After spending about three weeks in Ardanuç and Şavşat, Ferda and I moved quickly through Borçka, Murgul, and Arhavi. The riding was some of the hardest of the trip with long climbs and descents on muddy, rocky roads. Stream crossings added to the excitement. We did find some pavement, but the Muratlı-Borçka-Murgul highway is an industrial mess with reservoirs, dams, tunnels, construction, and lots of fast traffic. The long paved descent from Borçka’s Karagöl ought to be really fun, but the deep, hard-to-see gravel hidden around too many turns made it stressful.
The reward here is passing through Turkey’s most biodiverse region. We often rode through thick green forest with some trees so covered with vines and other vegetation that it was hard to see the trees themselves. This is temperate rain forest, specifically the Colchian rain forest. The long descent from Indaczvina Pass to Efeler, a steep road through thick forest, probably had spectacular views, but we did the whole thing in a cloud, usually with light rain. Locals complained, “çürüyoruz” (we’re literally rotting) after daily rain for over six weeks.
Here we’re climbing up the dry side from Lekoban Yaylası to Indaczvina Pass.
We lost track of how many stream crossings we had on the long descent to Efeler.
Most were small and easy to cross. At the first big stream we managed well. On the second big one Ferda added a log and some rocks so we could push our bikes across without getting our feet wet. Emboldened by our success Ferda tried pedaling across the third big stream.
She fell but managed to stay on her feet. I, however, am not a fast learner. I looked and decided to try a different line from Ferda’s. Well, I ended up on my hands and knees in the water, and Ferda waded in to rescue me and my bike.
For the next two big stream crossing I took off my shoes, put on sandals, and pushed the bikes across. The biggest stream of all still didn’t have a bridge for cars, but there was a slick foot bridge with no railing. I slipped once, but thankfully my heavy bike stayed upright.
Not 15 minutes later we were at a pansiyon where they lit the wood stove so we could dry our gear in their large yoga room. I am not joking. They sold beer too. And the sun came out in the morning.
Oh, when I was complaining about the paved roads earlier, I forget about the excellent road from Camili to Maçahel Geçidi (a pass). The pavement is great the whole way, and there’s not much traffic. The catch here? It’s a 1400m climb!
We camped along the way, and I told Ferda we needn’t worry so much about bears as they stay away from main paved highways. Don’t they?
We saw hazelnuts drying for the first time this trip.
I was happy to have good weather this day. I had been to the turnoff to Karagöl twice before but didn’t turn up to the lake because of too much rain. Borçka’s Karagöl is a good one (unlike Şavşat’s Karagöl).
With so much rain and so many mountains, it’s not surprising we saw lots of waterfalls.
Like Şavşat, Borçka and Murgul are largely Georgian. In Murgul I was excited to eat my first Turkish version of Georgia’s national dish, Khachapuri.
The only reason tourists come to Murgul is to visit Deliklikaya Şelalesi (a waterfall). It’s not terribly exciting.
Our last pass of the trip continued up through Başköy where the road still looked, well, promising, welcoming, inviting.
It didn’t last, of course.
What we need to be thankful for here is just how much sunshine we had. Hillside tea plantations glowing in the sun:
A short climb (~350m) from those bridges (Çifte Köprü) brought us to Mençuna Şelalesi, my favorite waterfall of the trip.
We mostly coasted from there to Arhavi on the Black Sea, where, well, it looks like we’ve run out of road.
We got on a bus that afternoon and were back in Antalya 23 hours later.
Now for the map. Red is this trip. Blue is nine years earlier, a longer trip that I’ve mentioned a couple times in these posts.
Now for the numbers, but I’m skipping the elevation stuff at the moment because I realize the gps does a very poor job recording elevation. The numbers I’ve posted before are probably much too high. I need to find (or write) a post-processing smoothing algorithm.
- 893 tour distance (km)
- —- total elevation gain (m)
- 44 days of the tour
- 32 cycling days
- 19 nights in the tent
- 58 most distance cycled in one day (km)
- —- most elevation gain in one day (m)
- 28 average distance on cycling days (km)
- —- average elevation gained on cycling days (m)
Finally, in my previous post I promised a little information about potential places to stay in Artvin, suggesting that maybe it’s possible to do a tour in these mountains without carrying camping gear. All these hotels are all in Şavşat unless I specifically say otherwise.
- Danzot Tatil Köyü (rec), a couple hundred meters (vertical) above Aydınköy (Ardanuç), perhaps not quite as much local/Georgian as you might wish for, but Kadem Bey is very helpful and accommodating.
- Black Forest (not rec), above Yavuzköy, an ugly concrete monstrosity marring nice scenery. Do not stay here. If you need something in the area, check out Laşet above Kocabey. Also nearby are both Yeşil Vadi and Green Valley (seriously? that’s the same name for two different nearby hotels?), but I don’t know anything about either of those.
- Laşet, above Kocabey. We didn’t stay here, but it looks good from the road.
- Han Konakları (rec) in Veliköy, comfortable and professionally run
- We passed two places in Meşeli (the NW of the three Meşeli): Özgür Pansiyon (small place, run by a single woman; I’d try this place) and Tuğra Butik Otel (looks out of place).
- Şavşat’s Karagöl has at least two places to stay: a very expensive hotel on the lake and hidden bungalows which aren’t so exciting. Try Meşeli instead.
- There’s a new large (to accommodate tour groups, I guess) hotel between Aşağı Koyunlu and Yukarı Koyunlu. It doesn’t look appealing, but there’s nothing else nearby that I know of. It wasn’t open yet when we were there (Sep 2021).
- Disharo (rec) ~4km east of Pınarlı and 300m higher, at about 2100m; very attentive staff, nice view, nice heater
- Bazgiret Göl Pansiyon (rec), at the upper edge of the village (Bazgiret aka Madenköy) at about 1900m. We loved our time here. It’s Georgian culture, fully natural and local food, the only place that felt like they weren’t simply aiming for standard Turkish food with a local option or two. Unfortunately sound travels too easily between the rooms, and there’s no heat in the room. Hüseyin and Sayınur are still working on the place and want to solve those problems.
- The pansiyon in Kayalar Yaylası (Borçka) above Lekoban Yaylası was closed because of covid (according to one person) or for the season (according to another) when we went by in Sep 2021.
- Bumbulay Pansiyon (rec?) in Demirli, above Efeler (Borçka). The worst example of trying to be İstanbul in Artvin, but the people were helpful, the setting is good, and the buildings are fun, the way they’re built into the steep slope. Tour groups stay here. There’s another place (Dadaena) down in Efeler (but perhaps steeply above the main road) which might have more local flare.
- Other places of interest in Borçka could be Heba Yayla Evi, Beyaz Su Pansiyon (in Beyaz Su Yaylası), and Satibe Yayla Evi (in Klaskur Yaylası). We’re saving those for a walking trip as through roads for bicycles are limited, but there seems to be a good hiking trail network.
- We rode by Mençuna Konakları (Arhavi) on the way to Mençuna Şelalesi. It’s above a paved road that is busy with tourists, but the hotel looks nice enough from the outside. Could a strong mountain biker with no gear get from there to Murgul in a day? or vice versa?
- Note that every district capital (ilçe merkezi) in Artvin also has accommodation, likely cheaper that any of the places I’ve mentioned here which are more geared to tourists and located in some beautiful, somewhat inaccessible places. I stayed in hotels in Murgul (Arten Park Hotel (rec)) and Borçka (Ada Butik Otel (also rec)) on this trip and in Arhavi and Yusufeli on previous trips.