The surprises of Kırklareli

With villages like Kıyıköy and İğneada, Dupnisa Cave, the Yıldız Mountains and countless lakes, streams and hidden coves, Turkey’s Thracian province of Kırklareli is eager to share its natural and historic treasures.

Kırklareli isn’t talked about much. At the far end of Turkey’s western province of Thrace, it looks like a quiet, unassuming town on the Bulgarian border. And so it is. But it harbors within it a lot more than it shows. And what’s under the ground is as valuable and worth seeing as what’s on top of the ground in Kırklareli, which is possessed of numerous natural as well as historic beauty spots. With its protected natural areas, its forests, its sea and its caves, Kırklareli is just the place for people seeking a quiet getaway.

Nature was not stinting with its blessings at Kırklareli. The slopes of the Yıldız (Istranca) Mountains facing the Black Sea are densely forested. While beech trees predominate, the valleys carved out by the streams that originate here and empty into the sea at Kıyıköy are covered with Çoruh oak (Quercus dschorochensis), Italian oak (Quercus frainetto), and European Turkey oak (Quercus cerris). And to the east and south of İğneada are sand dunes and a swamp forest that covers the moist alluvial flats. The area is abundantly blessed with wetlands too. İğneada boasts two lakes: Mert on one side and Erikli on the other. Nor is the number of lakes under protection limited to two; there are five more: Hamam, Pedina, Saka, Sülüklü and Ramana, making İğneada a close rival of Bolu’s Seven Lakes district.
But it is time now to speak of İğneada itself. The area has a slim coastal strip some 50 meters wide and 10 kilometers long. Sheltered from the north wind, the sea is calm here in summer and shallow up to 150 meters from shore. There are even rumors that tiny flecks of gold have been found on the beaches that line the coast. Whoever goes to İğneada will enjoy the privilege of sunbathing on its golden sands.
Since it’s the Black Sea where you’ll be swimming, don’t forget that its calm exterior conceals a rogue spirit which is sometimes no laughing matter. The experienced eyes of the İğneada and Kıyıköy coast guard therefore read the sea’s subtle signs and warn people to get out in time. The undertow created when the waves hit the shore carves deep troughs in the sandy bottom that can lead to very unfortunate consequences indeed.

Located near the village of Sarpdere in Demirköy township, Dupnisa Cave is actually a series of interlocking caves that divide into the ‘Dry’ and the ‘Wet’. If you walk through them you’ll fall under the spell of the stalactites and stalagmites. The cave was opened to tourists in 2003. The sections with the underground stream and deep lakes are of interest to adventurers and nature sports enthusiasts, particularly those with spelunking equipment.

Kıyıköy, the Salmidores of history, where the Emperor Nero came for his holidays when he was Governor of Thrace, is a settlement dating back to antiquity, founded on a hill between the Pabuçdere and Kazandere rivers. Both streams are registered first class nature sites in Turkey. Their waters contain trout, carp and grey mullet, and are suitable for outings by rowboat or motorboat. This coastal area, once known as ‘Midye’ (Mussel), is dotted with weirdly shaped monumental rocks, caves once used by pirates, and areas carved out by the often rough waters of the Black Sea. The Byzantine Palace Gate at the entrance to the village, and the rock-carved Hagia Nikola Monastery on the riverbank are both worth seeing, the latter especially for its delicate relief-carved columns and its dome. There are several hiking trails of varying lengths in the Kıyıköy area, some of them easy, others more strenuous.

Its location on the Black Sea coast and rich water resources offer visitors to Kırklareli an outstanding array of fish. Angling is done on the lakes and rivers, with trout, grey mullet and carp being the most frequently fished species. Trout is abundant in the natural habitats particularly at Dereköy, Balaban, Dolapdere, Karadere, Kula, Çağlayık, Kazandere and Pabuçdere. A ‘Trout Preserve’ has been designated for the purpose of boosting trout production in the ‘Wildlife Preserve’ in the Saka Lake Swamp Forest, in Kazandere and in the upper reaches of Pabuçdere and bringing fishing under control. The local fishermen also catch red mullet, turbot, bluefish, horse mackerel, anchovies, whiting, tub-fish and small red mullet as well as shellfish such as hermit crab and mussels, all of which find their way to the dining table.
İğneada and Kıyıköy especially offer the perfect surroundings for a fish feast. At İğneada there is a fish restaurant with a rustic atmosphere right on the shore, and another at Kıyıköy high on a promontory overlooking the Black Sea. Dining at either one is a pleasure.

Lovely little coves dot the Kıyıköy coastline. One of them is Panayır Sahil, one kilometer in length, whose sand beach stretches all the way to İğneada. Reached through luxuriant greenery reminiscent of a tropical forest, it rarely  draws attention to itself so as to avoid being overrun by crowds. Another is Kastro, where the dense forest grows right down to the sea. Last but not least among Kırklareli’s surprises is Çamlıköy, which boggles the mind with its sand beach stretching as far as the eye can see, its rich plant cover and a quietly flowing stream lined with fir, ash and pines and covered with lily pads. A long thin island in the middle of the stream and another island just off shore complete the scene.
All three coves have campgrounds for overnight camping. Don’t expect a hotel or B&B. Such comforts are to be found only at İğneada and Kıyıköy. Camping is a popular activity in Kırklareli, and the townspeople especially spend almost the entire summer here. You too can mingle with them and sample the surprises of Kırklareli, a province that rarely toots its own horn. All you have to do is get moving!