Gallipoli Peninsula

The Gallipoli Peninsula

Battlefields and beautiful landscapes

Development has done its worst for much of Turkish Thrace, the country’s fragment of European territory, as Istanbul’s inexorable expansion continues westwards. Things improve beyond Tekirdağ while at Gelibolu (Gallipoli) the landscape turns positively pristine. That’s because the Gallipoli Peninsula has been scrupulously protected against development since 1915, when perhaps 150,000 Turkish, Anzac, British and French soldiers lost their lives here.

This 40-mile peninsula, with the Dardanelles Strait running along its southern shore, is first and foremost a deeply moving place. The real surprise, however, is that it’s not merely a series of battlegrounds, memorials and cemeteries, but an area of exceptional natural beauty; a folded land of traditional farmsteads, forests and sweet-smelling Mediterranean scrub which holds enormous appeal for bird-watchers, reflective types and walkers (though the local trails are not nearly as developed as they might be). The dead may be here in great number but there are few living on the peninsula, and with the exception of the springtime visitor season, April and May weekends especially, this is largely an area of exquisite tranquillity. It’s also home to some excellent beaches, especially north towards Suvla Bay, though swimming where men died in such numbers can give rise to mixed feelings.

The main memorial sites are concentrated in two areas: at southernmost Cape Helles, where the British landed, and northwards around Anzac Cove, main landing beach for the Australian and New Zealand forces. In each case the modest road runs as a one-way circuit around the main sites. There are remote and lovely cemeteries which can only be reached on foot like The Farm and Plugge’s Plateau while another exceptional attraction is the village museums where moving war relics – coins, lockets, bullets, Bibles, buttons, wheelbarrows – are on display. It also pays to take the regular half-hour ferry across the Dardanelles to Canakkale; in this attractive and agreeably liberal town I drank surprisingly cheap wine in the patio garden of the Sardunya Restaurant where a mixed-sex meeting of the local Green Party, hardly a typically Turkish gathering, was taking place.

The outstanding stay is at Gallipoli Houses.  There’s also the period Hotel Kervansaray in Canakkale.

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