We stepped out into the cool crisp air of a shaded streamside valley in northeastern Turkey. The temperature here in the mountains was noticeably different than the Black Sea coast from where we came, some 4,000 feet below us. Imbedded in the cliff face high above our heads sat the spectacular Sumela Monastery, its buff-colored stone glistening in the bright morning sun.
Local vans whisked us up the final bit of narrow winding road, but the last 300 meters to the Monastery could only be tackled on foot. The dense forest canopy broke at times to reveal the peaks on the mountain ridge across the valley, well above the tree line. After scaling a final stone staircase, we descended into the Monastery itself.
As we strolled around the courtyard and ducked into the rooms, we couldn’t help but imagine the isolation that the monks must have experienced in this far-removed retreat. Intricate frescoes adorned the walls and ceiling of a cave-like church, and the idea that all of this was constructed between 300 and 1300AD on a sheer cliff added to the magic of this stunning place.