Emerald Green: Maçka
Surrounded with forests that cover the foothills of Trabzon, Maçka offers a different feeling —ranging from cool plateaus to magnificent temples and local delights to colorful festivals— with each step taken.
The road that leads to the Zigana Mountains from Trabzon, reaches Maçka at the twenty-ninth kilometer. Leaving the city center behind, the multi-story buildings are replaced by small villages and fields of corn and beans. Near Maçka, the scenery changes yet again to colorful market stands, elegant restaurants, and open-air cafes. The noisy waters of Coşandere, which brings life to the region, points to Sumela Monastery, one of the treasures of the region. The open-air restaurants lined up along the road offer a feast of local delights. After leaving our car by the entrance of Sumela, we have about five hundred meters to cover. Loaded with plenty of oxygen, we start climbing the path.
CHAPELS, LIBRARIES, FOUNTAINS...
The Sumela Monastery, barely showing its face through the clouds hanging in the air, looks like a supernatural chateau carved into Karadağ. This monastery, which was built into the Altındere Valley in the fifth century by two monks who believed that St. Mary’s grave was there, was added onto for thousands of years, finally taking on its current look. The monastery, consisting of five large buildings lined up in front and around a hundred small buildings hidden at the back, is large enough for a few thousand people to live in. The churches, chapels, libraries, fountains, and kitchens form the monastery in addition to guest and rest rooms. Some of the cells are ornamented with frescoes. The water of the fountain pool in the back yard is believed to be holy after hundreds of years. According to local guides that know the region very well, the best time of the year to visit the region is between August and September. It is also possible to visit Trabzon and its vicinity using Maçka as your base. Zağnos Pasha Bridge, Kanuni’s House, St. Sophia Church, Taşhan, Atatürk’s Mansion House, the historical ammunition depot, and the Roman walls are all only about an hour away from each other. If you have already tasted local dishes such as fresh trout, corn soup, “mıhlama” (which resembles fondue), “kuymak” (resembling the former), “hamsili kaygana” (an anchovy-based crepe), “turşu kavurması” (fried pickled green beans), “lahana sarması” (stuffed collard greens), “minci peyniri” (a kind of salty crumbled cheese), “fikoki” (blackberry syrup), and “sütlaç” (rice pudding in earthenware), we have another suggestion to make —you have to go as far as the Akçaabat coast, which is famous for its historical houses, and try their local “köfte” (meat balls).
THE TREASURE OF THE MOUNTAINS
As the road approaches the Zigana Valley, it becomes even more beautiful with pines, firs, beeches, alders, and chestnuts and gets closer to the mountains. As the altitude reaches nearly two thousand meters, the road starts going through the low clouds. Between Maçka and Tortul, one can see beautiful Black Sea houses. Hamsiköy, located on the foothills of Mount Zigana, at an altitude of seven hundred meters, is famous for its rice pudding. In order to go over the Zigana Mountains, which form Trabzon’s natural border, there are two options: First, the old road on the left, which curves through the mountain, a real pleasure to experience; the other is on the right, the Zigana Tunnel, one of the longest tunnels in Turkey. When going over the mountain, you need to be prepared for a different type of climate. On one end of the tunnel is a mild Black Sea climate, whereas the climate is very harsh on the other end, which is in the Eastern Anatolian region. The Karaca Inn in Torul, by the exit of the tunnel, is an incredible hiking path with its illuminated giant stalagmites and stalactites. The rest of the road leads to unexplored parts of the region. Following Torul – Gümüşhane – Yayladere route, one can reach the Yağmurdere Valley; after going over the Salmankeş pass at an altitude of 2,280 meters, it is one of the most inaccessible parts of the Black Sea region. The district of Dumanlı, located by Yanbolu creek, has been the center of seven old villages in history. Some of the buildings in these villages situated in narrow valleys at altitudes between 1,500 and 1,800 meters are still erect. These villages are surrounded by thick fog except for the early hours of the day and may be too risky to attempt to go to in winter months.
ON THE ROOF OF THE BLACK SEA
Maçka hosts over twenty plateaus scattered around like emeralds; Kiraz, Lapazan, Çakırgöl, Çatma Obası, Düzköy, Hıdırnebi, Kuruçam, and Sis Dağı are only a few of these. One must explore the stone and wooden houses that reflect the traditional culture of the region as well as the plateaus that reflect the character of the region with mountain lakes and avid creeks. I decided to go to Lişer and Solma, which remain within the borders of Trabzon. Lişer Plateau, which can be accessed through the Akçaabat – Pazarcık – Kayabaşı road, is very interesting with its rich natural flora. This plateau is a real heavenly place on earth, with wild roses and multi-colored flowers at an altitude of 2,030 meters. The plateaus of Trabzon, where there are several hotels and restaurants to choose from, turn into festival arenas during the summer months. Şoma Plateau, which can be reached by taking a 22 kilometer-long dirt track to the west of Maçka, is hidden in the valleys of the Kulin Mountain. This plateau, which has an altitude of 1,700 meters, is very inviting with its hiking paths in the forest and all of its natural beauties. Although there is electricity, running water, and a telephone line, this plateau is frequented by caravan and campers as there are no hotels. With its fresh air and high levels of oxygen, the region is enlivened with the sounds of “horon” (a local dance). After living such beautiful moments, buying a few local products is a must. Consider cheese, fresh tea, and hazelnuts, because after living in this heavenly place for some time, you will definitely miss it.
BEFORE SETTING OFF
You must be well prepared for long walks in the Eastern Black Sea plateaus. Water-resistant boots that will also protect your ankles from twisting, raincoats, and a comfortable pair of trousers are very important. You can have local guides on your walks as well. You must also have your first aid kit ready for small wounds and should have some medicine for upset stomachs and colds.
DID YOU KNOW?
* Some of the monk cells in Sumela Monastery are ornamented with colorful frescoes.
* The plateaus of the Eastern Black Sea are rich in varieties of rare flora.
* The honey gained from thousands of different types of flowers cure many diseases.
* Trees with interesting shapes can be seen in Altındere National Park.
* There are historical wooden mosques en route to Çamlıhemşin from Maçka.
Travel Writer, Managing Editor of FOOD and TRAVEL Turkey Magazine,
Member of Grand Jury, Hürriyet Seyahat (Travel) Newspaper