COVID-19 has made many of us appreciate nature more. For some, it has been the chance to slow down and enjoy nature, like the sounds of birds chirping as streets emptied of the usual rumbling of traffic during a lockdown or strolling in local parks to clear our minds from the constant news of the pandemic.
However, green spaces in cities might be limited, so now more than ever, you might be looking for some easy escapes to spend time in nature. For those based in Istanbul - or planning a holiday there - there are many parks and nature reserves you can visit either on a day or overnight trip out of the city. You could ponder life from a lake or island, watch the gentle gait of a deer or look for wild berries as you hike through some woodlands. Here are some of our favourite places to head to when we want to breathe fresh air and escape Istanbul.
Princes’ Islands (Kizil Adalar or Adalar)
Get out of the bustle of Istanbul and into silence! A day trip to the Princes' Islands will revive you from city-living, with its chain of nine small islands in the Sea of Marmara. Across all of these islands, you won't find motorised vehicles - they are banned - and in their place are the gentle dings of bicycle bells and the clomping of horse hoofs. As you wander the narrow streets on these islands, smell the scent of the pine forests wafting through the air. Pack your swimwear and a towel! We recommend the beaches at the Buyukada, Heybeliada, Burgazada, Kinaliada and Sedefadasi islands. Get there by either the sea buses (fast ferries) or the regular ferries (the slower option).
Ormanya Wildlife Park in Kocaeli
Ormanya Living Nature Park is the largest natural reserve in Europe and the third in the world. Spend a day strolling around the zoo, learn what they do at the wildlife rehabilitation centre and bring your hiking shoes to explore the 26 kilometres of hiking and biking paths. This park boasts 75 animal species, including horses, alpacas, deer and antelopes. There are also birds such as ducks, swans, peacocks, lovebirds and emus. If the pandemic has you craving wide, open spaces, then this park, set over 988 acres, will scratch that itch. This park is about 1 hour 30 minutes out of Istanbul and is well worth spending a whole day.
When forests meet beaches, you can't go wrong. Agva is on the Black Sea Coast and is between Yesilcay River and Goksu River. There are beautiful beaches and two rivers, so your choice, riverbank gazing or beach lounging? If you feel like something a bit more active, a trek through the woodlands will be a nice change from trekking through concrete in Istanbul, which is about 100 kilometres away. One of the best hiking tracks is the Kurfalli walking track, where you will walk parallel with the Goksu River and then into the woods, while the sound of the waves of the Black Sea will be your calming soundtrack. There are also Kurfalli dunes to see and chestnut woods. You also might see some wild strawberry, rosehip, and various mushroom species. It's only an hour and a half out of Istanbul, but it's worth looking at spending a night in the area to make the most of it.
Flamingokoy in Catalca
Forget the stresses of city life and admire the flamingo birds' pink plumage at the Flamingoköy nature park and restaurant in Çatalca. But be warned, these birds like to get close to you while you dine, sometimes even taking food from your hand! This restaurant is focused on its breakfast menu made of natural organic products, while there is also a barbecue service, where you can purchase meats from the town and have them cooked for you in this village.
Let that pandemic and city stress ease off you as the mist from this waterfall envelops you. It was declared a national monument in 2013 and is only a few hours outside of Istanbul. It sits within the Maksudiye village of Geyve district of Sakarya, and the road to the waterfall is also used as a walking path. You will pass through a beautiful dense forest, along a path that will lead you to this three-stage waterfall. Feel free to go for a dip in the waterfall pool, but beware there are plenty of rocks, and the water is about 1.5 metres deep.
Lake Poyrazlar National Park
Bird watchers will be in their element at the Lake Poyrazlar Golu National Park, which is just outside Adapazari in Sakarya province. There are over 150 different types of birds spotted in this area, many of them native. The lake is also home to a wide variety of fish, including carp and perch, and it is possible for visitors to angle or just rent water bicycles on the lake and explore this beautiful gem only two hours' drive from Istanbul. Pack a picnic and find a spot on the lush grass to while away a few hours overlooking the deep blues of Lake Poyrazlar.
The pandemic has impacted all our lives, but among the stress, we are finding ways to cope. Nature is one of the greatest antidotes, and even living in the largest city in Turkey there are ways to get out and enjoy it.
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