Just 9km off the main Artvin-Erzurum road, Yusufeli offers sweet solace from the urbanization and illicit commerce of its larger neighbors. The town straddles the Barhal River just before its intersection with the Çoruh, leaving hanging pedestrian bridges and terrace cafes jutting out over the rushing rapids. On the drive inland from Artvin, the Çoruh River narrows and the valley walls steepen into dry, crumbling spires and cliffs as the water gets rougher. Yusufeli hosted the world whitewater rafting championships in 1993, and the nearby river includes Grade V and VI rapids. Nearby Georgian churches and close proximity to Tekkale and Barhal make Yusufeli the perfect base from which to explore the Kaçkar region.
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TRANSPORTATION AND PRACTICAL INFORMATION
Most transport to Yusufeli will drop you off at the “water junction,” a gas station- cum-mosque on the Erzurum-Artvin road. A minibus or taxi will take you the last 9km into town for $2-4; some travelers prefer to hitch a ride, although Let’s Go does not recommend hitchhiking. Artvin Express, in the otogar lot, runs to: Ankara (18hr., noon, $18); Artvin (2hr., 4 per day 6am-5pm, $3); Bursa ( 9am, $23); Erzurum (3hr., 2 per day 9-11am, $5); Hopa (2hr., 9am, $8); İstanbul (20hr., 10am, $25); Rize (4hr., 9am, $7); Trabzon (6hr., 9am, $8). Dolmuş head from the otogar up the Çoruh and Barhal valleys, with prices set according to distance (Tekkale $1; Sarigol $2; Barhal $3; Yaylalar and Olgunlar, both $3.50). The tourist center of Yusufeli is the rectangular area enclosed by four streets named after Turkish poli-ticians: İnönü Cad., Enver Paşa Cad., Fevzi Çakmak Cad., and Mustafa Kemal Cad. İnönü Cad. is the main drag, running along the right bank of the Barhal at the downstream end, and a central otogar near the cluster of hotels at the upstream end. Ersis Cad., on the left bank, passes a few terrace cafes and is home to Akin Cafe, Yusufeli’s best internet cafe. ( 811 38 97. $.75 per hr. Open until 1am.) Türkiye İs Bankasi, at the center of town on M. Kemal Cad., is the only place to change traveler’s checks. A small hospital (811 20 15) and police station are also centrally located. The PTT is on İnönü Cad. at the downstream end of town. (Open M-F 8:30am-5:30pm. 24hr. telephones.)
ACCOMMODATIONS AND FOOD
Yusufeli’s better hotels are all close to each other on İnönü Cad. There’s not much variety, but all establishments listed are clean and quiet the only noise is the rushing of the river. The Hotel Çiçek Palas O and the jointly managed Genç Palas face each other on upper İnönü Cad. and feature bright rooms, hot water, and clean sheets. (811 21 02. $3 per person.) The Hacioğlu Oteli O, on M. Kemal Cad., offers nearly identical accommodations, with terraces and clotheslines. ( 811 35 66. Singles $6; doubles $10.) The Barhal Hotel , hanging over the Barhal River about 20m upstream on İnönü Cad, offers sterile rooms with river views and showers.(811 31 51. Singles $6; doubles $10; triples $15.) To reach Greenpeace Camping and nearby Akin Camping , cross the bridge by the Barhal Hotel, turn right, take another right at the T-intersection, and turn left. Both have secluded campsites in a garden, cold shower, and light meals. Those without tents can use sleeping bags or bedding provided in the open-air treehouse pergolas. (Open June-Sept. $2-5 per night.)
Dining in Yusufeli, while nothing to write home about, is more varied than you’ll find up in the Kaçkars. One of the more popular meeting places is Çınar Lokantası , which overlooks the river beneath the Barhal Hotel. Its menu includes fresh trout, rakı, vegetarian mezes, and sac tava, a tasty combination of meat, onions, and peppers, served sizzling in a flat copper wok. ( 81123 65. Full meal with beer $3.50. Open daily 1am-midnight.) The Mavi Köşk Restorant , off İnönü Cad., has delicious food, patio dining, and a well-stocked bar. (811 23 29. Full meal about $3.50. Open daily 8am-lam.) Also popular is Mahsen Restaurant (811 20 08), across the footbridge, with similar’ fare and the rare advantage of beer on tap.
Yusufeli’s most popular sight is the river itself, and several rafting companies lead afternoon excursions on the Çoruh or the Barhal. The lucrative rafting/tour industry has provoked a local business war of sorts, with various rafting companies vying for customers. A first-rate Gennan-Dutch rafting company was recently run out of town, taking with it stringent safety standards—few of the remaining tours bother with throwlines or safety kayaks. All outfits use helmets and life jackets, however, and guides are trained in river rescue, so don’t be put off the idea completely rafting past Georgian fortresses in this stunning valley is a singular experience. Rapid Tür (81133 93; fax 811 33 93), is a new outfit with offices below the Çiçek Palas. The Yusufeli Kayak Raft Dagcilik is run by Sirali Aydin, owner of the Cinar Restaurant. Excursions with both outfits run $20-30 per day.
Locals Mehmet Aydin (mobile (535) 467 93 63) and Akim Pulat (mobile (543) 282 08 13) give advice over a cup of çay at the Cinar Restaurant and Akin Cafe, respectively. The Cinar has a few hand-drawn maps of the region. A hardscrabble sheep track starts about 100m upstream from Greenpeace camping, leading up the river to an eyrie-like Georgian castle. The 5km hike takes about IV2 hours each way. The 14km trip to Dörtkilise makes an excellent afternoon hike, with a stop halfway at Tekkale for a cold beer or a glass of çay. Other daytrips require transportation.
Yusufeli is the hub of the upper Çoruh, but local transportation is oriented to the needs of the villager over those of the traveler: dolmuş typically leave smaller towns in the morning for Yusufeli and return in the afternoon. This does not present a problem for larger towns with adequate accommodations, such as Barhal and Tekkali, but can make day tripping difficult. Taxis are expensive; many travelers either rent a car in Erzurum ($30-40 per day) or hitchhike, although Let’s Go does not recommend hitchhiking. Hand-drawn maps of the region can be found at Cemli’s Pension in Tekkale or at the Çinar Restaurant in Yusufeli.
- IŞHAN KİLİSE, Perhaps the most magnificent of the northern Georgian churches, İshan Kilise lies high in the cliffs above the Oltu Çay, a major tributary of the Çoruh some 35km east of Yusufeli. The Oltu Valley is even more stimning than the Çoruh, with painted buttes awash in glorious reds and oranges. Begun in 730 and finished three centuries later, ishan is the oldest church in the valley. The church was enhanced with a Byzantine dome in 1200 before its stewardship passed back into Georgian hands. The immense vault is decorated with deteriorating frescoes depicting the apostles and the visions of Zachariah. (Take the highway east from Yusufeli to the gas station. Follow the signs first to Erzurum, then bear left toward. Ten to 15km down the road, a sign points left to Işhan Kilise, which is located in a mountain village 5km up the unpaved road. Park at the fountain and take the 5min. path down to the left.)
- ÖŞK VANK KİLİSE. Fifty kilometers from Yusufeli, Ösk Vank Kilise is one of the world’s most beautiful Georgian churches. The well-preserved facade of this airy church features carvings of angels, patrons, and animals. Above the entrance, note a colorful band of frescoed faces next to the image of what may be Öşk Vank itself. Another 25km south toward Erzurum is the Tortum valley, which is home to the church of Haho , just outside the town of Bağbaşı. (Back down on the highway south to Erzurum, turn off to Çamlıyamaç for the Öşk Vank Kilise.)
- TEKKALE. About 6km on a paved road up the valley from Yusufeli, Tekkale makes an excellent base for hikes up tributary streams to the area’s numerous abandoned Georgian churches and yayla. Longer hikes lead up past the spring snow line to the peaks and freezing lakes of the southeastern Kaçkars. Cemil’s Pension (811 20 08) offers full room and board for $10 per person, with private rooms downstairs and open-air Black Sea kilim platforms upstairs. Even if you don’t spend the night., Cemil’s garden is an excellent spot for an ice-cold beer or wild trout ($2), grilled on a terrace patio over a rushing brook. Cemil organizes 2- to 3-day hikes from Dörtkilisc ti Barhal and other Kaçkar destinations; ask and he may lend you his dog, who will guide you from Tekkale to Dörtkilise and back.A few kilometers on the paved road past Tekkale is the village of Peterkale, with a craggy Georgian fortress. Dolmuş run to Tekkale and Peterkale only in the afternoon ($2). Some travelers choose to hitchhike. Taxis are about $5.
- DÖRTKİLİSE AND BAYIRKİLİSE. Dörtkilise (literally, “Four Churches”) is 7km uphill from Tekkale on the banks of a tributary stream. Only one of the original four churches still stands, and the ruins of the other three have been scattered. The remaining church is a hauntingly beautiful place to spend the evening, and the ground outside makes for a prime campsite. To the right of the church, a small path winds steeply up the valley wall 2km to Bayirkilise. At an altitude of 1650m, this minor Georgian church offers spectacular views. From here, it’s a fairly level 5km hike north to the small village of Elecumle. To complete a loop back down to Tekkale, cut down the switchback path to the road and head the 9km into town. This loop makes for a long day; some may want to catch a ride part way up or down the road. If you have camping equipment (see Trekking in the Kaçkars) you can continue on from Elecumle up to the high-altitude lakes, Küçük Göl (2850m) and Büyük Göl (2900m). The climb passes through the yayla and villages of Kusana and Salent. A trail also ascends from Büyük Göl about two hours up to an awesome 3300m pass, and then descends five hours through Modut village to the road to Barhal (15km). (To get to Dörtkilise from Tekkale, follow the signs pointing you up along the dirt road, which climbs up along the left side of the streambed. After 4km, the road crosses to the right of the brook, only to records 3km later. Just past the second bridge, the church will be visible on the left. If you cross the brook a third time, you’ve gone too far.)
- BARHAL. From Tekkale, a side road climbs up toward the peaceful mountain village of Barhal (also accessible by a separate road from Yusufeli). The town’s center straddles the point where two nameless tributaries join to form the Barhal River; most of the town, however, lies hidden in the ridge above the right-hand (northern) fork. A dirt road follows the fork for 1km before joining the main track. Karahan Pension is 50m farther uphill, run by the amiable beekeeper Mehmet Karahan, who provides full board (with fresh honey) and lodging in the treetop open- air top floor of his house, (826 20 71. Ask locals for directions. Reservations required. $12 per person.) At the downstream end of town, the Barhal Pension has new, wooden rooms occupying the second floor of a house overlooking a bend in the river. Dinner and breakfast included. ( (466) 826 20 31. $10 per person.) At the foot of Mehmet’s driveway, a footbridge crosses the brook, marking the beginning of a steep but short hike up the valley wall. The trail begins past the bridge, 20m up to the right at a small hut and threshing stone. The 20min. hike will deposit you at the ruins of a hilltop Georgian chapel with a commanding view of snowy peaks up the two valleys to the north and west. (2 to 3 dolmuş run daily from Yusufeli to Barhal, one in the afternoon and one in the early evening.)
- YAYLALAR AND OLGUNLAR. Bearing left at the Barhal fork and continuing another 22km into the foothills will bring you to Yaylalar and Olgunlar, remote summer yayla which are the highest spots accessible by car on the southern side of the Kaçkars. Both Yaylalar, below the treeline, and Olgunlar, 3km farther on, are popular bases for exploring the western and southern Kaçkars. There’s a pension in Yaylalar, and though Ismael, the owner, speaks no English, he can arrange horses and guides, (832 20 01. Room and full board $10.) Ibrahim and Osman run the equivalent pension in Olgunlar (832 20 44 or 832 2100) and also do not speak English. Reservations are required for both pensions; it’s best to phone ahead from Yusufeli. Özkan Şahin (mobile (532) 505 89 75), a Yusufeli-based mountaineering guide who speaks excellent English, can help translate.