Autumn is the most spectacular season for visiting the Güzeldere Waterfalls, upland plateaus and Lake Efteni.
First, the sound of water, rushing down from mountain peaks, striking against the rocks on its way, flowing into deep valleys where it refreshes the human soul.
Then, the sound of the wind, licking the hills as it swoops down into the forest, caressing the leaves. The sound of the wind, permeated with the scent of autumn reds and weary greens.
Finally, the sound of birds. The calls of the migratory birds, intermingling with the cries of the other birds seeing them off.
The scent of autumn. Scent of sadness, emanating from every red- and yellow-tinged leaf. Güzeldere is a unique patch of nature where the sounds of water, wind and birds commingle.
On the most colorful day of autumn, I fell to watching the Güzeldere waterfall and the water that literally gushes from the giant rock formations in its deep valley. A person’s mind seemed to empty out with the colorful crystalline droplets that chased away every care and woe from the heart. Reddish leaves of beech flew about the valley, those that fell into the water whirling like Mevlevi dervishes in the small ponds there.
Spring waters arising in Düzce’s Elmacık Mountains join together to form streams, each more beautiful than the last. As its name implies, Güzeldere (literally, beautiful stream) is the loveliest of them all. The forests that line the valley boast the most pleasing colors in every season. In winter everything is blanketed in mute white. Then, in spring, fresh green makes a harmonious contrast with the wild rhododendrons’ purple. In summer dark green rules the mountains. And in autumn? The red of beech and hornbeam and the yellow of the linden mingle with the stubborn green of the brush. Autumn is the most splendid season at Güzeldere.
ON THE MOUNTAINS’ BALCONY
The small streams arising on Mount Elmacık meander across comely highlands, each one more stunning that the last. Flowing gently from the Hira, Pürenli, Kızık, Balıklı and Derebalık plateaus through kilometer after kilometer of forest, they plunge now into canyons, burst now into the plains, bestowing life on the woodlands. So dense are these forests that their deepest recesses are as dark as night in summer when the trees are in leaf. And deer and stag wander in the shadows of the majestic beeches.
This virgin forest was discovered at the beginning of the 18th century when caravan routes from Istanbul to Ankara crisscrossed the mountains. And the lumber required by the Kocaeli dockyards, where the Ottoman fleets were built, was obtained from trees cut in these forests. Brought down over rugged mountain roads to Lake Efteni, formed by Güzeldere and other streams, the trees were transported from here to the Melen River. Thousands of logs were thus floated down to the Black Sea coast through a river bed made deeper by a series of weirs. Lake Efteni in those days was a vast lake covering Düzce Plain. According to data for the year 1918, wild animals were abundant in the area around Efteni, a vital lake that covered an area of 67 square kilometers, including the ‘Subasar’ forest. So much so that the wild animals here were hunted on contract and the resulting revenues used to cover treasury deficits. There were myriad varieties of wild birds on the lake, as well as fish in abundance. But mosquitoes carrying the malaria microbe were also present in large numbers. Malaria being a dread disease in those days, few people settled in the area around Güzeldere and Lake Efteni. Owing to its temperate climate, however, birds made their home in the environs. Unfortunately, however, Lake Efteni and its marshes were drained to gain agricultural land, and neither birds, wild animals, forest, nor marshes remained. In more recent years, the lake was declared a wildlife refuge and bird sanctuary, and efforts are currently under way to expand it further. Soft-spoken water buffalo and deeper voiced cows, which have now replaced the stags, can be heard in the few wetland forest areas that survive.
EFTHELYA SPELLS PASSION
Many legends are told about Lake Efteni. One of the most interesting of them concerns a Byzantine princess, Efthelya, whose name is also said to have inspired the name of the lake. Legend has it that when the Byzantine army was returning from battle in a time when the lake stretched all the way to the horizon, they encamped along its shore. Struck by a fatal disease en route, Prince Efthelya developed open sores on her hands and face. But during the encampment the princess bathed in the warm waters bubbling up from underground along the lake shore, and by morning all her sores were beginning to heal. Seeing this, the Byzantine emperor immediately gave the order for a bath to be built here, and, leaving the princess with the doctor and his assistants, went away. Later on, when the princess, her sores now healed, was sailing on the lake in a boat, she was smitten by an Ottoman prince who lived on the opposite shore, and they began to pay each other reciprocal visits. But these visits were cut short when the princess’s boat sank in the lake and she died. Ever since that day the lake has been known as Lake Efteni.
Although the legend is of debatable truth, there remains today at Gökyaka a tiny thermal spring that has been used for centuries. There is also a small bed&breakfast in the vicinity. The waters of this spa, overlooking Lake Efteni where hundreds of birds fly, are said to be good for rheumatism and diseases of the skin.
Woodcutting continues today in the forests of Güzeldere where trees have been felled for centuries for lumber. The raw materials of the timber industry at Düzce are also supplied from here. The rumble of lorries carrying the giant beech trees down the mountain roads and the sound of the chain saws, like the buzzing of thousands of bees in the depths of the forest, are unfortunately rarely absent nowadays. Vanishing like falling stars from the forests that used to cover the mountains like emerald green carpets, the trees resound with a great reverberation when they hit the ground.
Hazelnut trees were planted around the Güzeldere waterfall in the areas where the forests were cleared a hundred years ago, and hazelnut production is the main livelihood of the local people today. Additionally, fields of wild strawberries from whose tiny, sweet smelling fruit jam is made, are also conspicuous. Most of the villages in the vicinity are populated by refugees from the Caucasus. While signs of human life were once never encountered in this richly forested area, increasing population growth has led to the division of existing villages and opening up of new districts at higher elevations as well as the formation of new villages.
The area where the Güzeldere Waterfall is located is used as a picnic ground today. Welcoming large groups of travelers, especially on weekends, the waterfall area, the uplands and Lake Efteni offer a perfect opportunity for anyone who wants to savor the taste of autumn.