The highest heaven

The alpine garden

Fortunate are those who find their paradise on earth. This is the story of how John Drake and Liz Thompson found theirs, in a mountain valley in northeastern Turkey

Some years ago we were staying in Artvin, at the Karahan Hotel, whose owner, we understood, could arrange for us to spend a few nights in a mountain lodge nearby. Mr Karahan checked by telephone and told us the staff would be expecting us by 7pm that evening.

At 10pm our taxi driver was still negotiating our way in pitch darkness through mountain valleys. After what seemed an eternity of driving along a potholed track crossed by streams of running water, we saw the light of a lantern in the road ahead and were hailed by a youth with a rifle slung over his shoulder. We had arrived, but where? We and our luggage were hauled by lantern-light up an 80-foot incline across terraced fields of beans and sunflowers. A final climb up a three-storey timber ladder brought us to the top terrace of the lodge, where supper was produced. The terrace, it appeared, was also where we were to sleep, on mattresses on the floor. We closed our eyes to the sound of rushing water in the valley below and distant gunshots in the hills.

We have returned many times…