Artvin is stapled onto a mountainside, overlooking the vast Çoruh River Valley and at the top of a 5km series of switchbacks chiseled into the western slope. The rarefied Artvin air is saturated with smog and waste, sustaining a beleaguered mix of military men, college students, shopkeepers, and prostitutes. For most of the year, Artvin offers little to the visitor except a few tawdry gazinos and a dubious nightlife. For one shining weekend in late June/early July, however, it is home to the monumental Kafkasör Festival, Turkey’s largest and most authentic folk festival. The festival takes place in a grassy yayla above town, and its bloodless bullfights, folk dancing, and general hijinks attract a diverse and joyful crowd. Artvin is also the capital of a province stretching from tire border with Georgia to the highlands of the Çoruh River, making it a useful travel route inland and a base for supplies for exploring Yusufeli end route to the valley beyond.
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A tiny otogar is five steep kilometers from the center of town, near the fortress at the base of the river valley. Local dolmuş ($.80), free shuttle buses, the municipal bus (every 30min., $.50), and taxis ($2) all ran from the otogar up to the town center on İnönü Cad. Luckily, most bus and minibus lines will also deposit or pick up passengers from the town center for free.
- Flights: The THY office (212 20 00; fax 212 24 20), in Hotel Karahan. Sells tickets for flights out of Erzurum, Trabzon, and Kars. Open daily 8am-5pm.
- Buses: Artvin Express (212 13 76 or 212 15 20) has an office across from the enor¬mous municipal building halfway up İnönü Cad. To: Ankara (16hr., 2pm, $19); Erzurum (4hr.; 6, 11am, 1:30, 5:30pm; $7); Hopa (2hr., every hr. 7am-4pm, $2.50); İstanbul (22hr., 1pm, $23); Kars (5hr., noon, $7); Rize (3hr.; 7:30, 10, 11:30am, 12:30pm; $5); Trabzon (5hr.; 7:30am, noon, 1, 3, 5pm; $7); Yusufeli (1/2hr.; 9:30am, noon, 2:30, 5pm; $2.50), Dolmuş from Hopa run to Georgia.
ORIENTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Hotels, restaurants, banks, tea houses, and shops line İnönü Cad., the main street, which runs uphill to a circle at the top of the town. From the top of the circle, Cumhuriyet Cad. parallel İnönü on an uphill slope ending at Cami Meydanı (“Mosque Square”) on the uphill side of Hotel Karahan.
- Tourist Office: (212 30 71), at the uphill end of İnönü Cad. Amicable English speaker and glossy brochures. Open daily 8am-noon and 1:30-5:30pm.
- Banks: Akbank, next to the Artvin Express office. Changes cash and American Express traveler’s checks. Open daily 8:30am-5:30pm.
- Hamam: (212 11 58), appropriately located on Hamam Sok., by the Kaçkar Hotel. Closed for renovations at the time of publication.
- Police: (212 11 33), next to municipal building on İnönü Cad.
- Pharmacy: 6 pharmacies are scattered on İnönü Cad., taking turns staying open 24hr. Hospital: (212 10 40), on the main winding road above the town center.
- Internet Access: Multiple options exist and connections are fast. One block uphill from Cumhuriyet Cad., Casper Internet Cafe will be on your right on the 2nd floor. $1 per hr. Open daily 10am-midnight. Farther along İnönü Cad. are identical Sis and Arge cafes. PTT: Halfway up İnönü Cad. Cash and card phones. Another branch, on İnönü Cad„ has Poste Restante. Both open daily 8am-12:30pm and 1:30-11pm; phones 24hr.
Hotels are indifferent to tourists; most are expensive, involved in prostitution, or both. Many are still safe and clean, with Nataşa encounters rising as prices fall (See Nataşas). Reservations are necessary for Kafkasör weekend.
- Hotel Ugrak ( 212 65 05). On Hamam Sok, near the Koçkar Hotel. Though a bit worn, bright and clear with valley views and the best bet for value. A bit removed from the late-night scene, with secluded top-floor rooms and laundry facilities. $5 per person. Kaçkar Oteli (212 33 97), on Hamam Sok., just uphill from Çağdaş. From İnönü Cad. follow the steps under the hotel’s red sign. Clean, with spacious rooms, showers, and seat toilets. $7 per person.
- Hotel Çağdaş (212 33 33; fax 212 48 51), on İnönü Cad, under a big yellow sign 100m downhill from the PIT. New, wood-paneled rooms have showers and seat toilets. Most rooms are occupied almost entirely by the bed. The nicest rooms in town. Singles $10; doubles $15 with tiled bath.
- Hotel Karahan (212 18 00), on Cami Meydanı. From İnönü Cad., enter under the sign and walk up 3 flights. Bills itself as the best hotel in town, but its luster has faded. All rooms have TV, bath, phone, and balconies with panoramic views. Bar, restaurant, and in house travel agency. Singles $16; doubles $22.
Artvin’s ugly rakı /Nataşa scene has a reputation for getting rowdy at night. Any establishment termed a gazino is probably best avoided.
- Artvin Atabari Restaurant (212 72 22), on İnönü Cad. The watering hole for Artvin’s elite, Hanedan has a great bar. Meal and beer $3. Open daily 8am-11pm.
- Nazar Restoranı (212 17 09), at the lower end of İnönü Cad. Decorated with bizarre posters including a rendition of Atatürk in thick felt. A bar and precipitous balcony complement the cheap, excellent food, including delicious mezes. Full meal $3. Open daily 10am-midnight.
- Bakıroğlu Kebap Salonu (212 74 08), 100m uphill from the municipal building on a roof terrace on İnönü Cad. This open-air restaurant has tasty İskenderun kebap, a wide selection of mezes, and good service in a pleasant atmosphere.
- Saklıca Restaurant (212 79 82), off İnönü Cad. This real bargain is also the best hidden. Enter the narrow stairway opposite Karahan Hotel and turn left. Be sure to eat upstairs, where the menu is better. Vegetarian options include fasulye pilaki (green beans in olive oil; $1). $2 per meal.
- Şehir Kulubü (212 41 57). This terrace/balcony bar is free of gambling and Nataşas, A good place to sip a cold beer and watch the crowds go by.
The town’s calendar is dominated by the annual Kafkasör Festival, held at the end of June in Kafkasör yayla (10km above Artvin). Thousands of visitors are lured by wrestling and bloodless bullfights, where prime bulls go head to head in a lengthy shoving match, and the owner of the winning animal is publicly honored. Unfortunately, folk-dancing and traditional arts are less visible than they once were. Artvin rooms are nearly impossible to find over the festival weekend—the best and most popular option is to camp in the peaceful forests and open grasslands around the yayla. A 15th-century citadel at the base of the valley is now’ an army base closed to visitors. Dolmuş run to the plateau of Şavşat, 30km away, which has breathtaking high glacial lakes and a 9th-century Tibet! Byzantine church.