Turkey’s Black Sea coast is an amazing place, with picturesque towns, ancient fortresses and glorious beaches - so it's a mystery why so few visitors head there
Turkey has been a popular destination for British holidaymakers since the dawn of the package holiday. The resorts along the southern coast have blossomed thanks to the annual influx of sun-seekers. Istanbul also welcomes a huge number of travellers each year, as one of the most inspired city breaks. So it’s always been a mystery to me why so few visitors head to Turkey’s northern coast, on the Black Sea.
Maybe there is nothing to see, I thought. Maybe it’s all industrial wasteland, or bland towns. Even most of the guidebooks had very little information about the region. There was only one thing to do: go and see for myself. It’s a huge amount of coastline, stretching from the Bulgarian border in the west to the mountainous boundary with Georgia in the east. There are very few organised tours here, and equally little in the way of useful public transport for touring, so a hired car from Istanbul was my choice.
I headed out of the city, across the Bosphorus, which separates Europe from Asia, and caught my first glimpse of the Black Sea at Sile. A ruined castle looks down on a seemingly endless sandy beach, with whitewashed buildings offering a variety of small shops and intimate hotels. Nearby, the higher ground meets the sea, resulting in some stark but beautiful rocky formations. Craggy outcrops and huge caves are interlaced with enticing clear blue waters. I had a feeling I was going to enjoy this trip!
After passing a succession of picturesque small fishing villages, my next proper stop was at Akcakoca. The two towers of the mosque dominate the seafront skyline of this pretty town, and multi-coloured fishing boats rock gently in the harbour. It was a pleasant town to stroll around, and visit the small shops selling the traditional embroidered items from this district. I stayed at the excellent Hotel Akcakoca, a well-appointed modern hotel right by the beach, which also has a very agreeable restaurant for the evening. Before that I had time for a brief diversion inland to the Prusa ad Hypium, with its Roman and Byzantine treasures, and the beautiful Samandere waterfall.
The next day, after an early morning stroll along the beach, where fishermen prepared their nets and children scampered after a deflated football, I continued eastwards towards Eregli. Beautiful deep green forests line the coast, giving occasional glimpses of the shimmering blue waters through the trees. Eregli will be known to classicists as the place where Hercules caught the three-headed dog Cerberus, the guardian of the gates of Hell. The cave, which is supposedly the entrance to Hell, is just outside the town, and well marked should you feel the calling!
A little further on, Zonguldak is the first major town I came to. Despite its size, and a large industrial side, it was still an interesting place to stop. It has an incredibly long and intriguing history, having been under the influence at various times of the Hittites, Phrygians, Assyrians, Persians, Macedonians, Romans and Byzantines. The tourist office will provide a walking tour map, which is very useful and in English. I was amazed how much was still around to see from those ancient times, and the small but well-organised local museum was also worth some time.
The historical theme continues at the next big city, Bartin, where the original Roman road can still be seen. This was where I first noticed the change in the feel of the region, with more pretty timber buildings, narrow streets, and a more relaxed feel. I took a short boat trip on the Bartin River, which gave a different perspective on the beautiful countryside.
On the coast nearby is my favourite of all the towns I visited. Amasra is a beautiful place, dating back to the 6th century, with a beautiful golden sandy beach backed with imposing dark cliffs. There was a lot to see here, including the impressive Byzantine citadel, still standing proudly on top of the cliffs, and a Roman necropolis. The Buyuk Liman Hotel was a good choice for accommodation, located right by the beach, without costing an arm and a leg.
A late afternoon wander into the town centre took me to the pretty Cekiciler Street, with its friendly shops selling all manner of local crafts. I needed my phrase book, however, as less and less English is spoken the further east you go.
Indeed, from this point on there was a real sense that I was leaving the comfortable western civilisation behind, and venturing into an intriguing but unknown world that has been partially forgotten by the real world. Sinop was my next stop, with it’s glorious natural harbour, picturesque waterfront, and impressive citadel. It’s another town with a history going back more than 5,000 years, but still has a welcome vibrancy along the promenade. I had a lovely lunch here in the Saray Restaurant, which bobs up and down on a pontoon by the harbourside. The food was exquisite; especially the grilled bluefish, which I couldn’t resist, and its location brought me back to my original reason for the trip. With such a beautiful region, why are there so few European tourists here?
I continued to be very pleasantly surprised by the succession of resorts further along the coast. Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, and Rize, all have plenty for the curious traveller. The mountains behind the coast had been getting ever higher, and sadly it was now time for me to turn and head back across them towards Istanbul. I had thoroughly enjoyed my exploration of Turkey’s Black Sea coast, and now planned a few days on the way back visiting the county’s equally unfamiliar interior. But that, as they say, is a tale for another day.