The Marmara Region
AThe area around the inland sea between the Aegean and the Black Sea is still quite unknown as a travel destination. The islands and beaches of the Sea of Marmara and the surrounding hinterland have formed the smallest of Turkey’s seven geographic areas since 1941 – with Istanbul at its centre. The Marmara region is therefore a perfect complement to sightseeing in the 16 million metropolis, which lies on the north bank of the 260-kilometer-long body of water.
Most destinations are easily accessible with fast ferries; an exception is the city of Edirne with the mighty Selimiye Mosque on the European side of the Sea of Marmara, which can be reached by land. The same applies to the famous excavation site Hisarlık Tepe (World Heritage Site), where Heinrich Schliemann believed to have found ancient Troy; definitive proof of his theory is still lacking.
If you want to visit the thermal baths of Yalova in the south of the Sea of Marmara, which were already in use in Byzantine times, you can take the ship route. And, of course, a must are ferry trips if the destination is called Marmara Island (names after the sea) – or Büyükada; this largest of the Princes’ Islands now functions as a kind of country estate for wealthy Istanbulites.
On the Anatolian side of the Sea of Marmara, the metropolis of Bursa is worth a visit. It was conquered by Muslims in 1326 and made their capital. Constantinople, now Istanbul, remained in Byzantine hands until 1453. Bursa is now called the cradle of the Ottoman Empire and is on the World Heritage List with the neighboring town of Cumalikizik.
Delicacies based on old Ottoman recipes
Two names stand for specialties in the Marmara region: Bursa and Cumalıkızık, a few kilometers away, where the gourmet tour should start in the early morning. Because the women of Cumalıkızık have a reputation for making an excellent Turkish brunch. And to a certain extent on the highest order, because the Ottomans had built the village 700 years ago specifically to supply Bursa.
To this day, not only Cumalıkızık’s centuries-old houses are maintained, but also Ottoman recipes – from hearty (such as lamb stew with apricots, raisins and almonds) to delicate (quinces stuffed with beef) to dreamlike (chestnuts in syrup).
Even the doner kebab dates back to Ottoman times; It was invented in Bursa – and only there is the original Kebapçı İskender available to this day: Around 1867, an innkeeper by the name of İskender Efendi had the idea of processing part of the mutton into minced meat, layering it between slices of meat that had been pounded and packed like this Grill skewers vertically. He served the grilled meat with yoghurt and melted butter on a layer of flatbread. Today, his descendants run several restaurants in Bursa that exclusively offer Kebapçı İskender, a trademarked doner kebab.
Another Istanbul is revealed on the Princes’ Islands
Bikes, e-scooters and e-mobiles: On the Princes’ Islands, the hectic metropolis of Istanbul is completely different, namely sustainable, tranquil – and car-free. The nine islands are just 20 kilometers from the old town in the Sea of Marmara. After an hour and a half ferry ride (tip: if you sit on the right side of the ship, you will see the historic Istanbul district of Sultanahmet with the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Hagia Sophia when you exit) day trippers reach Büyükada.
It’s the largest island and also the most diverse, with Greek Orthodox churches, villas (one where the Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky lived in exile for four years), pine forests and many beaches. Between May and October is the high season, thousands of visitors then flood Büyükada at the weekend; If that’s too busy for you, you should switch to the smaller island of Heybeliada or stay in the luxury hotel “Katre Island”, which opened in 2020 and occupies the entire island of Yassıada.
The perfect raki from cauldron 10
Ten is the measure of all things for raki lovers: If “Tekirdag Rakisi No. 10″ on the label, the aniseed schnapps is guaranteed to come from cauldron 10 of the raki distillery on the Sea of Marmara. This is important, because the 47.5 percent distillate owes its mild taste to the craftsmanship of French boilermakers, who made the No. 10 vessel a good 100 years ago, say the master distillers.
But what is only half the reason, the purity of the copper is important for the mildness of the raki, since the metal removes highly volatile sulfur compounds. Apparently this works perfectly in Kessel 10; is the only aniseed schnapps that “Tekirdag Rakisi No. 10″ all three distillation stages in this still.
The longest suspension bridge in the world
Four bridges span the Marmara region from the European to the Asian coast; the Bosphorus Bridges in Istanbul are three of them. Since April 2022 there has also been a connection across the Dardanelles: the Çanakkale 1915 Bridge is the world’s longest suspension bridge with a span of 2023 meters between the two 318 meter high pylons. Overall, the structure, which bridges the strait between the Sea of Marmara and the Aegean Sea, is almost 5.2 kilometers long.
Until the opening, drivers could only cross the Dardanelles by ferry or had to take a kilometer-long detour. With the Çanakkale 1915 Bridge, the travel time is reduced to four minutes; it is part of the O6 motorway, the first land connection across the waterway between Europe and Asia.
“Uludağ is the St. Moritz of Türkiye”
This marketing slogan of Turkish tourism professionals is quite justified, because of the dozen winter sports areas in the country, the Uludağ ski resort in the Marmara region is considered the most sophisticated. There are 22 chair and drag lifts as well as two gondolas in Uludağ – they take skiers and snowboarders up to 2322 meters.
From there there is a wide view of the untouched nature of Uludağ National Park; stretching across the southern slopes of the massif, it attracts day-trippers from nearby Bursa and, thanks to the Marmara high-speed ferries, Istanbul in all seasons. The more than 20 hotels in Uludağ cater to affluent clientele and are a preferred destination for Turkish pop stars and athletes, especially in January.
The physicist Hans Reichenbach, who emigrated to Turkey in 1933 and found the 2542 meter mountain suitable for winter sports, is considered Uludağ’s first skier.
Bizarre, record-breaking, typical: You can find more parts of our regional geography series here.