From Eğirdir to Kovada

What we're after is a lesser known side of Isparta, following a route over country roads through the foothills of mountains and along the shores of a lake.

I 'm looking at a 35-40 cm sq section of a large map. Joining the smallest dots, I look for a way out, first in the highlands, then again at the edge of the water. It's like a game-a game played on dusty winding dirt roads. In a minute, when I step on the gas, the dots will join together and take me into a three-dimensional world. The fine lines in areas where there aren't even any dots are the country roads. And the dark brown areas where there aren't even any fine lines are the mountains. The big blue expanses that look almost like small seas are the lakes. These are the three rules of the game I'm going to play for the next ten days.

If you turn slightly north, you come to the Central Anatolian plains; a little to the south is Isparta, bounded by the mountains of the Mediterranean region. Although the wind picks up on the northern plains, it's not as harsh as at Konya; and though it warms up to the south, it's not as hot as Antalya. At least you are traveling in autumn in temperate highland weather. The higher you go, of course, the cooler the summers and the harsher the winters here.

This time we are going a lot farther than the roses that first spring to mind at the mention of Isparta. What we have in mind is to suggest a quiet, tranquil route. Our first stop, almost 35 kilometers after leaving the city, is a cultural and touristic center that takes its name from Turkey's fourth largest lake: the township of Eğirdir. This 'island' joined to the mainland is famous for its landscape. Like a long neck extending from the city center to the heart of the lake, Eğirdir by night is known for its superb trout restaurants under the lights.

To enjoy the lake landscape, which varies by morning and evening light, we suggest that you spend a morning and   a night in Eğirdir. Our route will offer you that possibility. One of the best ways to view the sunrise and sunset is to take any local road up into the foothills of 'Büyük Sivri', or to go up to Akpınar, a village settled by former Turkish nomads. With its charming bed&breakfasts, comfortable hotels with views of the landscape, trout restaurants and tea gardens along the esplanade, Eğirdir is a place where you can plan to spend a full day. Its university campus and location at the intersection with the Konya highway make for a lively and buzzing atmosphere. Don't miss the Baba Sultan Türbe at the entrance to the city, the Great Mosque in the central market, or the medrese and the view from the fortress. If you happen to be there on a Sunday, the day of the open market, you should definitely take the opportunity for a little shopping and much pleasant conversation. For this is Isparta. People laugh here. They're always up for a chat and ready to invite you to dinner.

If you proceed north on the main road west of Lake Eğirdir, you will see how this large expanse of water - 500 sq km - the size of a small township has shaped nature and human life. All along the road, squeezed between the lake shore and the foothills of the mountains as far as Barla, pay attention especially to the wetlands, which have been taken under protection. In these areas where the reedbeds abound like forests, you will encounter not only birds but horses and cows feeding in water up to their necks.

As you approach the turnoff for Barla, look eastwards from the main road going inland and, if the time is right, you will see across the fields and apple orchards the lake and the Dedegöl Mountains rising directly on the opposite shore. Remember, if you want to get a good view from here, you'll be better off driving up into the hills and being on the road at the hours close to sunrise or sunset. Dominating the landscape, Barla rises directly behind this plain.

As you continue northwards along the shore, the gorge where Akdağ and Mt. Barla are in close proximity is a sign you are entering the lake region known as Hoyran. Since you've come this far it must be close to dusk and time for you to start considering where you want to spend the night. If you like camping, you might catch the sunset in the marshy area known as 'Ali Cinler' in the village of Aşağı Tırtır. In the morning you can visit the rock tombs on the hill and then continue on to Yalvaç. Those who prefer sleeping with a roof over their heads can proceed directly to Yalvaç or Şarkikaraağaç.

Your way to Yalvaç will be a journey between shores reminiscent of the Central Anatolian plains on your left and the landscape of the Lake District on your right.

Make a point of stopping at one of the orchards on the shore. A flurry of activity is under way here that will end at the local produce market: the picking of red and green apples. When you've had your fill of the apples offered to you, you can either go to the Yalvaç Museum if you can get there before closing time, or head straight for the ruins of Psidia Antiocheia.  See its temple, churches, theater and bath, stroll along the ancient stone-paved ways, exit via the great gate and bid farewell to the sun from behind the aqueducts. You can then continue in a southeasterly direction to the township of Şarkikaraağaç and spend the night in a bungalow in the forest of therapeutic cedars at Kızıldağ National Park.

Our suggestion for seeing the morning sun at Kızıldağ is that you climb the fire tower on the hill. The road is rough, dusty and strewn with rocks. Here you'll make your first encounter with Lake Beyşehir, most of which lies in neighboring Konya province. On your right in the distance you'll see Mada Island and a patchwork of fields on the broad plain along the shore. Virtual patchwork quilts in myriad shades of yellow, carefully stitched together by a diligent housewives and spread out end to end leaving  no spot uncovered.

When you start your descent southwards on the road to the west of the lake, countless fishermen's huts will appear together with other interesting spots where you can observe the life of the lake dwellers. Gedikli is a fishing village worth visiting for its traditional dwellings that go against the universal trend to concrete construction. Be sure to stop, too, at the Fishermen's Cooperative on the shore. The highway will take you to the township of Yenişarbademli which boasts Melikler Highland and Pınargözü Cave. Lake, mountains and highlands come together here in a landscape which is unforgettable with its wetland plains where you can camp out in nomadic style.

If you follow the road going west, you will pass through the township of Aksu where you can see Zindan Cave, which was used as a refuge and for religious purposes in the Roman period. Turning south now, you will come first to the ancient city of Adada in Sütçüler township, and then to Yazılı Canyon. But if you come with us, we're going to follow the shores of Lake Kovada to the village of Akpınar to catch the fiery red Eğirdir sun, thereby completing the circle.

Lakes may appear as big as mountains to the human eye. But it's disconcerting when you talk with a lake dweller only about sixty years old to hear that the place where fish were caught only 15 years ago is a marsh today and where people used to swim 30 years ago there are now only fields. In other words, the lake is continuing to dry up at a rate perceptible in a single life span. And yet, ecologically speaking, it remains a major source of fertility to a broad region. For a lake means fishing, apples, fields, insects, reeds, and jobs! A life cycle of mind-boggling magnitude seems to be disappearing quietly before our very eyes. Yet it goes unnoticed. Don't forget what you have seen here when you get home. Don't forget the fertile fields, but remember the arid patches as well...