From the seven hills of Istanbul

Exploring Ayder Yaylası in Rize

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On our way back from our trip to Batumi, we made a stop at Ayder Yaylası in Rize, a city in Turkey’s tea-producing region along the Black Sea coast.

Yaylas, like the one in Rize, are cool retreats for families looking for a respite from the summer heat, as well as an opportunity to take in Turkey’s natural beauty.

Driving up to Ayder yaylası

While we visited in October, the yayla was still fairly busy, with a number of Turkish families, as well as several tourists from the Middle East, taking advantage of the clear blue skies, a real treat since the Black Sea region where Rize is located is known for heavy rainfall throughout the year; hence, the plateau’s lush forest and greenery.

The main road lined with small shops, restaurants and pensions

The air is fresh and clean, and yet also filled with the heady smell of burning firewood, a comforting smell that reminds me of my childhood around the campfire.

The smell of smoke from wood-burning stoves fills the air

At the yayla, many families were relaxing on the slopes, while others picnicked – some had even brought along a small grill. I’ve always been impressed by Turkish picnics which far outdo even the best of the ones I’ve seen stateside.

In Turkey, the extended family gets together, bringing out a full spread, which no doubt took hours to prepare (sarma, börek, anyone?)  accompanied by never-ending kettles of tea, which appear from nowhere. More simply put, Turkish families bring the whole kitchen to the picnic, instead of just a basket with the essentials.

Here a family sans picnic relaxes along with a special guest

In addition to many families, I was surprised by the number of young couples. Presumably, Ayder yaylası also makes for a nice romantic getaway, or at least that seemed to be a trend.

Couples’ outing

Throughout the yayla, cows roam freely, meandering through groups of people, munching the grass where they please. The man-made world juxtaposed onto the yayla – the vehicles, shops and main thoroughfare – hardly phased them at all.

Gurkan checks out the area while a family grills out on the left

The yayla is home to cows plus other furry friends (see the dog in the background?)

A peaceful-looking village home

After walking for a bit, we decided to stop in for a bite to eat. As an appetiser, we split mıhlama, a fondue-like dish made of village cheese, homemade butter and corn flour. It’s a regional dish, often hard to find outside the Black Sea region, but for cosmopolitan city-dwellers Istanbul’s Black Sea-inspired restaurant Klemuri offers a decent version.

Mihlama to start off lunch

This mıhlama was particularly cheesy, as you can see from below, and delicious to boot. A perfect way to fill up on a cool fall day. Afterwards, we stocked up on village butter – or so we thought – when we returned to Istanbul, we were disappointed to find that our “butter” was actually uninspired kaşar cheese.

The homemade butter in the Black Sea region is extremely yellow and nearly impossible to tell from cheese, or at least it was for us (and apparently the sales lady, too). Luckily, we’ve gotten a few wheels of butter from Gurkan’s mom recently to hold us over for awhile.

This mihlama is the par excellence of cheesiness. Here Mehmet and Gurkan struggle with the melty cheese.

Rize is also famous for its honey, but the price tag is hefty (well over 100 TL a pop!), and I have reason to believe that it’s not all produced locally like the shop owners would like you to think.

When it comes to honey, my instinct tells me to head into Georgia and get delicious honey at a fraction of the price. It might not make you crazy like Turkish mad honey, but if you’re looking for something sweet with breakfast, Georgia has you covered.

The honey here is pricey and I am skeptical about whether it is the real deal.

Before heading back into town, and then onto Trabzon airport, we chanced upon this lovely, time-worn bridge over the rushing water coming down the mountain, one last chance to take in the scenery, the peace and also the quiet.

On the way back down

 

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