Ideal In September: Bozcaada

With its windy coves, pristine waters and old stone houses, Bozcaada has been known as a place of tolerance throughout history. And its best days are in autumn as summer winds down.

Perhaps the best part of being in Bozcaada is that you feel you’re far from everything…
You hear the sounds, see the colors and smell the smells far more keenly. The beauty and unique texture of the sea are the magnet. But this island has some rules of its own. You may be stranded, for example, if a sudden storm blows up and the passenger ferries stop running. But despite these limitations, Bozcaada offers an unforgettable holiday experience. Now for some brief statistics on the island, which was recently named one of the most beautiful islands on earth by the world’s most prestigious travel magazines. Situated at the southwest end of the Dardanelles Straits, the island’s shape on the map was likened to that of a grand piano by writer Şemsettin Sami. Some 36 square kilometers in area, it is Turkey’s third largest island. And with just two neighborhoods, it is the only township in Turkey that has no village.

Bozcaada Castle, which dates back to ancient times, greets visitors at the tip of a tiny harbor. Serving as a museum today, the castle, with various modifications, was used for defense purposes in Ottoman times. The arrival of the Turks on the island dates to the first half of the 14th century. The first Turk to set foot here was Aydınoğlu Umur Bey, who came with eight ships in 1329. Subsequently taken in 1456 by Hamza Bey, the commander of Mehmed the Conqueror’s fleet, Bozcaada was the first island in the Aegean to fall into Turkish hands. It boasts two lovely mosques from that period: Alaybey Mosque, built of hewn stone and eye-dazzling with its decorative stencil work, and the Köprülü Mehmet Paşa Mosque, built in 1655. Under protection as a natural and historical site, Bozcaada lies at the heart of a region that shaped history. Home of Troy, the inspiration of Homer, father of western literature; of Assos, the site of Aristotle’s famous School of Philosophy; of Bababurnu, Anatolia’s westernmost point; and of the legendary Mount Ida (Kazdağı). Is there any island in the world to compare with it, really?

The call to prayer rising from the minarets shares the same sky with church bells on Bozcaada, where people of different cultures have lived as brothers for centuries. As the island’s writers say, it’s like a marriage between a Greek island and an Anatolian village. And its Turkish citizens of Greek ethnicity are one of the assets of the island’s population of 2,400. We learn that the Bozcaada Greeks, who had left the island for various reasons in the past, have started to come back. Welcoming us to his paternal home, İstirati Buğday has returned to the island with his wife Katerina and son Yorgo after an absence of 22 years. Buğday, who left the island when he was 12 years old, says he is happy to be back. Indeed, a number of artists have settled here, impressed by the island’s cinematographic landscape as well as its rising economic prosperity and climate of tolerance. Sculptress Belgin Şahin, whom we meet at the Bozcaada Art Gallery, explains that the island is slowly becoming an island of art.

Upwards of 100,000 trees have been planted on Bozcaada in the last ten years. The use of plastic bags has been illegal since 2011. In addition to the Bozcaada Local History Research Center and Museum, two new beaches have also been opened for tourism. And closing the island center to traffic is among the targets. What’s more, a plan to build a modern marina with a minimal capacity of 200 yachts on the island’s north shore is also under consideration. Building a customs stations and opening up the island to cruise ships is another key project. One of the top items on the Bozcaada agenda is the vineyards, which island residents fear may be destroyed by rapidly expanding tourism. The sweet white “çavuş” grapes grown on the island, a third of which is covered in vineyards, are known to be the best in the world. Writer and journalist Haluk Şahin, who has lived on Bozcaada for a quarter century, describes the island’s changing face and its vineyards in his latest book, Poyrazaltı (Under the North Wind). Bozcaada and all its beauty lie waiting for guests… at this very moment!

The most practical way of getting to Bozcaada is to fly to either Istanbul or Balıkesir on Turkish Airlines. From there you can travel overland to the ferry stations at Çanakkale or Geyikli and catch a seabus to the island. For timetables:


Octopus With Oregano
The restaurants and cafes on the island number close to a hundred. One of Bozcaada’s young tourism professionals, Uğur Mutay says the island cuisine is especially rich in seafood and vegetable dishes cooked in olive oil. His recommendations include fried red mullet, grilled octopus with oregano, and the island herbs.

September Discounts
Hotels and bed&breakfasts on the island number over 150 with a bed capacity of 3,500. Experienced tourism professional Meral Ermiş says that September is the ideal time to visit the island for discounts of up to fifty percent on accommodations.

Grape Harvest Festival
Bozcaada is going to be hosting some exciting events in September. The Art, Culture and Grape Harvest Festival, September 6-7, the Local Tastes Festival on September 14, and the Bozcaada Liberation Festival on September 20.

Almond Cookies
Şermin and Tahir Günday are a married couple who have revived the languishing Greek ice cream and pastries traditions on the island. Not to be missed specialties include almond cookies, gum mastic ice cream, and tomato butter.

The Island Beaches
Popular beaches on the island are Ayazma, Sulubahçe, Habbele and Tuzburnu. Each one is accessible by minibus from İskele Meydan (Ferry Station Square). As well as surfing and diving, sailboat and yacht tours are also available.

Write: Melih Uslu  Photos: Erkan Tabakoğlu