Two peaceful Aegean islands that have preserved their authenticity: Bozcaada and Gökçeada. With their historical castles, silky sand beaches, orchards, and spectacular lake views, these islands are virtually two corners of paradise.

In my opinion, if we complain about living in a congested, noisy city, then spending a holiday in a chaotic, crowded holiday resort means we do not appreciate the most special days of the year… So, I want to spend my time in quiet, peaceful, and unforgettable places to have a rest and escape from the monotony of the city. One of my first choices is an island holiday.

Again I added Bozcaada and Gökçeada, both of which are close to Istanbul, to my list this year. To reach these two islands in the Aegean Sea at the exit of the Dardanelles Strait, you can come to Çanakkale by plane, coach, or car and then cross over on the ferryboat. 

As soon as I got off the boat, I began to wonder around Bozcaada that manages to surprise me every time -as if it was my first visit here! My first stop is the grand Bozcaada Castle that stands out even from a distance. Although it is uncertain who built the castle, in the past it was used by the Phoenicians, Genoese, and Venetians. With the repairs made in the Ottoman period, it has maintained its durability until today. After passing over the small bridge and climbing the steps leading up to the wall, I look over the sea and town through the towers, and take some panoramic photographs. In certain months, festivals and concerts are held in the inner walls of the castle. Amphorae retrieved from wrecks around the island are also on display here.

Completing my castle tour, I take a break at the Çinaraltı Café in the square and sit there watching the people passing by. This is quite a busy place; people going to the market with their straw baskets, others sitting in the tradesmen’s restaurants, and with the children waiting in the queue for ice cream, everywhere is so full of life! Finishing my mastic gum-flavored foamy Turkish coffee, I’m heading off towards Crafts souvenir shop that sells handcrafts. Inside, among the stone necklaces, wall decorations made of driftwood unique to the island, and ceramic objects, I notice hand-made coffee cups called “çimdik” (a pinch) with a design of fingerprints that are ideal as a gift. This pleasant visit is followed by a short tour in the heart of the island. These streets, with the tiny restaurants playing Turkish and Greek music, women sitting chatting in front of their windowsills decorated with geraniums, and the restored stone boutique guesthouses are like a totally different world. As the blue-eyed crows, symbols of the island, landed in and took off in front of me, I notice the clock tower of the Church of St. Mary. This church that writes “1869” on the door is still open for worship today. When I turn left at the church and walk a little further, I reach the Bozcaada Art Gallery. Cemil Onay, the artist who runs the gallery and in particular exhibits the art of young, talented artists throughout the year, was referred to in European media as the “man who paints the wind” with his island paintings. In the backyard of the exhibition there’s an authentic garden; as I sit here to have a rest and something to drink, Cemil Bey explains that this is one of the most beautiful places to enrich an artist’s world of imagination, and that each bay is a different region, and every corner has a different story.  

I begin to feel quite hungry. In the quiet back street of the gallery, under the grapevines is the Hasan Tefik Restaurant… So that’s where I’m going. Stuffed squash blossoms, octopus salad, and for the main meal sardines cooked in vine leaves are bought to my table. The taste of the local hot cheese dessert with ice cream is fabulous! As soon as I finish eating, I begin to walk towards the port, past the cute houses with protruding bay windows in the Turkish neighborhood. The Miskin Atölye (workshop) beside the fish restaurants attracts the attention of everyone passing by with its bells in yellow, blue, and orange and its ceramic products. This workshop is open to everybody and teaches people free of charge how to sculpt clay, or how to make a ceramic vase on a pottery wheel.

Bozcaada also has windmills that are the symbol of many Aegean islands. These windmills that were used to grind wheat in the past, with their stone structures and white rotating sails, really give the feeling of island nostalgia. After a birds-eye view of the town, castle, and sea, I head towards the wind turbines on the northwestern edge of the island. These modern power plants standing in a line at the end of winding roads with vineyard houses and pine trees, produce the island’s electricity. On the horizon, the sun that has turned from yellow to red gradually appears to be disappearing into the sea. 

For my evening meal I chose Maya Restaurant, a stylish country place. The taste of the dried fruit and the dishes made with olive oil using cardamom and various spices prepared with methods used in Ottoman cuisine were delicious! They grow everything themselves from the wheat used in bread to the vegetables. My table is adorned with a menu consisting of excellent meat dishes from the Biga region. And to top all this, there’s live music!

The following day, next on my list is discovering the unspoiled bays by car. I continue from the northeastern road along the shore, and after passing Ataol and Neco Beaches, I reach Tuzburnu Bay. In this bay, the temperature of the sea that is generally cold increases a few degrees. Those who love warmer waters come here! Even if the sea is rough, sunbathing on Tuzburnu’s silky, yellow sands, and swimming in the clear waters is delightful. Along the entire winding roads, you can smell the aroma of thyme inside the car. I drive on a little further and reach Akvaryum Bay. Snorkeling in the turquoise-colored sea among the fish and corals is really exciting. Beylik, Ayana, Ayazma, and Habbele Bays that come after Akvaryum Bay attract people with their gold-colored beaches and shimmering sea.

The next morning my destination is Gökçeada. I reach Kabatepe after a two-hour journey through Çanakkale, then cross over to Kuzu Port by ferryboat.

In the last two years the center of the island has changed. It has a warm atmosphere with its stone and wooden buildings on wide roads, souvenir shops, cafés, and palm trees. After a short tour, it’s time to visit the island’s villages, and after traveling just a few kilometers the natural beauty of Gökçeada captivates me. As I travel through the pine forests and century-old olive trees, even in the houses and side streets the island’s cute goats appear in front of me. 

My first stop is Zeytinliköy. With the brown stone houses unique to the island, the narrow streets, and tiny bakeries you can sense the harmony of this pleasant village. I am drinking the island’s famous dibek coffee and eating Selanik tatlısı at Parask Tatlı Evi. The mastic-flavored pudding is also another favorite delicacy here. The many places decorated with black-and-white photographs and antique objects make the nostalgic texture of the village felt even more. 

Gökçeada with its size and disorganized settlement structure reminds me of the islands of Rhodes and Santorini. There is only a 10 to 15-minute distance between the villages. As I was absorbing the view of the lake surrounded by mountains, a squirrel ran quickly in front of me. Gökçeada is one of the few islands in the world that has fresh water sources. The Tuz Lake, which offers visitors the chance to have a mud bath, and the streams make this island different. When I reach Tepeköy at the foot of the mountains, I sit in the village café under a sycamore tree and ask for a cold lemonade. The calmness of Tepeköy strikes a person. It’s as if time has come to a halt here. Of all the Cittaslow towns, this village is where the tranquility of Gökçeada is felt the most.

Kaleköy, situated on a steep hill, is quite a small place, but walking among the historical houses here takes you on a long journey into the past. Mustafa’s Café, under a huge sycamore tree, is like a corner in paradise, calm and peaceful, and the lovely smell coming from the soap factory a little further on is irresistible. Aziz Bey, a food engineer who came from Istanbul to settle on the island 15 years ago and established a soap factory, explains how soap is made to visitors that come here. After buying a lavender and a thyme soap, I find myself among goats whose milk is not only used for cheese, but also for soap.

When it’s time to go swimming, I head to Gizli Liman Koyu and jump into the cool sea waters; swimming with a pine forest behind me and on my right a huge rock formation adds even more pleasure to the experience.

It was evening by the time I returned to Kaleköy. The Poseidon Restaurant built on a wooden platform next to the historical castle ruins in Tepeköy faces the islands of Thassos and Samothraki. And my feast that began at sunset with marinated bass, calamari, and red mullet continued way into the darkness of the night. My second day here that began at the rock tombs and vineyards, continues at Laz, Eşelik and Aydıncık Bays known as surfing venues. Many surf enthusiasts from different countries compete with the waves in these windy bays.    

As I leave the island, the words written on the wall of the Son Vapur Otel come to my mind: “Ships for him are the gate to freedom / the means of reaching the island / he loves the ships he boards as much as the ones he misses…”

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