For adventurous foodies — or anyone who yearns for a deep cultural experience in a pristine corner of the world — check out the treks offered by Balyolu.
Featuring “honey-tasting” tours along ancient Silk Road routes in northeastern Turkey, Balyolu (which means “the road of honey”) offers one of the most unique and culturally-rich trekking experiences in the world.
Not to mention delicious.
Balyolu (pronounced bal-yole-uu) is the brainchild of Cat Jaffee, a former resident of Boulder, Colorado who now lives in Kars, Turkey. A Fulbright Scholar and a recipient of a National Geographic Young Explorer grant, Jaffee fell in love with the remote, northeastern region of Turkey — an area that few tourists ever visit — and wanted to not only share her love of the region and its culture but to foster local food-based entrepreneurship.
Turns out that honey was the key.
According to Jaffee, who has been traveling to Turkey since the age of 10, and was interviewed for this article in the Boulder Daily Camera:
“Turkey has the highest concentration of beeboxes in the world, so lining vacant villages empty from everyone who had left [due to lack of economic opportunity] were rows and rows of beeboxes buzzing with life. I was familiar with the difficult plight of bees in my home here in Colorado and the U.S., and I knew what I had stumbled upon in northeastern Turkey was exceptional. So I decided to start a honey-tasting walking journey that would support local women in becoming rural entrepreneurs.”
That’s where the “foodie” part of the adventure comes in. Trekkers with Balyolu walk along paths first established as part of the Silk Road trade route. They visit villages and actually stay with local families in their homes. They have the opportunity to learn how to prepare traditional Turkish dishes and food with the people whom they visit, and of course there is lots of tasting of the local delicacy: honey.
Northeast Turkey is home to the Caucasian honey bee, which is a subspecies of honey bee with the world’s longest tongue. The endangered Caucasian bee is native only to that part of the world and the long tongue means they can access nectar in flowers that leads to honey flavors that are “incredibly nuanced and unique,” according to Jaffee.
Not only will you get to sample the different types of local honey, you can learn beekeeping techniques and actually work with the bees.
This is an immersive travel experience not offered by any other trekking company in the world. If you are planning your vacation for this summer and are in search of a truly unique, educational, eco-oriented, and rich cultural experience, check out one of Balyolu’s treks.
Below is a video description of Balyolu and its travel opportunities, which they launched last year:
Balyolu Trip Options in this Calm and Unspoiled Turkish Region
While Turkey gets a lot of press in the U.S. for its unrest and terrorist problems, Jaffee describes the northeastern portion of the country as untouched by turmoil, seldom visited by westerners, and unspoiled.
“Where I work and live — right on the Georgian border — is a stunning, forgotten place far removed from anything happening in the region — or the world for that matter. The place is safe, it is beautiful… Once you leave Kars, you enter the vast openness of the Anatolian plateaus where there is nothing but wilderness, mountains, and wildlife.”
You can get more details about this summer’s upcoming treks on the Balyolu website. A total of five departures are offered. The types of trips are: a 4-day “Tasting Trip,” an 8-day “Full Honey Expedition,” and an 8-day “Sweet Photo Expedition.”
The Photo Expedition includes not only all the food-related and cultural experiences, but you’ll travel with professional photographer David Hagerman, who will provide instruction on everything from photographing the landscape to photographing food. You’ll have the opportunity to photograph places, people, and cultural practices few in the western world have ever seen. This is for those who are passionate about photography, food, ancient history, and unspoiled natural environments.
There are three “Tasting Trips” offered. This 4-day excursion includes stays in boutique hotels in Kars, visiting and staying with villagers, trekking along ancient nomadic trade routes, and plenty of food and honey.
The trips are limited to 6 participants, so you get a very personal and uncrowded experience. As far as the physical demands of the trips go, you should be able to walk up to 10 miles a day (whether traveling between fortresses along the Silk Road or tramping the hills with local shepherds, learning about the region’s history and culture). Balyolu’s trip packages, which range in price from $1,000 to $3,100, include everything but travel to and from Turkey.
Balyolu started last year with a successful Kickstarter funding campaign. Its first trip was successful and this is its first full year of independent commercial operation. If you are interested in one of the most unusual trekking and food experiences available in the world of travel, don’t wait to book one of their trips. Because, frankly, if the company does not fill this season’s trips, it may not be around next year. Which would be a shame.
Here is the schedule of the various Balyolu trip options for this year:
- Tasting Trips: June 14 – 18, 2013; June 21 – 25, 2013; August 23 – 27, 2013.
- Photo Expedition: June 7 – 15, 2013.
- Full Honey Expedition: August 16 – 24, 2013.
You can download a brochure with all of the details of Balyolu’s trips for 2013 here.
You can also find a lot more information about Balyolu, their staff and guides, and their plans for sustainable regional entrepreneurship on their website. It’s also possible to book a trip on their site.
By the way, if you use the “Book it” option on their site (under “Trips”, “Book Now”) after entering the number of people who want to go on the trip, be sure to click on the greyed boxes in the calendar for the month that includes the trip you want to go on. Once you click on the greyed date, you’ll be able to continue with your reservation.
These trips are for small groups so, again, don’t procrastinate.
Adventure travelers, food lovers, and those who value unique cultural experiences should jump at the chance to trek with Balyolu. This is also a great opportunity for those who have wanted to travel to Turkey but have been unsure when would be a good time to go. It’s now!
By the way, to get from wherever you are to Istanbul, Turkey, I recommend that you begin your search for flights by using FlightNetwork. They generally find the flights with the lowest prices and their customer service is good. As an alternative (and to compare cost), you can also search for flights on Expedia. Either site can also help you find hotels in Istanbul if you want to stay there for a day before flying to Kars. From Istanbul, it is about a 1.5 hour flight to Kars. Once you’re in Kars, Balyolu handles everything from airport pickup to accommodations to food. You can also book flights from Istanbul to Kars on the above sites.