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Turkey with kids: The Black Sea Region – Ayder and the Kackar Mountains

You don’t want to be stuck in Pazar on the Turkish Black Sea coast at 5am. Especially after a long and not very comfortable overnight bus ride. We were.

Luckily dawn was breaking so it wasn’t pitch dark, and at least the bus company had an office with some chairs, so we could sit down inside But there were only two chairs and we were five people so, I decided to take the boys for a walk.

Pazar is not well-known for very good reasons – it is a completely nondescript town east of Rize, but we were there for a reason – it is the jumping off point for dolmuses going to Ayder, a mountain village and gateway to the famed Kackar Mountains. This is also the region of the Hemsin people – a tribe that isn’t Turkish in origin  but can trace itself to Armenian roots, but which has been “Turkified” over the centuries. The Hemsin people are famed throughout Turkey as being master pastry chefs. We wandered into town, crossed a bridge over a roaring river, saw the vegetable trucks begin to set up the morning market, and watched the bakers at work in the bakery. They probably didn’t normally get foreign kids watching them so intently, but it is really fascinating watching a bakery at work in the early morning.

Time went by and eventually we  caught our bus up the mountain to Ayder. Green hills rushed by on the right, and a river rushed by on the left. We passed tea estate after tea estate, and finally we pulled into a small village with wooden houses scattered all over the hills – Ayder.

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Hiking in the fog near Ayder

Hiking in the fog near Ayder

We had booked a room in a pension some time before and we had to drag our luggage up a hill to reach it. We weren’t impressed when we arrived – it looked ramshackle and falling apart. We had passed a much nicer looking place half way up the hill, so we left pur luggage in or pre booked pension and went to the other place to find out if they had room – they did, so I booked it for the night. We didn’t move in straight away – we had the whole day to explore and so first we found a place for breakfast. After breakfast we decided to catch a minivan going up to the nearest Yayla – the yaylas are high altitude pastures used by shepherds in summer and they are also great places for hiking deep into the mountains.

The drive up was a nightmare – a rough road of rocks – we bumped up and down and were thankful hen we arrived – but the place was fogged over – we knew it was supposed to be beautiful but we really couldn’t see anything at all. The van dropped everyone off and nearly everyone decided to go on a 8km hike into the mountains – the guide thought that they might be able to get above the fog. Nearly everyone- because I nearly had a riot on my hands – after a sleepless night and a rough ride up the mountain, I was outvoted and we decided to miss the hike. There wasn’t much to do but I took the boys and we walked up the nearest hill, where miraculously, for about 5 minutes, the fog actually cleared and we had a view of snow capped peaks stretching away. Then the fog rolled back in and all we could see were the wildflowers at our feet. We walked back down the hill, bought a snack in the cafe and waited for the next minivan to arrive so we could jump in for the return journey down the mountain. It arrived and an hour later we were back in Ayder.

Back in Ayder we moved our stuff from the first pension to the second.Our new accommodation was excellent – a big room, beds for all of us, clean and with a good en suite bathroom. Their English was very poor though but it didn’t really matter. We were now at the Zirve Ahsap Pansiyon. After we were settled we decided to explore the village – it was really one big road with hotels and pensions scattered around. Tiny stalls sold mountain honey, some souvenirs and socks. Ayder is famous for its hot sulfur baths – we were tempted to go but decided against, but we did go take a look and it was packed with visitors – this was clearly a big reason for coming to Ayder.

Hemsin bagpiper

Hemsin bagpiper

We had a great time wandering around – visiting the stalls, doing some shopping, watching people and enjoying the green hills. On one hill we saw Hemsin people dancing and playing music from a bagpipe type instrument – people joined in the circle of dancing people and it was joyous to watch.

Afterwards we found a restaurant overlooking the mountains and a waterfall – we ordered a typical Hemsin meal of fish and manti – a kind of ravioli, along with some of their famous pastries. After an excellent meal we made our way back to our very comfortable Pension for an early night – well deserved, especially after our long night on the bus the night before.