Just east of Samsun, the Black Sea coastal plain, watered by the Yeşilırmak delta, widens to its broadest extent. The area was once thought to be the land of the Amazons, a mythical tribe of women who cauterized their right breasts to facilitate spear-throwing and arrow-shooting, and who only coupled with men – their neighbours the Gagarians – during two months of the year, sending male babies to the Gagarians to rear. Nowadays the delta is home to rather more conventional Black Sea Muslims, who are welcoming enough to members of either sex.
Thanks to a new series of tunnels, the main highway heads well inland, through an especially fertile stretch of Turkey’s interior, and thus bypasses the deathly slow coastal road.
A small, friendly place, just over 100km east of Samsun, ÜNYE, the ancient Oinaion, makes a thoroughly pleasant overnight stay. It still holds a few grand buildings that date from Byzantine times and its eighteenth-century heyday as a regional port, including a former Byzantine church on the main square, Cumhuriyet Meydanı, that now serves as the Soysal Eski Hamam (daily 5am–midnight: women only Mon–Sat 11am–5pm; men only all other times).
The seafront is home to a leafy park, a pedalo hire station, and a pier that was built for leisure rather than commerce or fishing, a rarity in these climes. If possible, time your visit for the burgeoning Wednesday market, where gold-toothed farm women sell hazelnuts (harvested in August) and unusual edible plants (described under the catch-all term of salata), alongside churns full of milk and cheese.
Founded in the second century BC by the Pontic king Pharnaces, GİRESUN is among the most pleasant stops between Samsun and Trabzon. With an imposing hillside location and a main street that strides straight upwards instead of shadowing the coastline, the town centre is narrower than others, and offers a welcome respite from the noise and pollution of the coastal highway.