks! The countryside was more inspiring Steppe. Google describes Steppe as a large area of flat unforrested grassland in SE Europe or Siberia. What it does not describe is the wonderful sense of freedom that driving through it gives.
As in Dogubayazit they were ripping up the streets in Ardahan which made for traffic hell and covered everything in dirt. The Baker sold the most beautiful crusty twin loaves of bread and we didn’t have the heart to tell him we only needed one. The greengrocer gifted us the one tomato we requested and my mosque wearing headscarf was put to use as a picnic rug beside a country road with views of ducks, cattle and snowy mountains.
The D010 took us up to the snowy heights of Cam Pass (2640 m) and down through pine covered hills to the green valley of Savsat. The Savsat National Park was another item regretfully crossed off our list due to lack of time. This area was beautiful and completely different to any other we saw in Turkey.
Click here for Kars to Artvin information.
Suggestion: Allow more time in your itinerary to explore the area to the north-east of Savsat.
Day 7 Artvin to Macka (263.4 km) 11/10/2013
+ Detour to Camlihensen (40 km)
My mood had been sombre as we drove into the setting sun yesterday. A huge dam has been built upstream of Artvin. The town that once looked from it’s eagles perch onto a peaceful valley scene today looks to the workings of the Dam. Read about it HERE.
The road from Artvin was all downhill and before we knew it we were looking at the Black Sea again. The drive was not without incident however. The zig zaggy roads had claimed an oil tanker which lay on it’s side spewing oil. Thankfully the driver was unharmed. I presume the oil had rushed to one side and made the tanker flip.
The Black Sea Coast of Turkey receives 2 to 3 times the National average rainfall. But not on this day.
We went looking for some mythical twin bridges, but instead found foxes in tea plantations and an old woman herding cows decorated with beaded necklaces.
In CAMLIHEMSIN we saw the unusual head-dress that the local Hemsin women wear. The Posi is a two tiered affair. A light floaty square of material sits on the head falling down to the shoulders which is secured on top by a knotted fabric roll which can be either modest or strikingly twirled like an open topped turban.
We chose Macka as our overnight stop for it’s close proximity to Sumela Monastery.
Suggestion: Rize could be added to the Itinerary on the Black Sea Coast, or the Firtina Valley past Camlihemsin.
Eat: Spotted Trout from the mountain stream at Yesil Vadi Restaurant Merkez Mahallesi, Camlihemsin. Just before the bridge on the way up the valley.
Day 8 – Macka to Trabzon Airport (29.9 km) 12/10/2013
+ Sumela Monastery Detour (16 km)
Whenever we were trying to determine how long to stay at various destinations during the week, I always qualified my input by adding:
As long as we have enough time for Sumela Monastery.
And we did! The Monastery is so spectacularly situated on a cliff in Altindere National Park that I would have been content with just a glimpse from the heavily forested slopes. To have time enough to climb and explore inside as well was a special treat.
We spent our final afternoon washing the vehicle and catching up on some Black Sea food specialties before flying back to Istanbul.
Read about our visit to Sumela Monastery HERE.
Suggestion: There is a relaxing courtyard cafe with views situated inside the Trabzon Monastery. It was delightfully uncrowded during our visit.
Eastern Turkey Road Trip Summary
As a devotee of road trips I can recommend this as an excellent choice. The journey is easily customized to make it your own.
As you will gather from my thoughts, 7 nights was not enough to make the most of the possibilities the area offers. Ten days would have been more appropriate.
For leisurely exploring of the Georgian Valleys, 7 nights would be enough if Dogubayazit and Erzurum were omitted, or alternatively if the Valleys don’t appeal they could be abandoned by driving directly from Trabzon to Erzurum on Day 1.
Apart from where Dams are being constructed the roads are in excellent condition and a pleasure to drive on, although we were advised against driving at night.
Turkey has the most expensive fuel in the world, but to counteract this, small diesel vehicles offer great fuel economy.
This Itinerary is linked to Nancie’s Travel Photo Thursday at BUDGET TRAVELERS SANDBOX.