The vast, tranquil waters of the Black Sea and a land covered in dense verdant forest of the region hug each other at Turkey’s northern district of Rize and offer a wealth of untouched treasures. The region is filled with inspiring vistas, such as Çamlıhemşin, hidden amongst the green. Set in Kaçkar Mountains, the area is blessed with yaylas (highlands), with Ayder and Çat among the ones that get the most attraction, topped with boutique hotels boasting beautiful views.
Çamlıhemşin is one of the small towns that caught us up in its sirens song. When we packed our bags and got on the road, the town was covered with snow. The busy season here is May, when tea is harvested, and late summer and early fall when hazelnuts are harvested. Although equally beautiful in the summer, offseason travel in winter boasts a different, quiet beauty when covered in white. As it hasn’t yet been affected by flocks of people, Çamlıhemşin finds its place among our #slowtravel destinations.
Here Mother Nature is generous to the agricultural lands, and thousands of years of tradition, and ethnic diversity in the region result in an exceptional cuisine with produce like corn, hazelnuts, and tea are abundant and highlights of the table at almost every meal. However, kara lahana (black cabbage) is undoubtedly the king. In addition to black cabbage soup and kara lahana sarması (stuffed black cabbage leaves), there is a mashed version of the green, plus a delicious dish with black cabbage, beans and onion prepared with beef stock, called çalkala.
However, nature is not the only thing that makes Çamlıhemşin look good. Architecture here gives a unique feeling to the area. One or two story, mostly wooden, houses on the yayla (highland) create postcard-like views over the hills.
Because the region is beautiful and still not occupied by concrete, locals are quite protective of their nature and culture. It’s not a destination filled with five star hotels and they want Çamlıhemşin to stay that way. However, locals are also incredibly hospitable, open to sharing everything from their food to the dances. Their signature dance horon has energetic and swift moves. They can try to teach you, but if you call it the “horon tepmek” - the common description for the dance in Turkish - they will quickly correct you to call it a horon vurmak.
How to get there
Like all the precious things that nature offers, Çamlıhemşin is a bit hard to get to. By plane, you can land in Trabzon airport and rent a car from there to the town. As an alternative, you can take the Havaş busses to Pazar and from there a dolmuş to Çamlıhemşin. Check havas.net for bus schedules.
Where to stay
Just five kms away from Çamlıhemşin center, with four triangle bungalows and two square double rooms, Ada Pansiyon offers a cozy bed and breakfast among the greeneries in the middle of famous Fırtına Valley. Guests can have a large breakfast at the main house with regional cheese, butter, kaygana (local version of crepés,) and muhlama (a speciality to Black Sea prepared with butter, corn flour, and regional cheese.) T: (0464) 653 30 70
Where to eat
Çamlıhemşin is not a place to expect fine dining restaurants, popular chains, or bars. In fact, many of the restaurants only have soft drinks. But surely you can expect a cozy environment, a good chat (in Turkish) with the people of the region, and a plethora of local food. Some restaurants here have special stoves, called kuzine, which run on coal or wood. Usually there is a teapot on top of the stoves and people gather around the kuzine, enjoying their cup of tea and chatting. Here are a few of our favorites spots around Çamlıhemşin and in Rize.
In the center of Rize province, Kuzey Balık Restaurant stands out with fresh and delicious seafood. Grilled hamsi (local anchovy) is among our recommended dishes from the restaurant. Open daily 8:30am-11pm; Karadeniz Sahil Yolu No. 18/2, Dağınıksu, Rize; T: (0464) 246 21 52
A local favorite, Gürgendibi Restoran can be an ideal spot for all meals of the day. Delicious muhlama (a regional dish made with corn meal cooked in butter, then brought to a pudding-like consistency with the addition of water and lots of melting cheese) and black cabbage dishes such as çalkala can be tried here along with drinks. Don’t leave without trying delicious bean pickles and sac kavurma (a mix of meat and vegetables roasted and served in a metal plate.) Accommodation is also available at the facilities. Yukarışimşirli Köyü, Çamlıhemşin, Rize; T: (0464) 657 21 89
Packing a river and hill into a landscape, Çinçiva Kafe is a renovated old coffee house of the village with good food and lovely view. Try the black cabbage dishes, muhlama, meatballs and rice here. No alcohol. Open daily 8am-9pm; Şenyuva Köyü, Çamlıhemşin, Rize; T: (0464) 653 30 55
Near the famous Ayder Yaylası, Nadir’in Yeri is another culinary stop on the list. Their signature is a meat dish cooked on a stone, served with butter and garlic sauce. The restaurant is very generous with the salad that accompanies the dishes. Expect a young man with a guitar to show up in front of the kuzine to play some local tunes while you enjoy the food. Accommodation available here. Kardelen Kalegon Mevkii No. 122, Ayder Yaylası, Çamlıhemşin, Rize; T: (0464) 657 21 07
Located in the Ardeşen Fırtına Valley in the tea growing region of Rize along the Black Sea, Lazika produces some of the finest teas in Turkey. This is the most exquisite flavor of tea you will find in the country. Black, green, and white teas are produced using fresh, quality, meticulously hand-picked tea leaves from Lazika’s own fields, ensuring superior, subtle flavor and sustainable agricultural practices. Find Lazika tea varieties on shoptheguide.com.
Resembling peanut butter in texture, Çotanak is a mix of honey and tahini with nuts. If you are touring around here in winter, this mix will give you the extra protection from the cold and the energy you need. For Çotanak hazelnut honey butter delivered to your home, check shoptheguide.com.
Before you leave the area, consider going on a (food) shopping spree. Local produce like black cabbage, corn flour, hazelnuts, and butter will make your kitchen back home all the richer, and can make great gifts for your loved ones.
The path along one of the cold rivers of the area leads up to Çat Yaylası. During winter due to heavy snow, walks up to the highland may take longer than in the summertime. Although there are signs that escort you to take the right paths, a tour guide is highly recommended. Old stone bridges located over the river along the path create scenic views and excellent photo opportunities. Depending on the season, fishing can also be a great activity in the area.
Among the highlands and valleys, there lies a forest with şimşir (a type of plant in Buxaceae family) trees. The forest is considered the largest and only one in the world with this type of tree. These trees have fifty shades of green on its firm leaves and come springtime little yellow flowers bloom to create even more picturesque views. In addition to şimşir, ladin (spruce), kızılağaç (alder), gürgen (hornbeam), kayın (beech) varieties are in the region’s flora.
Because of the presence of rivers and the uneven geography, waterfalls can be seen along the paths here. On the Tar River, hanging out by the Bulut Şelalesi (Cloud Waterfall) is a soul-soothing experience. There are clear paths and signs to find each of these locations along the trails.
There is also the hot spring gift of nature to Çamlıhemşin. With healing properties, Ayder Kaplıcaları is just 18 kms away from the town. Set in between the perfect flora of the area, the hot spring facility offers pools and baths with doctor supervision. Ayder Şelalesi, Yukarışimşirli Köyü, Çamlıhemşin, Rize; T: (0464) 657 21 02, 03
How to get a tour guide
Bukla Tours, an experienced company based in Istanbul, can plan your trip to Çamlıhemşin and appoint you a local tour guide when you arrive. Akdoğan Sokak No. 44/2, Beşiktaş; T: (0212) 245 0635; bukla.com.