The northerly Georgian valleys form the heart of the province of Artvin, lying within a 50km radius of the town of the same name. While Artvin town itself is unappealing, the rest of the province is rather beautiful. Except for the Kaçkars, nowhere else in Turkey do you feel so close to the Caucasus: ornate wooden domestic and religious architecture, with lushly green slopes or naked crags for a backdrop, clinch the impression of exoticism. Here, too, you may actually encounter native Georgian speakers, though they’re mostly confined to the remote valleys around the towns of Camili, Meydancık and Posof, and the immediate surroundings of Şavşat.
With its wet, alpine climate on the heights, the region once aspired to become a winter-sports playground, but global warming – and the fact that, in Turkey’s current economic straits, existing ski resorts can barely cope – scotched such hopes. For the moment most tourists come in summer to see the local Georgian churches along the Berta River valley; individually these are not as impressive as their southern relatives, but their situations are almost always more picturesque.
Arrayed in sweeping tiers across a steep, east-facing slope, the lofty town of ARTVIN should possess one of the finest views in Turkey but successive road-building schemes have etched unsightly scars across the valley it calls home. In addition, the town itself is gritty and unappealing, but it makes by far the most comfortable base for explorations of the surrounding area, and becomes a destination in its own right when the Kafkasör festival comes to town.
The Kafkasör festival
The Kafkasör festival
One of the best times to visit Artvin province is when the fantastic, multi-day Kafkasör festival takes place at an eponymous yayla (village) above town. The highlight has traditionally been the pitting of bulls in rut against each other, but since the opening of the nearby frontier the event has taken on a genuinely international character, with wrestlers, vendors, jugglers, musicians and dancers from both Turkey and Georgia appearing among crowds of over fifty thousand.
The festival is one of the last genuine folk fairs in the country so be there if you can. It usually takes place for several days over the third or fourth weekend in June, but in recent years has occasionally been brought forward as far as late May.