Everything starts with tea, with its unique aroma and indescribable flavor, a drink that makes even those who are far from home feel welcome and transforms acquaintance into friendship. Perhaps it is for this reason that despite the fact that Rize is always associated with rain, the overwhelming disposition of the city is always warm, always friendly, and always delicious.
My first introduction to Rize started with freshly brewed tea in a slim-waisted Turkish tea glass; rain was hitting the window, first gently, then harder. Rize is a green and blue city, reflecting the colors of its football team. At first glance, the city only consists of the shores that stretch to the Black Sea, with seagulls flying over it. However, when I head towards nooks and crannies, the mountains that stroke the clouds, the tea gardens that spill over the cliff sides, the people who cannot utter one sentence without making a joke, I am caught up in the joyful attitude of Rize.
Amazed by the exuberant and uncontainable blue of the Black Sea, I listen to the call of Kaçkarlar, which stretches to the sky and head to the plateaus which offer greenness in stones and soil. The unique scent of pine forests and the cool air of Ayder stroke my face. Ayder Plateau and the accommodation it offers have become increasingly popular recently. There are also other options that allow you to sleep with the rustle of great pine trees, or with a view of waterfalls, or to wake to the smell of cornbread that finds its way to your breakfast plate. The bends in the road are steep and the roads are difficult, but when you arrive at Huser Plateau, you know that the effort was worth it. The mountains and the clouds make you feel that the distinction between dream and reality is gone. The changing, magical view is like a surrealist painting. The sound of tulum (bagpipes) and kemençe (three-stringed violin) adds to this impression. The mist descends, the sun rises, and the clouds on the horizon appear like a fine lace curtain and then like a duvet… I go off to collect bilberries following those who know the region. The goodness of this fruit, known locally as likapa is well understood here. I am amazed by all the colors of nature, in particular the natural color of the likapa which stains my hands and face purple.
Going down from the plateau to the villages is like taking a journey from the sky to the earth. It seems to me that the herds of cows in the deep valleys split by running water and the houses that reflect the delicacy of the local architecture follow me as we make the long journey. Sometimes the historical mansions where large families used to live, the apples hanging off the trees, the stone bridges that withstand angrily rushing rivers, all of these offer an excuse to stop and look. Taking a break opposite the old bridge in Şenyuva village, I forget time as I observe the houses that have survived the passage of centuries in the villages of Makrevis and Hala.
When we come to Zilkale, which rises above the rowdiness of the Fırtına Stream, I am reminded once again of the ancient history here. In the middle of Zilkale valley, where merchants on the green route of the Silk Road stayed, the heartbeat of trade in the ancient world, under the clouds, the atmosphere is mysterious and surprising. A short journey takes me to the Palovit Falls, where the waters rage and froth. Even if one were to explore Rize numerous times, it is a city from which you will not return empty-handed. This little city, closely identified with rain, is engraved with surprising details. How many places in the world can you relax in spas, go for walks on plateaus, and sip the early harvest tea by the edge of a stream?
Hemşin has its own elegant wooden architecture while Çayeli has tea gardens that are displayed as if they have been carved out of the cliffs. I head towards Kız Kalesi on the Pazar shore, which attracts attention as a lone beauty.
From the plateaus to the sea, the climate clearly changes. When the sun peaks out between the clouds, I take to the streets of the city. To become acquainted with the city, I start with Osman Karavin Street. Here is a wide avenue where the old and the new have intermingled. At the same time, Liman, a small local diner which makes the most famous kavurma (braised meat) in the city, is on this street. Kavurma is a must for breakfast in Rize. The kavurma is sold out before lunch time. One of the advantages of setting out on a tour of the city at an early hour is to have breakfast with kavurma and then head to Harem Street, which is behind Şeyh Mosque. Harem Street, a steep upward ascent, has houses that trace Rize’s historical past. The most important building on this hill is a 120-year-old Rize house, which takes in paying guests – Evvel Zaman (Olden Times). The building, demonstrates a variety of artifacts from Rize’s historical journey and is really like an anchor that has been lowered into olden times, as its name suggests (evvel zaman).
Following the smell of freshly baked Rize simit, I find the source. The baker recommends eating this simit, which does not have sesame seeds and looks shiny, with the local kolot cheese. While eating the simit and kolot cheese and drinking tea, I have to admire the residents of Rize. After talking with the craftsmen in the Rize marketplace who make the local colorful textiles or weave baskets, carrying on the trades of their fathers, I watch the women in the workshop where they give life to feretikoy (a local textile), watching each loop as it is made.
The journey of tea from the tea garden to the table is explained well in the Ziraat Botanik Tea Garden. The sign of the Mavi Köşe, the oldest ice-cream maker in the region, is enough to pull me in. The story of the Mavi Köşe starts about 50 years earlier with an Italian arriving in Rize, after thousands of adventures. The ice cream is made from real fruit, with no additives and according to the old recipes. Its flavor and natural ingredients takes you back to your childhood. The unique regional likapa, the sour taste of lemon, the magnificent aroma of figs all add a new dimension to every day in Rize.
Rize, a city that has a history that stretches back to the 7th century BC, has witnessed great commanders and great battles. The advantages of the geography and fertility of the land were first noticed by the Miletus merchant colony. The region they established was controlled by the Cimmerians, the Persians, the Roman Empire, and then the Byzantines. The Silk Road, which joined Europe with the East, went through this region, helping to make it multicultural. The rain which falls on the sea and the soil creates a fertile land; when this is combined with the historical heritage, a magnificent cuisine emerges. For those who want to discover Rize, they should not only look at the city and the unique nature and history but also at its multicultural cuisine: muhlama, a favorite with the shepherds who with stand the harsh conditions of the East and with those who go to the plateaus; pepeçura, which stimulates the appetite with its grape aroma and deep color; corn bread, cooked in the oven of every house; pickled beans, found at every meal; hamsi (anchovy), the most valued kitchen component; kale, a source of goodness; and finally, burma baklava, which is an integral part of holiday meals. These are all original tastes from the Rize cuisine. The culture of dining and hosting are inseparable in Rize. To create the tastes that are identified with the region, one has to look to the sea and to the mountains. Classic Rize cuisine is presented between these two. I cannot leave the city without visiting the classic Dağmaran Restaurant.