In a country known for its bustling bazaar’s, noisy nightlife and greasy kebabs, I can understand why you might not think that the phrase ‘peace and quiet’ and Turkey should go together in the same sentence, but they do. In the heart of Isparta province in southwest Anatolia is a sparkling gem which goes by the name of Egirdir. That’s, “Eh-year-dir”, by the way.
This lakeside town is set between stunning mountains, with more than its fair share of breath-taking views and enough historical sites to satisfy even the most ardent history buff. It’s certainly not a tourist trap, however, the town defiantly works some kind of magic overall its guest.
Glancing at a map you’d be forgiven for thinking that this tiny lakeside town isn’t worth making a detour for but if you’re travelling overland in Turkey you’ll probably pass very close anyway. The lake happens to be slap bang in the middle of two of Turkey’s most popular destinations, Fethiye and Cappadocia, so it’s the perfect way to break up a 12-hour bus journey. There are a few long-distance buses each day which go to and from the locations mentioned above, as well as regular buses to Antalya.
The closest international airport is located in Antalya, 139 km south, or you can get there on a domestic flight to Isparta Airport, 30 km west. You can even take a waymarked hiking path from Antalya if you’re feeling adventurous! Once in Egirdir, you can reach all the nearby sight on foot or by local bus.
When to Go
At around 1,100 metres above sea level, Egirdir gets some pretty chilly winters. At night the temperature drops below zero, snow settles on the surrounding mountains and the Poyraz (north wind) blows fiercely across the surface of the lake. At this time of year locals fuel their wood burners and the evening sky is clouded with chimney smoke.
In the peak of summer residents hit the lakeside beaches and for swimming and barbeques and young crowds stay out to enjoy the fresh summer evening. Avoid visiting during the June and September Bayram (Holy Week) when accommodation is scarce and buses are typically full. Spring and autumn are the seasons for hiking, biking and apple harvesting.
Where to Stay
Egirdir is a small town and the majority of accommodation option are located north of the bus station on the road which connects to Yesil Ada. For international travellers, the best options are Lale Hostel, a budget accommodation with shared dorms and bathrooms, or, Fulya Pension, newly refurbished with private rooms and bathrooms. Both are owned and run by Ibrahim and his family. Born and raised in Egirdir, Ibrahim known the surrounding area like the back of his hand, he also happens to be one of the few English speakers in the region and is more than happy to help travellers plan their trip.
During the summer the hostel and pension full up with hikers and climbers, while in the winter you’ll meet skiers, snowboarders and the occasional snowshoers. During the low season is when this place is most interesting because you’ll likely be sharing your accommodation with local apple wholesalers, the friendly egg man from the weekly market and a few off-season backpackers.
What to Do?
Given that there’s not so much to see in the centre of town, Egirdir is one of those all or nothing places and by ‘all’ I mean getting up and active and by ‘nothing’ I mean chilling out by the lake with a glass of cay and a good book. My first visit to Egirdir was in the autumn so I managed to get a few ‘all’ days’ in before the lake froze over.
Take a Hike
Egirdir is about half-way along Turkey’s 2nd long-distance hiking trail. The red and white markers of the St Pauls trail actually pass right through the centre of town, so you can pretty much just pop your boots on and start walking in any direction.
To the south of the lake is the Kasnak Forrest dotted with shepherd’s huts and roaming cows. While to the North you can make a circular loop around the foot of Barla mountain, walking part of the trail on an original Roman road, passing through rose fields, farmland, and finally a reservoir. To the east there’s Mount Davraz, the visitor centre on its slope takes in skiers in the winter and hikers in the summer.
My personal favourite, if you’re feeling brave, is a gravelly track from Akpinar village, which sits above the lake and leads up to the tip of the appropriately named, Sevri Dag (Needles Mountain).
In the centre of town there are two things that locals are extremely proud off; first is their mosque which rings out prayers 5 times a day, and second, is their hammam. This is where you go to get stripped to your undies, steamed like vegetables for a roast dinner, scraped down with sandpaper, sorry, I mean a sponge, bashed about with a bag of bubbles, massaged with oil and finally washed off with cold water. Sound good?
There is a reason for putting yourself through this ordeal. The first is that you get to see inside the hammam, which is within as original Ottoman building. The second is that you come out squeaky clean like a brand-new bar of soap!
Shop like a local
Arrive on a Wednesday and you’ll see the municipal car park turned into a market square but wait until Thursday and you’ll see the entire town transformed into a bustling maze of colours. In the sprawl of pop up tables, you can pick up just about any fruit or vegetable you can think off. Nuts, dried fruits, eggs and cheeses have their own sections, one area is dedicated to clothing, while another part is for home and kitchenware.
Visit Ancient Ruins
Once an important resting spot on the merchants Silk Road (otherwise known as the original backpackers’ trail), Egirdir has its fair share of ancient ruins in the region. Some of the most impressive are:
Sagalassos: Surrounded by rich agricultural land, this site was once a major Roman city and is currently on the UNESCO World Heritage waiting list. There are a few Indiana Jones style hiking paths for slipping into the archaeological site from behind. Alternatively, you can take the conventional route and arrive by road.
Antioquia de Pisidia: This city marks the end point of the St Paul’s trail. The holy man himself is said to have stayed within the city walls on at least 2 occasions. The ruins are a couple of km from the centre of Yalvac and it’s worth taking an hour or so to visit the town too. There’s a museum of exhibits found in the region
In the area:
Zindan Cave: Located 2.5 km from the town of Asku, this cave is a whopping 16 km long and regularly floods during the winter months. Half the fun is just getting to this natural site. It’s a fairly bumpy track from Egirdir to Aksu and a walk to the ruins takes you over a Roman bridge and past the ruins of the Eurydome Open Air Temple.
Kovada Lake: 30 km south of Egirdir is a pretty nature park based around a shallow lake. The surrounding forests are great for spotting wildlife, looking at flora and hiking.
Elmali: This region is essentially apple country; pink ladies, granny smiths, golden and so on. This place is so crazy for apples that they even hold an Apple Festival each September. If you’re not visiting at this time of year then you can take a trip to Elmali instead. The little village is essentially a tea shop surrounded by a few houses and countless apple orchards.
Isparta: The town itself is not so inspiring but it is the place to go for the June Rug and Rose Festival. You won’t see shops plastered with roses like some dreadful valentines’ days celebration, instead, there’ll be stalls selling homemade rose jams, perfumes, soaps and sweets and just about anything that can be made from rose petals.
Just Enjoy the View
Actually, you don’t really need to do anything in Egirdir. The views of the lake are so enthralling that you can quite easily while away your time just gazing out across the lake, watching the fishermen come and go while birds make rafts on the lake and families play on pedal boats. Trust me, I spent plenty of days doing just this!