The Mediterranean Lake District of Türkiye is rightly famed for its staggering beauty. Shimmering lakes fringed by snow-capped peaks, national parks bursting with wildlife, as well as astonishing cultural finds, historical monuments, and ancient cities provide a journey worth savoring, whether you’re an avid explorer or a serene seeker.
The peace and quiet, and the most stunning sunrises make holidays by the lake a tranquil escape for nature lovers. The ancient Pisidia region, which lies just north of the Western Taurus Mountains and spans the cities of Antalya, Isparta, and Burdur, is worthy of attention as the country’s “Lake District” boasting around 100 lakes, ranging in size and character. The region reserves several cultural treasures as well. The archaeological ruins that pop up surprisingly in canyons, forests and mountaintops, the majestic Seljuk architecture, the nomadic local culture of mountain villages, and the opportunity to see the production of rose and lavender oil make any visit to the region a rewarding one.
A Summer Resort in the Mountains
With its sandy beaches, sailing school, waterfront fish restaurants, and Yeşil Ada (Green Island) connected to the city by a tiny road, Eğirdir resembles a resort town by the Mediterranean rather than a lakeside town in the mountains. Nestled amidst verdant hillsides a mere 35 kilometers from the city of Isparta, Lake Eğirdir is a picture-perfect expanse of calm, clear blue-green water offering a captivating retreat for those who yearn to explore the untouched beauty of the region. As the second largest freshwater lake of Türkiye, it provides a tranquil sanctuary for boating, fishing, and even swimming! The coves of Altınkum and Bedre accommodate visitors with their camping grounds and bungalows along sandy mini-beaches, while small fish restaurants around the town serve hearty plates of sazan dolma (carp stuffed with bulgur and herbs) and crawfish that are ample in the region. The abundance continues on land as well. One can buy baskets of apples, peaches, cherries, and sour cherries directly from the villagers in the orchards lying between Eğirdir Lake and Kovada Lake which are connected by a canal. Gelendost groves are especially famous for apples and can be explored by a delightful cycling trip during the harvest time in September and October.
The spectacular views of the lake and rolling countryside make Eğirdir an attraction for hiking enthusiasts as well. So grab your boots! Base yourself in the town for daily walks to explore sections of St. Paul Trail, Türkiye’s second longest walking route spanning 500 kilometers from Perge (Antalya) to Yalvaç (Isparta). St Paul’s several missionary journeys, spanning from Asia Minor up to Rome to spread the word of Christ, have inspired this popular waymarked trail. There are numerous other nature trails around the lake, where one can observe the amazing biodiversity of the region. Eğirdir and Kovada Lakes are famous for their bird populations, and unsurprisingly, 225 of 454 bird species observed all around Türkiye can be spotted here.
Lake Eğirdir is not just a haven for nature lovers; it also holds a wealth of historical treasures waiting to be admired. Standing proudly on an island on the lake, the ancient castle of Eğirdir offers a glimpse into the region’s storied past. To feel the true local spirit, visit the Pınar Pazarı, a traditional street fair that has been around for 800 years, opening only from July to October. This is an unmatched place to taste local delicacies and kebaps served on stalls and see the country’s last nomadic folks come for trading and stocking goods for the winter.
The Forest of Sleeping Cedars
The cedarwood-columned mosques of Seljuks are the true treasures of Anatolia, inherited from the middle ages. Many have withstood the ravages of time, and perhaps the most original example of them is found at the Eşrefoğlu Mosque, dating back to 1134. There on the shores of Beyşehir Lake, a lone monument stands out proud from the town surrounding it, waiting to be discovered like a pearl in an oyster. This perfect example of the famed Seljuk stonemasonry strikes the visitor with the grandiose of its entrance door, surrounded by columns ornated with lotus flowers, leaves, pomegranates, and artichokes carved proficiently into the stone. The roof of the mosque is supported by 42 cedar columns that were soaked in Lake Beyşehir for six months before being used in the construction. The mosque is on the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites and attracts visitors across the world who come to admire this architectural jewel and the famous sunsets of Beyşehir Lake throughout the year. Take a little detour to the ruins of Kubadabad Palace along the southwest shores of Beyşehir as well. Established as the summer residence of Seljuk Sultan Alaeddin Keykubad I, the palace is best known for the remarkable glazed wall tiles recovered in the excavations, many of which are now displayed in the Karatay Museum in Konya.
A Fountain Running For Millennia
Nature enthusiasts will find solace in the sublime beauty of Lake Burdur, a hidden oasis awaiting discovery. Traverse the tranquil surroundings, enveloped by lush greenery and resplendent flora, while vibrant birdlife orchestrates a symphony of chirps overhead. This wonderful lake straddling the border between the provinces of Burdur and Isparta might be of particular interest to birdwatchers. Besides hosting over 100,000 waterfowl every autumn and winter, Lake Burdur is where 60-70% of the world’s population of endangered white-headed ducks reside for the winter.
But the wonders of the region extend far beyond its natural splendor. Venture further inland to uncover the ancient city of Sagalassos, a mesmerizing archaeological site that is included in the tentative list of UNESCO World Heritage sites, promising to transport history enthusiasts to a bygone era. Located near the present town of Ağlasun (Burdur province), Sagalassos was once the prosperous metropolis of the Roman province of Pisidia. Due to its remote location, it was protected from looters in later periods and remained one of the best-preserved ancient cities in the Mediterranean. Today, its almost completely intact monumental structures are being erected once again, including the Antonin Fountain which has been in continuous use since Roman times. A masterpiece of Roman engineering, the fountain stands as a testament to the city’s former glory. Its intricate carvings and majestic statues are visible in the Burdur Archaeology Museum today, along with the most important relics excavated in other Pisidian cities.
A Lake Holding Clues to Life on Mars
Traveling to Mars may be a fantasy for the distant future, but you can instead consider visiting Lake Salda in Türkiye today ―the closest thing to Mars on Earth. In preparation for its Mars 2020 mission, a NASA delegation joined a team from İstanbul Technical University at Lake Salda to study its shorelines and topography. Indeed there are striking geological similarities between Lake Salda and the Jezero Crater on Mars, where the Perseverance Rover landed to do mineral excavation. Lake Salda can be visited as a natural reserve today, where white sands and powder blue waters conjure a “tropical” paradise. During the wintertime, Salda Ski Center welcomes guests with its long season and skiing elevation ranging between 2,054 and 1,910 meters.
More Unmissable Lake District Experiences
+ Rose harvest in May and lavender harvest in July (in villages of Kuyucak and Akçaköy) is a true spectacle near Isparta and Burdur. Do not forget to buy cosmetics made of rose oil, as well as rose marmalades and rose-flavored Turkish delights.
+ The Pisidia Heritage Trail is a 350 km archaeology-themed hiking route connecting 12 relatively little-known ancient cities of the Pisidia region, including Selge, Sagalassos, Termessos, Pednelissos, Antioch of Pisidia (Yalvaç), Adada and Kibyra hidden among mountains and canyons.
+ 25 kilometers from Isparta, Mount Davraz offers an ideal winter playground with its pistes reaching a total of 25 kilometers. During the summer, the area offers football fields, spots for mountaineering, trekking, and mountain biking, as well as paragliding.
+ Visit the Yukarı Gökdere village near Eğirdir to see the world’s only kasnak oak forest spanning an area of 3,200 acres, and Kargı village near Burdur to see a natural reserve of sweetgums. Along the shores of the Karacaören Waterdam Lake nearby, you can stay in elegant villas and huts to wake up to dazzling lake views
+ Lake Eber and Acıgöl are two other destinations for bird-watching enthusiasts who would like to crown their “lake hopping” with some quality time out in nature. Lake Eber boasts hundreds of little islets where birds could take refuge, while Acıgöl hosts flamingoes during their annual migration, along with more than 150 bird species.