Out of all my travel memories from around Turkey, the Ayder plateau stands out for a quirky and possibly absurd reason. I remember that it was the end of June, and while my friends on the Aegean and Mediterranean coasts were enjoying alfresco dining on warm summer evenings, I was huddled in my hotel room.
Despite wearing two pairs of socks, a jumper, my coat, and covering myself with a thick blanket, I felt an unwelcome shriving cold in my bones. Daytime weather temperatures had been mild but pleasant, so the significant drop at night had caught me off guard.
The reason for the cold nighttime temperatures in summer was the 1,350-metre altitude of the Ayder plateau. As part of the Kackar mountain range in the north-east of Turkey, it has a vastly different climate zone than that of the coastline holiday resorts.
Made up of the Laz and Hemsin communities of Turkey, tradition, and culture still reigned strong. Everything was old style, and most locals built their homes and hotels using wood from the nearby forests. My guide said it would be impossible for me to buy a house in the scenic, mountainous village. I assumed this was because I was a foreigner but even a Turk with no family or friend connections to the area would be hard-pressed to find a local who would sell to him.
Up until the 1980s, only hikers used the Ayder Plateau as a camping base, while they trekked to the summit. Over time, accommodation choices upgraded from camping sites to traditional wooden hotels and tourists like myself flocked en-mass to discover what all the hype was about. Fresh mountain air, scenic views, and an entirely different cultural lifestyle to the rest of Turkey had led some travel writers to compare Ayder plateau to the Swiss Alps.
Exploring the Ayder Plateau
Despite the cold, I did sleep well that night. High altitudes and mountain air have a habit of knocking you out quite quickly. So after breakfast, I eagerly went exploring with a local guide. Green fields filled with yellow buttercups and fat cows that would be perfect for a milk advert dominated the landscape.
The guide looked at me as if I was stupid when I asked why the cows were not in enclosures. It made perfect sense to me because they could wander off, but apparently, black sea cows don’t do that because they have some kind of god-given beacon system and at sunset, instinctively walk back home.
My other vivid memory was of bears. A sign at the entrance to one of the camping sites said to be aware of bears. This stupidly excited me because the thought of snapping the perfect photo of a big grizzly bear was tempting, although common sense dictated running in the opposite direction is the best option.
Luckily, my interest in big bears was all in vain because it was the wrong time of year. They only come down the mountain in winter when a thick blanket of snow covers the ground making it harder for them to find food. At the same time as they descend, the Gelin Tulu waterfall of Ayder plateau turns to ice. Flowing down the edge of one of the vast green hillsides, it resembles a bride’s veil, hence the name.
I loved everything about the Ayder plateau, even the rickety hand-built hotel that I thought would fall down at any minute and the cold night-time temperatures. Anyone seeking an alternative travel experience in Turkey would do well to go there.
Other Places to Visit
Other places to visit in the Northeast Kackar Mountains include Uzungol, a large lake destination. The cities of Rize and Trabzon of which the first is the tea capital of Turkey are also easy to reach with direct flights from most major airports in Turkey.
In addition, the rural honey-making Macahel region that shares a border with Georgia is a remote mountain destination but worth visiting just for the scenic views. Independent travel using public transport is not as easy as other places because of remote mountain roads, so I booked a guided trip with a tour company operating out of Trabzon. Many other Turkey tour agencies also sell the same itinerary.