The southern shoreline of the Sea of Marmara is sparsely populated west of Erdek, while polluted dormitory communities for İstanbul sprawl to the east. Many of these were devastated by the earthquake of August, 1999, which killed an estimated 30,000 people – victims of rogue builders who ignored building regulations yet miraculously managed to pass official inspections.
Fortunately, İznik, historically the most interesting town, suffered little damage. To the south, Bursa, once one of Turkey’s most attractive cities, has succumbed to rapid growth since the 1980s, bringing greater wealth but destroying much of its colourful provincial atmosphere.
The best way to explore the region is to use the fast car and foot-passenger ferries to Yalova, Mudanya and Bandırma from İstanbul’s Yenikapı terminal; book ahead in summer. Using buses to İznik and Bursa, or your own vehicle, you could see all the sights in three to four days. Buses, which follow a congested five-hour route along the gulf shore via İzmit, are not recommended.