Despite their proximity to İstanbul, the shores and hinterland of the Sea of Marmara are neglected by most foreign travellers. While this may not be altogether surprising – Turkey here is at its most Balkan and, at first glance, least exotic – there are good reasons to visit. Above all, the exquisite early Ottoman centres of Edirne and Bursa are the real highlights. If those whet your appetite, historic Lüleburgaz and İznik make good postscripts to the former imperial capitals. While most of the Thracian coast is disappointing, and the scrappy beaches of the Marmara islands hold little interest, two bright spots stand out – the beach-and-fortress town of Kıyıköy on the Black Sea, and the Saros Gulf resort of Erikli. To cross the Sea of Marmara, the port of Tekirdağ has potentially useful ferries to the southern shore, while Gelibolu, on the eponymous peninsula, is linked by ro-ro craft to Lapseki opposite.
For evocative inland scenery in the southern Marmara, two shallow lakes, Uluabat Gölü and Manyas Gölü, support a dwindling fishing community and a bird sanctuary respectively. The Uludağrange above Bursa attracts skiers in winter and hikers in summer, while Cumalıkızık at the base of the mountain is a showcase village.
Before the wars and population exchanges of the early twentieth century, much of the local population was Greek (or Bulgarian) Orthodox, though all the larger towns held substantial Jewish and Armenian communities. After the Turkish Republic was established, massive immigration – both internal and from abroad – changed the mix. The resultant ethnic stew includes people of Çerkez (Circassian), Artvinli and Greek Muslim descent, as well as a large settled Romany population, but consists predominantly of Pomak, Bosnian and Macedonian Muslims, plus Bulgarian Turks. All these groups had, in fact, been trickling in for decades before 1923, as Austro-Hungarian or Orthodox nationalist victories in the Balkans made their previous homes inhospitable to Turks or Slavic Muslims.
Top image: Cumalikizik, Turkey © Hakan Eliacik/Shutterstock