Senyuva Valley

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Halfway up the Upper Fırtına Valley from Çamlihemşin, sleepy Şenyuva is all but hidden from the casual visitor. The valley itself is empty, and the town’s houses and storefronts are shaded by the trees of the high valley walls. Elderly men sit drinking tea and dogs sleep undisturbed on the winding gravel roads; the loudest noise is that of the river cascading through the valleys. Şenyuva’s slow, secluded character offers a relaxed and unobtrusive perspective on traditional and contemporary Hemşin life: over a cup of çay or an impromptu performance, locals are all too happy to discourse on what it means, now and forever, to be Hemşin. Şenyuva offers a first-hand lesson in both contemporary and traditional Hemşin life, and makes an excellent base for trekking excursions.

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From Rize or Trabzon, catch a morning dolmuş to Çamlihemşin and continue straight up the valley rather than turning left over the bridge to Ayder. Usually this means taking a private taxi or walking the 5km. Many travelers choose to hitchhike. The valley’s only lodge, Ell Otel Doğa at Ortankoy (651 74 55), was hand-built by îdris Duman, a well-traveled local who speaks English and French. Doğa boasts a spacious living room (the TV gets the BBC), warm beds, hardwood floors, balconies, and meals served on deck overlooking thunderous rapids. Trekking, camping, and luggage storage are available. Two yaylas are accessible from this hotel (see Trekking In the Kaçkars). Check with Doğa about accommodation options any higher up the valley. $10 per person; $15 with breakfast and dinner.

About 300m up the road from Hotel Doğa stands the high stone arc of the Ortank Kipris Bridge, built by Hemşin peoples over 200 years ago. Across the road from Hotel Doğa, a gravel track leads to the winter village of Ortan, a 15-minute walk up the valley wall and an excellent example of the stone foundations and ornate upper story woodcarvings that characterize Hemşin architecture. Following the trail from the Ortan bridge, a slightly longer walk leads to the winter village of Yemişli, while a side trail off the road to Ortan will take you, after an hour’s hike, to the summer yayla of Pokut, itself a trekking base for the Western Kaçkars.

Zilkale (Bell Castle), a 10 km walk up the valley road, makes a pleasant daytrip. Most likely a minor Armenian or Genoese trading post, this ancient fortress pops into view after about 8 km. Continuing up the Fırtına Valley, after 20 km you will reach the winter village of Çat, with modest facilities for travelers. After Çat the crumbling road leads to the yaylas of Elerit, Verçembek, and Çiçek. These remote seasonal rill ages make excellent bases for exploring the misty Western Kaçkars.

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