16 unforgettable moments traveling around Turkey’s Black Sea region

EDITOR’S NOTE: Michael Matti is a photographer and social media influencer from Seattle, Washington. He recently spent several days exploring Turkey’s Black Sea region for Matador, road tripping from the coastal population centers of Trabzon and Rize up into the mountains to find medieval castles, precipitous waterfalls, alpine villages, and an incredible culture and cuisine that differs substantially from what you see in Istanbul and the rest of the country.

These are his top 16 experiences from the trip — will they inspire your own?

Driving in the mountains

Our first few hours in the Black Sea region were spent driving up into the mountains. The whole drive was incredibly scenic, so it was tough to get even a few miles in between stops. We'd be at a viewpoint, get back in the van, and then a few minutes later be hopping out again to capture views like this one, seen on our drive from the coast up to the small mountain town of Yukari Kavron.

Hiking among snow-covered peaks

I didn't expect to be hiking through snow on my visit to Turkey, but the Black Sea region received its first snowfall of the season while I was there. The snow turned the mountains into a winter wonderland.

Relaxing with tea

The Black Sea region of Turkey is known for its tea—in fact, pretty much all of the tea produced and consumed in the country comes from here. We drank several cups a day, but my favorite was probably the one we enjoyed here, in the snow-covered village of Yukari Kavron. I was mesmerized by the scenery while waiting for the warm tea, which turned out to be the perfect complement to the landscape.

Crossing stone bridges over rushing rivers

I lost track of the number of little bridges we came across as we drove through the region. Many looked like this one, curved in a high arch above the water.

Staying in little mountain towns like this

The mountainous Black Sea region is dotted with little towns like Ayder (a mountain resort in the province of Rize), many of which reminded me of villages in the Swiss Alps.

Watching the "city" lights illuminate against the mountain backdrop

This was the view from my guesthouse room in Ayder. The mountains provided a nice backdrop for the lights of the town.

Visiting a mountain castle

While in Ayder, we visited the nearby castle of Zilkale, one of a series of fortifications that once guarded the passage of the Silk Road through Turkey. This medieval structure really stands out from the dense forest surrounding it. You can go inside and look out over the valley—the views from the top are spectacular.

Seeing cities built into the mountainsides

I just wasn't expecting to see such lush, mountainous terrain on my trip to Turkey, with cities crawling up the slopes. The region's winding roads and elevation changes make driving here a unique experience. This shot was taken on the outskirts of Artvin, which sits above the Çoruh River.

Coming across remote lakes

We visited several mountain lakes during our trip, great spots to relax and enjoy the natural scenery. This one is called Karagöl, and when we arrived it was pouring down rain, as it had been doing most of the day. But just as we were about to leave, the rain stopped, and I was able to fly my drone up above the lake to get this shot.

Paddling a mountain lake

Karagöl (which translates as "black lake"), located in the province of Artvin, turned out to be incredibly calm and reflective. There was no one there but us, so we took advantage of a rowboat and enjoyed some time out on the water.

Enjoying a traditional meal with a view

Getting to try traditional Black Sea cuisine was awesome, but it was often the setting of the meal that made the experience. We stopped to eat at many little places like this one, perched high above a valley and sitting next to the Zilkale castle.

Watching the fog roll through

Fog was abundant during our visit, and it only made these mountainous areas more beautiful. Watching it roll through the valleys, alternately covering and revealing mountain peaks, it was easy to turn contemplative and feel immense gratitude for the chance to be within this landscape.

Stopping at roadside waterfalls

This region of Turkey is home to countless waterfalls. One drive we did took us by several that cascaded down onto the road. Of course each one required its own stop for photos.

Getting soaked crossing a bridge over a waterfall

We hiked to a waterfall called Mençuna Şelalesi, which has a bridge spanning it. You can see the small drop in this photo, but there was another five times its height just out of frame to the left. This large waterfall made it impossible to cross the bridge without getting completely soaked from all the mist it was kicking up.

Exploring the countryside by car

There's a whole lot of farmland in Turkey's Black Sea region. As we drove through the countryside, we came on many pastoral scenes like this one. This is great road-trip country.

Waiting for the fog part to reveal the most extraordinary waterfall

This may have been my favorite experience of the trip. We were driving to Karagöl, in heavy fog, when we came around this one bend in the road and caught a glimpse of a waterfall through the mist. We quickly pulled over and waited for the fog to shift again and reveal the spectacular ribbon of water seen in this photo.

by Michael Matti December 28, 2015
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Ephessus sunset

SO MANY HISTORICAL SITES THAT ONE WOULD TAKE WEEKS TO VISIT THEM ALL