Şarköy District is a string of towns and villages on the coast and just inland on the hills, sandwiched between the rolling hills of Mt Ganos to north and the Sea of Marmara to south, in the south of Eastern Thrace, northwestern Turkey.
Also known as the Thracian wine coast, Şarköy District is a reasonable day-trip while in the vicinity (e.g., Tekirdağ), and is good to take a dip in the sea, or to shop for local wines.
Until the 1920s, when the governments of Turkey and Greece agreed on a "population transfer" (in which Greeks of Turkey were to be expelled to Greece while Turks of Greece were to be expelled to Turkey), most of the district's population was consisting of local Greeks. Since then, the district is populated by Turks originally from Greek Macedonia and their descendants.
Mt. Ganos (Ganos Dağı, also known as Mt. Işıklar, Işıklar Dağı, and Mt. Tekir, Tekirdağ, which grants the nearby city of Tekirdağ its name, in modern Turkish), a range of low-lying hills which rise to 945 m at its highest (although hardly impressive by world standards, this is the second highest point of Turkish Thrace, which mostly consists of flatlands), forms the northern border of the district, its foothills some distance inland from the coast always being within the sight of bare eyes. For much of the history, local Greek Orthodox populations considered it holy, providing yet another name for it, Heraion Oros, which literally translates "the holy mountain". As a result, ruins of many monasteries dot the landscape, albeit fairly well hidden from the view in the isolated beaches and uncharted hillsides.
Much of the rural landscape of the district is covered by olive- and vineyards, the latter of which provides 40% of Turkey's total wine production. Shrimp is also another local product, fished from numerous dalyans, those clumsy-looking wooden piers streching out to the sea, always topped by a small hut on it. These structures are unique to the area, and are said to basically have the same conformation since the ancient times.
Şarköy District is named after its capital and biggest town, Şarköy (pop. 17,000). From west to east, the communities are as follow:
- 1 Şarköy. Ancient Peristeri or Peristasis, this town has a nice waterfront, and all urban services a traveller might expect to find.
- 2 Eriklice. Ancient Heraklitsa, this village has nice beaches with clear water (the local gossip says that the water samples for Şarköy's—now repealed—Blue Flag, which guarantees seawater purity, were actually taken from this village, which lies 10 km east from Şarköy).
- 3 Aşağı Kalamış (A. Kalamış on road signs). Ancient Kalamisia, this is an otherwise unremarkable coastal village, save for its beach and oliveyards surrounding it.
- 4 Mürefte. This town, second in population in the district to Şarköy, is a serious contender for being the area's main town, and it was the district capital during the Ottoman period. Its ancient/Greek name is Myriophyton, a fitting name as it translates "a thousand vineyards".
- 5 Hoşköy. Ancient Hora, also spelled Chora, Hoşköy, a nice town in itself, is also one of the bigger settlements along this strech of the coast.
- 6 Güzelköy. Just inland up on the hills from Hoşköy, Güzelköy, ancient Melen, is one of the best preserved Ottoman villages in the area, with stone houses, ruins of a bathhouse, and an old mosque.
- 7 Gaziköy. Ancient Ganos, Gaziköy is a coastal village with citadel ruins and desolate beaches. Together with Hoşköy (Hora), it used to form the Greek Orthodox metropolis of Ganohora (or Ganochora), a compound word that still lives on in the names of some tourism-related businesses in the area. Eastwards from here, Mt Ganos rises right from the coastline.
- 8 Uçmakdere. With its rather poetic name meaning "the heavenly stream" in Old Turkic, this is one of the most well-known, yet (until recently) the most inaccessible settlements in the area. Uçmakdere, or ancient Vidimo, is a picturesque village clinging inside a valley two km inland from the sea. Thanks to its remoteness, most of its traditional wooden houses is preserved (although some badly needs some sort of renovation).
- 9 Yeniköy. Not in the district (it is part of the neighbouring Süleymanpaşa District centred in the city of Tekirdağ), this semi-abandoned mountain village with its wooden houses cascading down on the side of a valley, is almost always visited on an itinerary that encompasses the Şarköy District. Its modern Turkish name, and the ancient Greek one (Nikori), mean "the new village", as the history of settlement here dates back a couple centuries as opposed to millenia in the others nearby.
You will notice that the more east you go, the remoter, less crowded, and less urban it is along the district.
Thanks to the protective shield offered by Mt Ganos from the cold continental winds running down from the Balkans, the district enjoys a micro-climate, which is more reminiscent of a Mediterranean climate than the continental climate experienced elsewhere in Thrace—the olive trees, which are a species typically flourishing in Mediterranean climate, are here for a good reason. In short, it's always warmer (and comfortably so) than elsewhere in Thrace in winter (though expect no Antalya here—it does snow in most winters, although lighter than the rest of Thrace); summer conditions are similar with other nearby places, but the summer showers common in the north are less likely in this district (albeit, only slightly).
Unless you are heading there specifically for a swim, spring (e.g., April, when fruit trees all over the place are in full bloom) and autumn (October, time for grape harvest, and when the weather is extremely pleasant and sunny enough) months tend to be loveliest time to visit.
This is by far the most convenient way of getting to the area, especially if you want to traverse the district along its entire length.
The most common approach to the district is taking the D-555 highway, which branches off the main D-110/E-84 between Tekirdağ and Keşan. The D-555 twists and turns over the hills on its route to Şarköy, but is on national highway standards so is safe to use any time of the year.
Another popular route is the recently surfaced mountain road (59-50) starting from the regional resort town of Kumbağ, 15 km southwest of Tekirdağ. Having more than its fair share of extreme hairpin turns, it now has guardrails and neat signage along much of its very scenic route through pine groves and hillsides overlooking the sea. However, after heavy rains, its surface tends to be covered by sharp rock pieces that can easily give your tires (and to you) a very hard time, especially considering that there is absolutely no repair services of any kind between Tekirdağ and Mürefte.
If that doesn't sound adventurous enough, there is a third route coming in from the north, a dirt mountain track that crosses the Mt Ganos near its highest summit, the Radartepe (which has a semi-abandoned radar station on its top watching the sea traffic in Marmara). The track starts from the village of Ormanlı on the north, inland, side of the mountain (which can be approached by a well surfaced road branching off the D-110/E-84 in İnecik towards the direction of Sağlamtaş—soon after you made it through the village of Tatarlı on that road, start to look for the small Ormanlı sign on the left). On its southern end, it connects to Güzelköy, from where a tarmac road leads down to Hoşköy on the coast. This route is best not attempted during and immediately after the wet season due to the huge rocks and large channels cut out by the rainwater all over the place.
There are no gas stations between Kumbağ and Mürefte.
Frequent buses connect Şarköy with Istanbul and Tekirdağ, taking the first route (D-555) mentioned above. Most, if not all, of them continue on to Hoşköy, also passing through Mürefte, during the summer. East of Hoşköy is problematic if you have to use the public transport—the minibuses heading for Gaziköy, Uçmakdere and Yeniköy have a service only once a day (and even that might not be available on every day of the week) and they are more geared towards the villagers going to the principal towns of the region (Şarköy and Tekirdağ) in the morning, and returning to the villages in the evening, which make them impractical to use if you are intending on daytripping to the these villages.
Seasonal ferries may be available between Şarköy and the Marmara Islands across the Marmara Sea.