The Turkish Lake District or Turkish Lakeland is an area with a series of shallow tectonic lakes within the folds of the Taurus Mountains in Southwestern Anatolia. Tucked away within the grandeur of the mountains and the placidity of the stunning collection of lakes is one of the most beautiful locations in Turkey. Not only a visual treat, the Lake District of Turkey is a bustling centre of activities for those with a penchant for the outdoors. The town of Eğirdir is the most perfect place to explore from, set on its very own lake it is a wonderful base for hiking, climbing and the exploration of regional sights. Of course the mighty mountains make a welcome contrast for many who wish to try a different side of Turkey, away from the beach and coastal areas, but more importantly, it is one part of Turkey that can welcome visitors at any time of the year. Hosting two of Turkey’s most fantastic ski resorts and a myriad of attractive hiking trails and natural wildlife, the Turkish Lake District is not to be missed.
The Taurus Mountains
This grand mountain range divides the Mediterranean coastal region of southern Turkey from the central Anatolian Plateau; the westernmost protrusion of Asia, which makes up the majority of modern-day Turkey. The Taurus Mountains were formed as a result of the land being pushed up as three tectonic plates come together. The mountainous system begins at Lake Eğirdir in the west and curves around to the upper reaches of the Euphrates and Tigris rivers in the east as a part of the seismic and orogenic Alpide belt in Eurasia.
Taurus is one of the constellations of the zodiac and Latin for ‘the Bull’. It is a large and prominent constellation in the northern hemisphere’s winter sky and is also one of the oldest, dating back to the Early Bronze Age when it marked the location of the sun during the spring equinox. Taurus has always been important to the agricultural calendar and influenced many bull figures in the mythologies of Ancient Sumer, Akkad, Assyria, Babylon, Egypt, Greece and Rome. Throughout generations before the Roman period, the bull was commonly the symbol and depiction of ancient Near Eastern storm gods. The Taurus Mountains attract torrential thunderstorms, which were once believed by the ancient Syrians to be an act of the storm-god Adad to make the Tigris and Euphrates rivers rise and flood, making their land fertile. This is where the name of the mountain range originates and the Taurus Mountains still contain many ancient storm-god temples today.
The Taurus mountains are divided into three chains from west to east.
The Western Taurus Mountains form an arc around the Gulf of Antalya, the Taşeli Plateau and the Goksu River dividing it from the Central Taurus Mountains. The western section of the range is divided into four sections, Akdağlar, the Bey Mountains, Katrancık Mountain and Geyik Mountain. The Aladağlar offers more than 60 peaks rising above 3,000 metres, the highest being Kızılkaya, measuring at 3771 metres. All of these peaks offer classical ascent routes alongside more technical climbing, making Aladağlar one of the most popular climbing venues in Turkey. Stretched across the provinces of Nigde, Adana and Kayseri, this particular section of the Taurus Mountains offers a great deal to visitors passing through.
Nigde province is situated close to the tourist attractions of Cappadoccia which attracts millions every year to its fairy chimneys. Rich in agriculture, Nigde’s apples are world famous and the area is Turkey’s biggest potato growing region. The province also has a rich tradition of folk culture including song and dance and the famous proverb “the early bird catches the worm”. Nigde is home to an important underground city, an ancient monastery and a number of mineral hot springs. With many more attractions to offer, Nigde could well be one of the most promising tourist hot spots in Turkey today.
The Adana Province is already extremely popular with tourists thanks to its Mediterranean coastal location and the placing of the Aladağlar National Park. Adana city itself has many historical and cultural sites to offer including four museums, several castles and mosques and Roman ruins. With the Yumurtalık Nature Reserve and the National Park, the province proves to be a haven for nature enthusiasts. In the mountains there is a huge range of flora and fauna and fishing opportunities are available in the streams which are full of trout. Kayseri on the other hand, is an area which has been linked with many mythological stories as well as important figures in Turkish history, even Ali Baba is said to have lived in the area and now has a mountain dedicated to him.
Central Taurus, situated northeast of the cities of Mersin and Antalya, is made up of the Akçalı Mountains, the Bolkar, Anti-Taurus and Tahtalı Mountains and Aladağlar Mountain. The Bolkar Mountains are noted for having large amounts of lead; silver and gold were also occasionally found in the mines too. Perhaps more interestingly for tourists, the limestone of the Bolkar Mountains, as with the Aladağlar range of the western range, has eroded to form karstic landscapes of stunning waterfalls, underground rivers and some of the largest caves in Asia. The Vipera Bulgardaghica, a venomous spider, also originated on the Bolkar Mountains.
It should also be noted that the western and central divisions of the Taurus Mountains offer tourists an incredible range of activities to do, from mountain climbing and trekking, to days on the beach in Antalya. There are two ski resorts on the Taurus mountain range, one at Davras, about 25km from the towns of Egirdir and Isparta, and the second at Saklıkent, just 40km from the city of Antalya which is one of Turkey’s most popular beach destinations. Where else in the world could you combine a day of skiing with a day on the beach!?
The Southeastern Taurus range is the source of the Euphrates River and the Tigris River and consists of five divisions. The Euphrates River is the longest and one of the most historically important rivers of Western Asia. Both the Euphrates and the Tigris are defining rivers of Mesopotamia.
While skiing, hiking and climbing may be enough excitement for some, the Taurus Mountains have other attractions for visitors. The Varda Viaduct, designed and built by Imperial German engineers as part of the Baghdad Railway is situated at Hacıkırı village in Adana Province. The viaduct featured in the opening chase of the James Bond film ‘Skyfall’. Just 25km from the ski resort of Davras is Isparta, also known as the ‘City of Roses’ thanks to its production of rose water. However today, Isparta is seeing an exponential rise in international visitor numbers due to ‘biblical tourism’ as supposedly the city is where St Paul delivered his first sermon. The Manavgat River provides a beautiful curved waterfall next to which you can relax in the pleasant shaded tea gardens. There are also many caves in the area, the most interesting being the Altınbeşik cave.
The Lakes of the Taurus Mountains
While mountains are beautiful in themselves, the Turkish Lake District would be nothing without its lakes. Made up of seven major lakes, the mountainous region is a hive of natural activity thanks to its pristine and fish filled lakes. Lake Akşehir, one of the larger lakes, was declared by BirdLife International as an Important Bird Area in 1989 for its waterfowl species, which are threatened globally as well as at site by hunting, reed cutting in breeding season and pollution. Lake Beyşehir is the largest freshwater lake in Turkey with an area of 650 km squared and measuring at 45 km long and 20 km wide. The lake is used for irrigation and aquaculture, although it is also a national park. There are 32 islets in varying sizes in the lake which can be explored by boat and the national park offers many opportunities for recreational outdoor activities such as trekking, hiking and mountain biking.
Lake Burdur, not far from Isparta and one of the deepest lakes in Turkey, is an important wetland site for many bird species and a designated Ramsar site. The formation of the lake began 5 million years ago as a tectonic depression, the Burdur area being a first grade earthquake zone. Lake Eğirdir with an area of 482 sq km it is the fourth largest lake in Turkey and the second largest freshwater lake. The lake and its attached town was formerly called ‘Eğridir’, which meant “it is crooked”, therefore to remove the negative connotations of the name in the mid-1980s, the i and the r in the name were swapped to provide a new title, ‘Eğirdir’, which evokes spinning and flowers. The lake has two islands connected to the mainland by a long causeway into the town of Eğirdir, “Life Island” and “Green Island”.
Lake Salda is one of the smaller of the Turkish Lake District collection and is a crater lake. Salda is often included being part of the Turkish lakes Region, even though it is geographically separate from the larger lakes of the region which are more to the west and being a crater lake, is morphologically different. It is a popular excursion spot across the region thanks to its stunning black pine forest shorelines which provide fantastic hunting opportunities with an abundance of quails, hares, boars and wild ducks. The coasts of the lake are also made of hydromagnesite mineral which is believed to offer remedies for certain dermatological diseases.
The Other Mountains and Lakes of Turkey
With Turkey being home to 51 natural lakes and 14 reservoirs and dam lakes, the beauty of mountainous Turkey is not restricted to its Lake District. Lake Van is the country’s largest lake and is located in the far east of the country. It is a saline soda lake, which prevents most of it from freezing in the winters. The lake often hosts water sports such as sailing and inshore powerboat racing and there is much to see around the shores. Van Castle is close to the southern shore and on Akdamar Island lies the 10th century Church of the Holy Cross, which served as a royal church to the Armenian Vaspurakan kingdom. In addition to the large number of Armenian monasteries dotted around the area. You will be able to find many historic tombstones in and around the town of Ahlat which are on the waiting list for UNESCO World Heritage status.
Lake Tuz is Turkey’s second largest lake, but also one of the largest hyper-saline lakes in the world. During the summer months, the lake dries up, exposing a 30cm thick layer of salt. The three mines operating in the lake produce 63% of salt consumed in Turkey and creates industrial activity in the area related to salt processing and refining. In 2001, Lake Tuz was declared a specially protected area as the main Turkish breeding colony of greater flamingo is present on a group of islands in the southern part of the lake.
No list of lakes in Turkey would be complete without mentioning the stunning Lake Abant of the Black Sea region, formed as a result of a landslide. It is located close to mountainside Bolu city and is a favourite location for locals and foreigners thanks to its beautiful surroundings. The lakeside is home to European black pine, oaks, ashes, willows junipers and hazels as well as exciting wildlife such as deer, brown bears and wolves. If you happen to be in the Black Sea region, the lake is a fantastic spot where you can relax and ponder life away amidst nature.
If winter sports is what you are looking for in a vacation to Turkey, you need look no further than Mount Uludağ of the Bursa Province. In Turkish ‘Uludağ’ means ‘Sublime Mountain’, and it is the highest mountain of the Marmara region. While in the summer it is a popular destination for trekking and camping, the winter snow brings one of the best skiing opportunities in Turkey. The ski centre tracks are about 28km long and the snow can reach up to 3m high during the winter with the best times to ski being between December and March. Being only an hour and a half from Istanbul and just a cable car ride from the city of Bursa, Uludağ is the most popular ski destination in Turkey.
While Turkey is covered in beautiful mountain landscapes and clear blue lakes, you cannot beat the Lake District for such a concentrated area of beauty and wildlife. With such an extensive range, it is exciting to be able to enjoy such a diverse number of activities and even if you’re not one for an active holiday, you can enjoy the Turkish sunshine and relax on a lakeside. In some areas you can even easily make it down to the coast where you can take advantage of the best of both worlds! If you are planning to visit Turkey in the near future, make sure you consider the country’s beautiful Lake District.