Saray is a town (pop. 25,000) in Eastern Thrace, Turkey. On the southern foothills of the verdant Istranca Mountains that extend along the northeastern coast of Thrace, Saray is a hub for visiting nearby towns and Black Sea beaches.
A quintessential Thracian town with moderately left leaning middle class inhabitants, Saray has so far happily escaped the heavy industrialization of its southern neighbours, which turned them into far flung suburbs of Istanbul.
Some earliest relics of Stone Age Thrace was found in the nearby Güngörmez Cave (not easily accessible) in the village of the same name.
Two main bus companies serve Saray.
- Yonca Birlik provides frequent buses from Istanbul (2 hrs, 14 TL), and daily buses from further away in the country, such as Izmir.
- Kale Birlik is more of a local company, with frequent buses from Tekirdağ (2 hrs), Çorlu and elsewhere in Thrace.
The local 1 bus station is less than 500 m east of the central square (Bülent Ecevit Park).
The nearest train station is in Çerkezköy, which used to provide a link with Istanbul on the cheap, but as of 2015, no trains serve Turkey's biggest city due to railtrack reconstructions. Services from Edirne and Uzunköprü in the west to Çerkezköy have been re-started, though.
Saray lies on two minor highways: D-020 is the northern and much less travelled route along the foothills of the Istrancas between Istanbul and Kırklareli. For the first 20 or so kilometres out of Istanbul, it is a road in motorway stardards going through a ravaged nature due to some large scale constructions (the third beltway of Istanbul and the new airport) and open pit mining, turning into a pleasant, narrow forest road as you progress westwards. The other highway, D-567 connects to Çerkezköy in the south and Tekirdağ further on that direction. Part of it between Kapaklı and Saray is under construction works as of 2015, which requires a bit of careful driving.
Saray is small enough that everything is within easy reach by walking. A large park named after Bülent Ecevit (a deceased former Turkish prime minister) is more or less the focal point of the town.
- 1 Ayas Paşa Mosque (Ayas Paşa Camii) (on the main square). A petty Ottoman mosque with a single minaret built in 1539. Its mostly whitewashed interior features some basic Islamic art of various geometrical patterns and figures roughly depicting the tree of life. In its courtyard are the graves of some members of the Crimean Giray dynasty. Free.
For the Black Sea beach of Kastro, one of the main draws of the area, see the "Go next" section below.
In the surrounding villages, you will soon notice the frequently placed signs advertising local manda yoğurdu (water buffalo yoghurt), so you know the deal. A fair price for a kilogram of it is 7-8 TL.
Saray has a disproportionate to its population number of birahanes (beerhouses), where it means sipping a beer with the locals or enjoying the sun at a rooftop patio.
There is a pleasant 1 café with outdoor seating in the Bülent Ecevit Park, where a small glass of strongly brewed Turkish tea costs 1 TL.
The sandy Black Sea beach of 1 Kastro or Çamlıkoy ("pine cove") is backed by a lush forest that is almost magical during the morning mist, with a beautiful water lily-filled river to boot. In addition to the broadleaf forests that dominate the area, this is the site of the only black pine strand in Thrace, and the beach is home to a rare and threatened species of sand lily, which fill the air with their sweet scent in September. The enthusiasts of local geopolitics will also want to note that this few kilometres strech is the only window of Tekirdağ Province, which mainly extends along the Sea of Marmara to the south, on the Black Sea (the cottages built by the Forest Ministry on the other side of the river is actually in Kırklareli Province).
Get in: Kastro lies 7 km off the Saray-Kıyıköy road (59-03), about 30 km northeast of Saray in total. Watch out for the small sign where the road to Kastro branches off the main one. The full extent of the road is sealed, and except for the last 7 km, the section on the secondary road, is pothole free. There is no public transportation to the site — the buses heading for Kıyıköy from Saray can bring you to the junction, but you will have to walk or hitchhike the last part. If you happen to visit in summer, try to avoid the weekends as the area is then a very popular camping site for the quite noisy families from Istanbul, who like to cook a lot of meat in fires. The entrance charge is 22 TL/car for day use, 37 TL/car for overnight stays (2016) regardless of the number of the passengers.
Eat and Sleep: There is a couple overpriced restaurants on the beach, as well as an, again overpriced, store, so bringing along all the food and drinks you need from the town is a good idea. There is a number of bungalows in the forest (subject to an extra fee), but they get filled up pretty quickly, so either book well in advance or, better yet, bring along a tent.
Stay safe: No matter how popular it may look for swimmers, the sea here is prone to strong rip currents invisible from the surface — the best way to escape out of one is not to swim against it towards the coast, but is to swim in parallel with the coastline so as to get out of it. And no matter how close that rocky islet may seem to the beach, it is not — don't try swimming out to it.
- Kıyıköy — historic hilltop village surrounded by ancient walls and with brilliant views over the Black Sea. Add two charming rivers and an impressive rock cut monastery to the mix, and you'll soon wonder why it is so undervisited.
- Vize — a beautiful Byzantine cathedral named Hagia Sophia (contemporary with its much better known cousin of the same name in Istanbul) and the ruins of a castle attest that this was a much more important city in the past.
- Saray lies on the northern route of the Sultans Trail, retracing the steps of the Ottoman sultan Suleiman the Magnificent during his Vienna Campaign of 1529 between Istanbul and Vienna. The next major town westwards is Vize. Çatalca is the next major town in the east, but it lies on the southern branch of the route — from the village of İhsaniye, take the 3-km shortcut to Kabakça to get there.