The western Georgian valleys, around the confluence of the Barhal and Çoruh rivers, are scenically and climatically some of the most favoured corners of the northeast. During the balmy summers, all sorts of fruits ripen, and you’re treated to the incongruous spectacle of rice paddies (and further downstream, olive groves) by the Çoruh, within sight of parched cliffs overhead. The small, quirky town of Yusufeli is gateway to these river valleys, which in their lower reaches offer Georgian churches near Tekkale and Barhal, plus trekkers’ trailheads not only at Barhal but also higher up at Yaylalar and Olgunlar. All these places have simple accommodation.
General tourism has never really taken off here, and the stark simplicity of local facilities will appeal mostly to hardier travellers. You’ll need a steady hand at the wheel – or, if you’re a minibus passenger, a strong stomach – for the steep, and often bumpy, rides out to the trailheads or Georgian churches.
Squeezed into a tight valley on the banks of the Çoruh, gritty little YUSUFELİ enjoys a truly spectacular location. Despite the Georgian ruins and Black Sea-style wooden dwellings on its periphery, the town itself is somewhat old-fashioned – no great surprise, given the fact that it has been on civic death row for several decades (see The damming of the Çoruh… and the end of Yusufeli?).
The damming of the Çoruh River may soon drown the rafting possibilities that have brought Yusufeli so much of its custom over the years. Assuming the town itself remains above water, however, its small range of appealing places to eat and sleep will see it remain one of the best travel bases in northwest Turkey.