Emre from Overland Anatolia pointed us in the direction of Salda Gölü (Lake Salda). If you look at the satellite image (or map), you can see that the lake is not quite round, but then again it is round enough for me to ride around it. A trip with a minimum of 39km and possibly more if I wanted to make some excursions, depending on my curiosity.
The lake is a popular destination because of the white beaches and sparkling blue water. Somebody mentioned “Turkish Maldives”.
The white stuff: it’s not salt. It is hydromagnesite mineral deposit. The lake has an unusual alkaline nature: it is one of the few locations where ancient stromatolite algae still grows. Hoping to protect the Lake Salda area, the nation’s environmental authority has launched a huge national park project. The National Park is currently under construction and should be finished in 2023.
I’m not sure if that is good news: I was surprised by the fierceness that was displayed to “protect” the visitors area. I recently biked in Cappadocia and all was relaxed there, but here at the lake’s visitors centre it was absolutely not appreciated that I arrived there on my bike. I found later that I had been lucky(!) to ride clockwise, because this caused me to accidentally enter the fairly long access road just about halfway, using a dirt road. I did not know at that time that there was a toll gate at the (out of sight) beginning of the paved access road. So I guess they figured I had paid to be there, But it appeared that only pedestrians were allowed in and then they were ferried with electric carts to the sightseeing area at least 1km further. But once you were there, you could not go beyond the markings, which meant you would still be -at least- 200m away from the waterline…
But all was not lost. There is about 35km of coastline and I guess that in total 10km of that is reserved for “plaji” areas, “piknik”/camping areas and the national park reserve. The rest is freely accessible on foot, some of it by bike and even some of it by car if you dare. Here you can discover for yourself that it can be muddy, but at least you can just touch or pick up a piece of that hydromagnesite mineral that creates the white beaches. Only be beware of the glass… It is everywhere, thrown away and smashed to pieces all along the coast line. It would almost cause me to think that people here are not (yet) aware of the recyclable properties of glass and how to do that. Or they just don’t care.
So, how did I go round? I started at the northern side where it is easy to access the water line. Between the pine forest and the waterline is a gravel road that is just perfect for off road cycling for the whole family.
Don’t think it would not become more challenging than that. If you keep following the shore, the gravel road changes to a beach where you will find all sorts of surface: compacted, soft patches, tessellated dried out mud, ankle deep gravel and plain mud can all be conquered.
After that you enter the small asphalt road on the east side.
This road can be followed south all the way to Yesilova, but then you would steer away from the lake a bit. Before that you will encounter some serious cliffs (can’t miss them) and shortly after that it is possible to hop on the beach again on the south side. There will be a fence somewhere but it is easy to pass; it is only there to ward off cars. But as soon as you reach the Salda Gölü Belediye Halk Plaji, you will notice that it is not appreciated to ride close to the waterline. It has soft patches anyway, so try to stay on the gravel track behind the beach, where the cars are allowed to park. As soon as you pass the beach it is possible to follow the waterline more closely again. I would do so, because the asphalt road, the D330, on this (west) side is more frequently used. Better avoid it if possible, although this was the hardest off road part of this trip.
Sadly, on the west coast, there is more private property, so there comes a point when you have to get off the beach and follow the walls and barb wire that is supposed to protect property and income (paid access to certain parts of the waterline). So you end up on the D330 after all. But if you cycle along, you’ll notice that you can easily lift your bike over the guard rail, allowing you to follow the gravel road again that lies lower on the slope, between the pine trees that caress the coast line here. If you decide not to do that and just follow the D330, there will be a second chance to get of the D330. At some point the guard rail stops and is replaced by a fence. Ride a little further and you see a gate in the fence that gives easy access to the same gravel road.
Just follow the gravel until you notice that you are on the wrong side of the fence. Again. But this one is easily negotiated as well and only meant to discourage cars.
Now you are close to the whitest point along the lake, the visitors centre. As I wrote, I entered halfway. Actually there is a 7 Turkish Lira entrance fee which is OK, but the hostility against bicycles is NOT OK. I would say it is a perfectly environmentally friendly way to explore the lake and it’s surroundings.
Anyway, pass the visitor centre and go the the centre of the Salda village, then just keep right and when you are close to the lake again you can access the gravel road to make the circle complete.