İğneada is a beautiful small fishing town surrounded by an immense forestal area, located in the Black Sea Coast of the Turkey. The town is close to Bulgarian border, has a very beautiful nature and around 22 kms of swimmable, sandy coastline on which you can walk, lay down and swim as private as you like. Having more than 7 lakes, rivers and a big protected national park of longos type forest (means flooded forest), this place is a hidden paradise for nature and wildlife enthusiasts. Having such a long coast line, this place also supports regular summer beach tourism which mostly attracts local tourists and a few foreign tourists. İğneada hosts around 200 migrating bird species from both Asia and Europe migration routes, which makes it a great place for bird watching and nature photography. Besides birds, it is possible to see more than half of the mammal and reptile species of Turkish fauna in the surrounding forestal area. I was born in this area and lived there in 80s and 90s until I left it for school. Since then, I visit the town often. Although it is my hometown, I will write this article as objectively as I can to inform you about the pro's and con's of making a visit here.
İğneada is a small town in which local people earn their life from fishing, forestry and tourism. Although the town has such a beautiful coast and sandy beach, tourism did not evolved here until 2000s, which left the place rather secluded and not spoiled by mass tourism. Being located in the Black Sea coast on the Northwest of Turkey, the summer season of İğneada is shorter and milder compared to Turkish Mediterranean Coast, starting from mid June to the end of August. The temperature is mild and around 30~35 degrees in summer and -5~15 degrees in winter period. In the summer season, the sea of İğneada is calm and warm most of the time but some storms may happen even in the summer. Sea water is quite pleasant to swim in because of low salinity of the Black Sea.
In 90s, fishing and forestry, which are the main support of İğneada economy, have declined, causing many of the locals of the town to migrate out of the town. Unfortunately, today many of the İğneada locals are living and working in other cities, and in the winter season, the population gets as low as 1000. In the 90s, the lands and the traditional housing were sold by locals of İğneada were bought and demolished to build villas, apartments and other constructions, converting the authentic balkan town atmosphere of İğneada into a concrete villa city. Today, the traditional architecture is rare to see, but can still be found in the neighbouring villages of İğneada. So, do not get surprised with the amount of concrete if you make a visit there. In the summer period, the town undergoes a change, restaurants and supermarkets open and the town hosts as much as 10-20 thousand of tourist and villa owners.
The forestal area of İğneada is immense and extends beyond Bulgaria. Currently there are some regions in which forestry is allowed, and regions which are protected as nature site. The protected nature area is located on the southern coast of İğneada, next to the lake which is neighboring the town. This protected forest ecosystem is rare type of 'longos forest', which means it gets completely flooded in winter and dries in summer season. This type of ecosystem is rare in Europe, only existing in Poland as far as I know, and interesting to see. İğneada has many rivers and lakes inside the forestal area, two of which are close to the town, and the others available by long walks or by vehicle. It is quite possible to spot and watch many migrating bird species just in the lakes next to town, such as white heron, black stork and black ibis, hoopoe woodpeckers and if you travel deep into national park, rare bird species migrating from Asia and Europe and many kingfishers can be spotted depending on the season you visit there.
Walking on the long coastline in the south of the town, it is possible to see many seabird species on your way, and end up in another beautiful lake which is inside the protected nature area. I highly recommend you arrange yourself a guide to see the forest or national park, because it is quite big and no guided walking paths nor maps for walkers exist yet. Guided tours are available in the town in all seasons.
The northern area of the town has another lake to spot water birds, mostly swans; a stone beach with the calmest water of İğneada coast, a fishing harbor, another hidden beach next to that harbor, and about 7.5 km away a village of İğneada called 'Limanköy' which is interesting to see with a historical lighthouse next to vast rock cliffs overlooking Bulgaria. Going more north with a vehicle, you can visit the village 'Beğendik' which is an authentic village just next to the Bulgarian border. It is possible to see another Bulgarian village in the distance here.
How to go there
Travelling to İğneada is possible from Istanbul taking a direct bus, or travelling to Lüleburgaz first and taking a bus from there. Unfortunately it does not have a connection with ferry, nor a yatch harbour yet.
When to go there
That depends on what you like to do there. If you like to see the beach and planning a summer vacation , the summer period mentioned above is the time to go there. Outside summer period, the sea is stormy and unswimmable. If you go early June and late August, it will be little bit less crowded than the middle summer high season. If you want to see the nature or see the protected nature area, do wildlife photography or bird watching, summer period is not the best for you. We have mentioned how vast the forest area is and the amount of lakes and rivers it includes. Such an ecosystem hosts a lot of different mosquitos and stinging fly species, which get quite abundant and active in summer season, making it impossible to penetrate into the forest, no matter you use protection or not. In summer you can only walk the open areas and lake sides and cannot stay inside the forest. The forest is most beautiful in autumn and winter season, and also in early spring like March and April.
Where to stay
İğneada has one big 3 star hotel on the beach side and other smaller hotels and pensions in the city center and along the coast. Those are open all seasons to host nature enthusiasts visiting outside of the summer season. Summer season is the most crowded period of the town and I recommend you arrange your stay in advance if you are planning to visit in summer. Hotels generally have English speaking personnel to help foreign tourists.
Where to eat
İğneada has permanent and some seasonal restaurants because the population differs a lot in summer and winter time. Some of those open and close each year by different people, so the quality of food differs each year. So like always it is good to get recommendations from local people and people you meet there. Local food specialities are mostly on fish and grilled meat. Regional fresh fish available are blacksea tarbot (depending on the season and luck), blacksea anchovy, bluefish, red and gray mullet, garpike fish, bonito and horse mackerel. The restaurants on the top of the harbor has been existing there as long as I know İğneada and has good fish and meat menu depending on the season, together with a nice sunset view of the harbour. There are other restaurants in the center close to the beach which cook fresh fish upon availability. The town has an authentic ice cream maker in the center which is a must to try if you visit there. The village 'Limanköy' has a calm and beautiful place which you can have local breakfast in the center of the village. In the village coast of "Beğendik", a nice family cooks a kind of beer chicken on the wood fire called "Tenekede tavuk" upon reservation, a must if you go there.
Please be informed that in Turkey, summer season has restrictions for fishing and it is forbidden to do fishing with big fishing nets. So if you go there on summer period, chance of finding fresh fish is low. So in summer you will likely be served frozen fish, unless you ask for the availability of fresh fish. İğneada does not fish calamar and shrimps, so if you order those, they are always frozen.
Things to be careful
Even in the summer season İğneada can experience stormy weather with wild sea. It is highly risky to swim in such weather because of the nature of the black sea having rip currents with waves. In the past, many cases of drowning on stormy days took place in the summer period. At other times, it is quite ok to swim. We have already mentioned the mosquitos in summer, there are many different mosquito species in İğneada together with deer fly, horse fly and other stinging fly species. Illness from those is not reported but it is advised not to enter the longos forest in their active season (summer) whether or not you use repellents or protection. The coastal part to the harbor has a border military station looking towards the seaside and this station includes a coastal region. If you want to walk the beach to the north of the town, all the way to the harbor, you will be stopped on the military yard and checked. It is better to switch in this region to the ordinary road and reenter the beach after the military station. Also the border towns and the river which makes the Bulgarian and Turkish border has patrol stations with soldiers, it is forbidden to enter those areas.
İğneada is a hidden paradise if you are looking for a town having beautiful nature with vast coastal and forestal areas, hosts many different bird and animal species to see and different rare ecosystems to discover. Also it is a nice destination if you want to discover the black sea coast or Thracian part of the Turkey. İğneada also has many close by villages which are quite interesting to discover, and is close to other popular tourist spots of the area such as the town Demirköy. Unfortunately nowadays this beautiful area has its threats, starting from the massive villa construction plans, a nuclear and a thermal power plant planned in the location by the Turkish Government, and an industrial harbor which is planned to cover most of the town's northern coast. There are currently massive protests on both Turkish and Bulgarian sides, so we hope those future plans will be cancelled and this place will stay as beautiful as it is now.