It's easy for islands to try too hard. So you know you've found paradise when a place is effortlessly charming. With only two weeks in Turkey, we searched for a beach destination that wasn't far from Istanbul, somewhere to relax and enjoy the last throes of summer. We found it in pretty Bozcaada (whose ancient name is Tenedos) and were lucky enough to arrive in time for the annual wine festival.
The island is quaint and picturesque with beautiful sand beaches, friendly people and a thriving cafe and restaurant scene. We enjoyed poking around in the market stalls, watching the locals play games like backgammon and rummikub in the tea gardens and idling away afternoons at the shore. In town, visitors can also find a castle, cobblestone streets and delicious fish restaurants. The high season is busy with mostly Turkish tourists but the island absorbs the crowds well and we found it to be mostly peaceful. Aside from the wine festival, of course.
Festivities ran over two days, with contests, parades, music and dancing. At the centre of town near the statue of Ataturk, children managed mules and horse-drawn buggies carrying huge baskets of grapes. The grapes were handed out to the crowd while people posed for photographs and headed off on tractor rides around the island to visit the vineyards and drink wine while watching the sunset. At dusk, speeches were made and dancers performed before everyone headed to the castle for free concerts on Friday and Saturday night. We made our way to the wine houses to sample the local offerings.
Turkish wine is in an interesting predicament. It's not difficult to find high quality domestic wines but they are taxed heavily by the government, making them very expensive. The same problem exists for other alcoholic beverages. Many people make their own wine, adding a fun twist to the country's beverage scene. Despite the high prices (which still seem quite low by our standards) samples of wine are free and the three producers we visited had many varieties on offer.
The standouts to try here are Kuntra, Sauvignon Blanc, Cabernet Sauvignon and Karalahna as well as the dessert wines. We visited Corvus, Talay and Çamlibag, finding the bottles to be well-priced if purchased at the cellar door. Taking a leisurely drive around the island is highly recommended to see the vineyards and rolling hills with the sea as a perfect backdrop.
And, of course, a stop at one of the many beaches is a must. We split our time between the popular Ayazma and one of the more secluded beaches that can only be reached with your own transport. At Ayazma and Habbele beaches, sunbathers can rent lounge chairs and an umbrella for five lira each (just sit on one and a staff member will come by to collect the money). The water is chilly but refreshing and a couple of beers and some delicious kofte from the Koreli beach bar provided the energy we needed to take the plunge. Frequent buses go to these beaches from the square right next to the castle (three lira per person).
We loved Bozcaada so much we ended up staying an extra day. This romantic little island is truly a piece of paradise not far from Istanbul. I recommend getting here before everyone else discovers it too.
Getting there: From Istanbul and the major cities, regular buses will bring you to Çanakkale. From there you'll find frequent minibus connections to the Geyikli Yukyeri port. Ferries run every hour to Bozcaada. There is also a passenger only fast ferry service between Çanakkale and Bozcaada on Wednesday, Saturday and Sunday. Schedules may be found on the Bozcaada information website.
Where to stay: We highly recommend staying where we did, the Aika Hotel. This is a brand new property situated in a perfect location in town. The rooms are modern with comfortable beds, air-conditioning, flat-screen televisions with cable and great bathrooms. Breakfast is fresh and delicious, served outside in the breezy garden. But the best part is spending time with the hosts, a delightful international couple who go out of their way to make sure guests are comfortable and enjoying themselves. Rarely do we find a hotel that offers excellent value in such an ideal setting. Please tell them we said hello!
What's your favourite island location?