The wine route in Thrace, Turkey
Table of Contents
(Istanbul, Turkey) – Thrace is in the European part of Turkey, bordering on Greece and Bulgaria. In ancient times, Dionysus, the God of wine, was worshipped in Thrace and therefore it’s no surprise that viticulture flourished in Thrace for thousands of years. The soil and climate lend themselves to the cultivation of excellent wines, a tradition which has recently been revived by the creation of especially environment-friendly and ecological small vineyards.
The three main winegrowing regions in Thrace are around Edirne, Tekirdag, and Kirklareli. Several different wine routes have been mapped out for wine enthusiasts to follow, allowing them to visit the wineries, staying in boutique hotels which are often connected to the vineyards, taking part in wine tastings and, sometimes, even in the harvest.
Apart from the vineyards, the heritage of Byzantine, Greco-Roman and Ottoman culture invites to visits to historical sites. Moreover, the varied landscapes of Thrace with beaches, mountains and even caves and rainforests make following the wine route a travel experience of a different an unusual kind.
How to get there
The nearest international airport is in Istanbul. From there it’s a 1-2 hour car ride, either by hired car or taxi. If you are not pressed for time, you can also travel by long-distance coach from Istanbul’s Esenler Coach Terminal.
The Thrace Wine Route Map
Best time to visit
With a continental climate tempered by the influence of the nearby Aegean Sea, Sea of Marmara and the Black Sea, it gets very cold in winter and hot in summer. The best time to visit and enjoy the wine route experience is in April at ‘bud breaking’ and September/October at harvest time.
A comfortable round trip might start in the beach town of Tekirdag on the shore of the Sea of Marmara. It’s a very pleasant town with a white beach, yacht harbor an outstanding museum: Tekirdag museum with stone carved steles and findings from Naip Mound, a prehistoric nearby village. A visit to the reconstructed village, a few miles away, is great fun. Another must-see is the Rustem Pasha Mosque one of the masterpieces of Ottoman court architect Sinan, built in 1552.
Where to stay
The fabulous Ramada Tekirdag Hotel (check rates) is a great choice. 4-star hotel on the beach, just 2 miles from the famous port with indoor and outdoor pool and all amenities. Near a shopping mall with a great selection of handmade Turkish leather goods. Ample breakfast buffet, wifi and a beach restaurant to eat other meals.
The emphasis is this tour is on wine, so make your first stop just 50km south of Tekirdag at the Barbare Vineyard (website). It’s a relatively new winery, only started in 2000 when a wine enthusiast by the name of Can Topsakal purchased 230 acres of land among the rolling hills and has since then produced great Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot grapes. As much as possible the winemaking process is done by hand and this is one of the vineyards where guests are welcome to participate in the harvest for an extraordinary experience.
Of course, there are wine tastings, barbeques and great meals and you stay in the brand new 6 room boutique hotel, run by the daughter of the owner. A highlight: plunge into the outdoor Jacuzzi at night and watch the stars. The owner treats guests like family, you couldn’t wish for a better start to the wine route.
Next stop on the wine route is Kirklareli, about 120km to the NE of Tekirdag. The road winds through woods and vineyards, along lakes and rivers. Halfway to Kirklareli stop at the next boutique vineyard in Arcadia (official website). The vineyard is designed as a gastronomic oasis in nature with vineyards, chateau type winery, orchards, vegetable gardens and oak groves. If you wish to spend the night, you can stay at the 24 room hotel which only opened in 2014.
Otherwise, continue to the city of Kirklareli. A history museum, Jewish quarters with synagogue and Arasta bazaar are worth a visit but more impressive is a trip to the nearby rainforest, Igneada Longoz, Europe’s largest floodplain forest which has been declared a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve. Crossing the forest you reach the Dupnisa cave complex in the Strangja mountains. The cave is home to 16 different species of bats, so watch out. Well lighted and with footpaths among the stalagmites and stalactites it’s a comfortable walk through the cave.
For wines with intense aroma make your way to Dessera Vineyards, at the foot of the Strandja mountains. A curiosity: the owners, the Donmez family, started out by planting walnut trees before turning to grapes.
The last leg of this specific wine route leads from Kirklareli 70km east to Edirne. The city which was the second Ottoman capital after Bursa is so full of historic and interesting sights that you should plan for a day at least.
Where to stay
In keeping with the Ottoman tradition, the Tasodalar Hotel (check rates) near to the Suleymaniye Mosque is the ideal place. The city center and all interesting sites are within walking distance and a Hamman to relax and refresh yourself is right next door.
Where to eat
Due to the influence of many cultures, Thrace’s rich and diverse cuisine is a food lover’s paradise.
Lalezar Restaurant on Karaagac Road is a fine place to eat and sample Edirne’s specialties. Number 1 of those is pan-fried, breaded liver, served with rice, onions, and mint. Other delicious dishes are grilled lamb sausages, lettuce wraps, prepared much the same way as for stuffed wine leaves and Tarhana soup. Finish off with a sweet dessert, drenched in local honey and sprinkled with almonds and walnuts.
What to see
Dominating the ‘skyline’ is the massive Selimiye mosque which can be seen from everywhere in the city. A UNESCO World Heritage site, it’s a prime example of Ottoman architecture, built in 1575 by master architect Sinan. Look up and admire the richly decorated dome and chandelier, look down and marvel at the colorful prayer carpet, divided into squares which indicates a place for each worshipper. Along the walls, you find thousands of blue Ismit ceramic tiles decorated with calligraphy and ornamental designs.
The second most important site of Edirne is the Beyazid II complex, about 2km from the city center. Build between 1484 and 1488 the complex consist of a mosque, two guest houses, a medicine madrasa, a school, and kitchen. Studies and especially medicine were the goal of Sultan Bayaxid II who ordered the complex. Reconstructions of scenes from the time in many rooms and showcases bring the golden days of Edirne to life. The complex is surrounded by lovely gardens and there is a tea house and a small restaurant.
The river Tunca flows through Edirne and several bridges cross the water with an unusual round tower at the end of one.
A curiosity not to be missed is the old Karaagac train station, just 4 km from the city center. The building itself is a great example of Ottoman Neo-Classic style and it was in 1920 a major stop for trains running to Istanbul.
Agatha Christie, who traveled to Turkey by train extensively used to get off at this stop and have tea in the station restaurant. You can do the same and sit at her table.
Karaagac has since lost it’ function but the train days are remembered by two steam locomotives, polished and in a prime condition which are sitting on the old rails.
Shopping is a pleasant part of any journey and you have a great choice in Edirne. For all kinds of traditional things, browse the Alipasha Bazaar. Otherwise just stroll along Edirne’s busiest street, Saraclar Street, where you find everything from small shops selling white cheese candy or almond dip to department stores and craft shops.
If you are interested to experience the Thrace wine route, please consult the Thrace Tourism Operators Association’s website: http://www.trakyabagrotasi.com
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