The mountains of the eastern Black Sea region are characterized by lush vegetation unequaled elsewhere in Turkey. Even at the height of summer these mountains, which rise in places to over 3000 meters in height, remain emerald green thanks to the abundance of water. This mountain barrier running parallel to the Black Sea coast causes the clouds to empty their moisture on its slopes so that precipitation occurs an average 250 days of the year, and levels are the highest in Turkey. Plentiful water nurtures thick forests up to an altitude of 2000 meters, and above the tree line, the alpine pastures are green throughout the year and carpeted with colorful flowers in spring and summer. Streams fed by melting snow and rain give life to hundreds of species of flowers and fill the spectacular glacier lakes. The Salacur Valley running from south to west is one of the best places to enjoy the flora and breathtaking scenery of the eastern Black Sea mountains.
From Aksu, we drove to the village of Catakkaya, where apart from the tiled roofs the houses are built entirely of wood. This village lies just above the tree line in a side valley to the north. As one of the few villages which have never been ravaged by fire, Catakkaya preserves its original wooden architecture intact and is like an open-air museum. Moreover, since many of the younger people have moved away and the elderly inhabitants who remain continue their traditional lifestyle unchanged, time seems to have stood still here. The last village in the valley is Yedigoller at an altitude of 2000 meters. In this typical mountain village, the inhabitants make their livelihood from animal husbandry, beekeeping, and agriculture.
If you decide to venture even higher into the mountains; it is advisable to consult the local people about routes and conditions first. It is also possible to hire horses so that you can explore unimpeded by heavy packs. At an altitude of 2200 meters above Yedigoller, the valley begins to broaden out, and alpine meadows whose grass is later cut for winter hay stretch far into the distance. Mountain streams pouring off the higher plateaus and mountains above this point swell the waters of the Aksu River. The most beautiful and well watered of these plateaus is the 3000 meters Yedigoller, a bowl surrounded by mountains in which lie seven glacier lakes amidst flower-strewn meadows. This is undoubtedly one of the most unforgettable mountain views in Turkey. Gobekli Gol (Navel Lake!), so named after the tiny island in the center, is the largest of these lakes whose calm surfaces mirror the blue sky. And when you get close enough to see reflections of snow-capped peaks in their waters, the view is nothing short of magical.
Cifte Goller, the Two Lakes, is another plateau lying to the west at an altitude of 2800 meters. Here a great rock rises dramatically from the beds of the two lakes to a height of several hundred meters. Deli Gol is a small but beautiful lake at 3100 meters, set in a bowl encircled by high mountains. When you stand on the shore of the lake and shout the echoes reverberate for so long that you wonder if they might go on forever. It is probably this phenomenon that inspired the name, meaning Crazy Lake. From the top of a 3250 meters high ridge you get your first view of the largest lake of all, Mal Golu, and the 3711 meters peak of Mount Vercenik towering behind.
With its mountains, glacier lakes, alpine flora, unique architecture and a way of life that remains in many ways unchanged, the remote Salacur Valley is one of the most amazing places in Turkey.
*Ali Ihsan Gokcen is a photographer and freelance writer