Travelling, Trekking and Tasting in Thrace
Aylin Öney Tan - firstname.lastname@example.orgI was dead tired, but I didn’t hesitate a moment to wake up at 6 in the morning to catch an early flight to Istanbul to go to the Thrace region. We were about to explore a tourism route on gastronomic, historical and natural assets created by the triple effort of Edirne, Tekirdağ and Kırklareli provinces. I was in Süleymanpaşa, Tekirdağ just two months ago for the Thrace Wine Competition, and then went all the way to Şarköy and Gallipoli, making me realize that every time I travel to this less explored part of Turkey, I regret not coming here more often.
The Thrace Tourism Route is a newly launched project initiated by the Thrace Development Agency with the collaboration of Thrace University, local Tourism and Culture Directorates, local governments, Thrace Tourism Association and the three major municipalities of Edirne, Kırklareli and Süleymanpaşa of Tekirdağ. Led by an academic team under the supervision of Nilüfer Vatansever Toylan from Kırklareli University, together with Trakya and Namık Kemal Universities, the project aims at starting off many sub-projects to attract visitors to this much neglected yet interesting part of Turkey, the tiny European bit of the country.
Thrace has the unique setting of having shores on three different seas, making it ideal for picking the ideal beach within a couple of hours, according to one’s taste. Lonely beaches lined on the shores of the North Aegean, Marmara and Black seas offer unlimited choice in summer. Both the landscapes and the tables of Thrace have this unlimited choice of diversity. The gentle slopes of Thrace are covered with a striking yellow blanket in spring when the rapeseed fields blossom. Rapeseed is a rather new crop cultivated for canola oil; another oil source is the delightful sunflower, again painting fields in a striking cheerful yellow, so reminiscent of a Van Gogh painting. The southern shores of Thrace have the silvery shimmer of olive grooves; thus the tables are adorned with the green freshness of olive oil. One must also note the notoriously toilsome sesame harvest, another experience to witness. The vineyards and fruit orchards are a delight for combining nature and gastronomy, especially in the cherry-picking season. Needless to say, all harvest periods are occasions for festivities with special foods and rituals tied to it.
The natural assets are not only confined to beautiful landscapes dotted with vineyards and serene coastline; there are seriously important natural treasures such as the İğneada Longoz Ormanı and the Floodplain Forests National Park in Kırklareli. The seasonal flooding of the forest basin creates a rare ecosystem of marshes, swamps, lakes and rivers contrasting starkly with the neighboring sand dunes on the shores of the Black Sea. Such uniqueness also extends to the architectural masterpieces of the great Ottoman architect Sinan, whose last monumental mosque, Selimiye, adorns the city of Edirne. A route dedicated to his works could be another possible culture route, which alone would be worth exploring. The project categorizes tourism attractions under four headings, namely, gastronomy, nature, history, and faith. Edirne leads in the latter, with its newly restored synagogue, a Bahai house, mosques and churches. Edirne is usually visited for the magnificent Selimiye mosque and the famed crispy fried liver, but there is much more to discover. Our dinner co-hosted by the friendly mayor of Edirne, Recep Gürkan, and Gov. Günay Özdemir, displayed an amazing range of lesser known imperial dishes such as wild duck dumplings, baked pouches of liver studded spicy pilaf encased in caul fat, slow cooked lamb’s neck with apricots and figs, a velvety almond soup, as well as the amazingly tasty marzipan morsels served with coffee; all proving that culinary heritage alone is a strong asset in the region. On my way back, I found myself already making plans to come back, definitely to explore more about this rich diversity of dishes and amazing products.
Important Note: Ankara might be closer to Thrace destinations compared to Istanbul. There are direct flights from Ankara to Çorlu airport at convenient hours to make the most of one’s stay, ideal for a short escape from Anatolia plains over the weekend. That is the closest one can get to Europe!
Bite of the week
Recipe of the week: The recipe of the week comes from a book compiled by Ali Çakır, leader of Thrace Slow Food Convivium. As simple as it is, the key is the ingredient, the unmatchable pumpkin of Sislioba. Take one middle-sized pumpkin and cut it into big chunks, removing the hard rind. You should have about 3 kg of pumpkin pieces. Soak the pumpkin slices in slaked lime water for a couple of hours and then wash thoroughly. Put 2 L of local grape molasses (pekmez) diluted with 400 ml water in a large pot and bring it to a boil. Add the pumpkin pieces and cook until tender. So simple!
Fork of the Week: Even the soaps in Edirne are in the form of luscious fruits. This town really has a deep multi-faceted food culture, having roots from its imperial background. Don’t leave without the almond paste/marzipan and Kavala-style almond cookies. Another must shopping items are the products of Vize in Kırklareli, one of Turkey’s few Slow Cities. Linden-flavored Turkish delight, goat milk dulche di leche, hot pepper jam, and unripe green walnut preserves make ideal food gifts for Christmas. Note also that the best cheeses in Turkey come from Thrace, especially from Kırklareli.
Cork of the Week: Arcadia vineyards with the lovely Bakucha Boutique Hotel is an ideal spot of escape close to Kırklareli, offering a wide range of delicious wines made from grapes rarely grown in Turkey like Sauvignon Gris, Pinot Gris, Cabernet Franc and their newly launched sumptuous Arcadia 333 Late Harvest Botrytis, a deeply honey-like delight created by the noble rot, just fit for Christmas.