Exploring lush green floodplain forests of Iğneada

Özge Şengelen

ISTANBUL: Did you know that Türkiye has the third largest floodplain forests in Europe? You may have never heard of ‘Iğneada Floodplain Forests,’ yet the lush green scenery located in Kırklareli province of Türkiye, on the border with Bulgaria in Thrace, is waiting to be explored

Primarily, I would like to take you on a short tour of Kırklareli, in Thrace, which forms a part the Balkan Peninsula.

Thrace is a region with a very rich history, spread over Bulgaria, Greece and parts of Türkiye. The region called Thrace in Türkiye, on the other hand, refers to the area that covers the whole of Kırklareli, Edirne, Tekirdağ, parts of Istanbul and Çanakkale on the European continent, and Gökçeada. Kırklareli is also one of Thrace’s most important cities, located in the Marmara region.

This city, which also happens to be my hometown, is a gateway to Europe with its deep-rooted history, nature, culture, intellectual people and unspoiled beauties waiting to be discovered. There are many places to visit in and around Kırklareli, a confluence of Western and Eastern cultures for centuries due to its strategic location. Mosques, fountains, baths, ancient cities, caves, castles, monuments … You may need to spend more than one day visiting these places, many of which are on the periphery of the city.

Lake Mert, Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
Lake Mert, Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

You can cover Kırklareli in a day. This small city, where everything is within walking distance, is the apple of the eye of Thrace with its cheerful people.

In the center, you can visit Hızırbey Bathhouse, Kırklareli Museum, a replica of Atatürk’s House in Thessaloniki and go for a walk on the famous İstasyon Street.

İstasyon Street is actually the heart of this small city. Yet even inside the street, you can experience calm and peaceful moments away from the chaos where the sounds of chirping birds accompany you.

As for food, don’t leave this city, where agriculture and animal husbandry are the main sources of livelihood, without eating Kırklareli meatballs. The region’s meat and dairy products are very fresh and delicious since it is a livestock breeding area.

Since you are in Kırklareli, you can try “hardaliye,” a unique drink of the region. This drink, made of fresh grapes, has a unique taste and smell. It is also said to be beneficial for the digestive and immune systems.

Lake Mert, Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
Lake Mert, Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

In Kırklareli, also called the city of happy people, the smiling faces of the people will warm your heart. By the way, you can come across the people of Thrace, who love to play with drums and zurna on any street. You may find yourself immersed in the aksak rhythm, a juxtaposition of rhythmic cells.

Iğneada Floodplain Forests

There are many places waiting to be discovered close to Kırklareli, a border city. The Iğneada Floodplain Forests are one of them.

Before I explain the place in detail, let me briefly explain for those wondering what floodplains are. The geographical term refers to a kind of forest ecosystem formed when crumbled pieces such as clay, sand, gravel and muddy sediment, that is, alluvium, in a stream accumulate over time. This accumulation forms a barrier at the point where the stream flows into the sea.

This barrier begins to prevent the stream from meeting the sea. When the stream cannot cross the barrier, the area behind it is flooded. Swamps, lakes, dunes and flooded forests form over time. The whole of this ecosystem is called “flooded forests” or “floodplain forests.”

In this regard, Iğneada’s forests are the third-largest floodplain forest in Europe.

Iğneada Lighthouse, Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
Iğneada Lighthouse, Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

Inside the national park, the area hosts Lake Saka, Hamam, Mert, Pedina, Erikli and Deniz. At the same time, this incredible ecosystem is home to almost half of the bird species in Türkiye, around 200 species.

It is also known that this magnificent ecosystem, which was formed as a result of the accumulation of alluvium carried by the streams flowing from the Yıldız (Istranca) Mountains to the Black Sea Coast, and its seasonal flooding, is also home to many endangered and protected species.

In the floodplains that are flooded in winter and spring, the water partially dries up in summer and autumn. When the water levels of swamps resembling tropical forests decrease, swamp ecosystems change. The essential condition for the survival of this ecosystem is the abundance of water.

Of course, at the same time, those who come to visit must tread lightly.

I strongly recommend visiting Iğneada National Park and seeing this fascinating spot. Since it also hosts camping areas, it allows you to embrace nature.

As you can camp with your own equipment, there is also a facility that offers glamping.

You can immerse yourself in the depths of the Iğneada Floodplain Forests, participate in bird watching, rent a canoe in Lake Mert and get into the reeds and observe this wonderful ecosystem closely.

Iğneada (French) Lighthouse

When you come to Iğneada, you can also visit the Iğneada Lighthouse in Limanköy, which is 4 kilometers (2.48 miles) away. This is a historical lighthouse in the westernmost part of the Black Sea.

The sign for Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)
The sign for Kırklareli, Türkiye. (Photo by Özge Şengelen)

The lighthouse, which the French built in 1866 during the reign of Sultan Abdülmecit, is also known as the French Lighthouse colloquially.

The lantern, which was installed vertically and illuminated the sea with kerosene fuel during periods when there was no electricity, could be seen even from 32 kilometers away, thanks to 100 halogen bulbs and plastic reflectors.

The same family had been guarding, operating and maintaining the lighthouse for four generations but is no longer at the lighthouse.

There will be a few more stops that I recommend in Kırklareli. In my next article, you will find details about a border village, an Ottoman foundry and the only cave of Thrace.

At the same time, I will tell you the best reason to visit this destination.

Courtesy: Dailysabah