By Nicole Jacob
When you grow tired of the all-night bars, beaches, and carpet salesmen on Turkey’s Mediterranean Coast, take a turn off the beaten path and head east to Yusufeli.
A small town of about 5,000 people in the northeast corner of the country, Yusufeli may be far from the Turquoise Coast, but it is a gem nonetheless. Rust-colored jagged mountains and the Coruh River that rushes through town provide beautiful scenery, but it is the locals who will win your heart.
The land is dotted with small cherry and apricot farms. You will pass through them as you hike to some of the 10th Century Armenian churches in the area. The families working in the field will wave and call out a warm Turkish greeting when they spot you. Be prepared to stop often for a glass of sweet tea and make sure to bring your Turkish dictionary so you can communicate with your hosts. A day’s hike in Yusufeli will teach you more about real Turkish culture than a month on the Riviera.
The town of Yusufeli is not on the common tourist circuit, however it does see its share of visitors thanks to white-water rafting opportunities and trekking. As a result, the town has a small selection of simple but decent hotels. Rafting trips are easy to arrange as long as you can find enough participants to put together a full party. If trekking is more to your liking (and fits your budget better), the friendly townspeople can direct you to nearby points-of-interest.
A number of crumbling deserted churches are hidden among the hills and mountains. For a quick visit, hire a taxi to whisk you up the curvy mountain roads to the easy-to-reach churches. Other ruins can be reached by a daylong trek. For those who are more adventurous, there are several multiple-day treks. By talking with other travelers, you will likely learn of sites not listed in your guidebook. Hand-drawn maps are passed around from traveler to traveler at the hotels and restaurants, although a warning: these maps may not be drawn to scale!
The churches have elaborate carvings and the silence around them give you a sense of peace, but you will probably find that getting there is half the fun. If you want to explore on your own a bit of history, while soaking up authentic Turkish culture in one of the most beautiful and relatively unknown places in the world, come to Yusufeli. The friendly people, quaint charm and affordability will make it a place you never will forget.