The ferry crossing from Geyikli harbor, south of Çanakkale, to bozcaada is not a long one, nothing like the one to neighboring Gökçeada, for example, which sometimes has to be canceled when the lodos blows.
Still, it does its job, which is to make you feel as if you're having an adventure, escaping the busy mainland for somewhere that boasts that ultimate 21st-century luxury: remoteness.
From the deck of the ferry as it pulls away you glimpse the turbines of a wind farm on the mainland, set up to harness the power of Homer's “windy Troad.” Then turning your back, you see the gentle hills of Bozcaada rising invitingly on the horizon.
Few places in Turkey are as instantly captivating as Bozcaada, Turkey's third-largest island after Gökçeada and Marmara. These days it's more or less the norm to roll into Turkish towns via canyons of dull-to-ugly high-rise housing. Here, though, your heart starts to beat faster as soon as the ferry nears the shore and you see at once the mighty castle that used to defend the island rising up on your right while on your left a lineup of fish restaurants is beckoning your trade even before the boat has been tied up. Then, joy of joys, everything is within easy walking distance. No pesky hanging about for transfer buses whose drivers may or may not be waiting. No, here you just hop off and go.
The only problem will be deciding where to lay your head, this being an island with an embarrassment of riches when it comes to places to stay. Want to bed down in an old Greek primary school? Then head for Hotel Ege. Fancy a night in an old winery? Then make a beeline for the Armagrandi hotel. Dreaming of a breakfast table creaking beneath homemade pastries and jams? Then set your steps for the delightfully idiosyncratic Rengigül Konukevi.
But these are just for starters. You might, for example, fancy a stay in the luxury of the Kaikias Hotel tucked away behind the castle and competing with the Rengigül in the excellent breakfast competition. Or you could lower your suitcase amid the designer delights of tiny Katina, so much a part of the old Greek townscape that you hardly notice it's there.
Most visitors like to stay in Bozcaada Town not only for its convenience but also because it's a rare example of a Turkish town that has remained virtually untouched since its Ottoman heyday. The same is true of the Çarşı district of Safranbolu, but that was a purely Turkish settlement. Here you're looking at what was once an example of the famed Ottoman multiculturalism in action, with two communities, one Turkish, the other Greek, living side-by-side in seeming harmony until the political eruptions of the 19th and 20th centuries rendered that harmony unsustainable.
Today the old Greek quarter (to the right as you land) is dominated by the lovely bell tower of the Church of the Dormition of the Mother of God, built in 1869 and rebuilt in 2009, while the Turkish quarter (to the left) spreads out from around the Alaybey Camii which dates, in its present incarnation, from 1702. Here, rather surprisingly, you will find the grave of Halil Hamid Paşa (1736-85), grand vizier to Abdülhamid I who was exiled here and then beheaded for supposedly plotting against him in favor of the future sultan Selim III.
Bozcaada Town is low on specific things to see, especially since the enormous castle is generally kept locked up (as is the church). Not that that matters much since you can admire its magnificent walls and towers just as well from the outside. Although it dates back to Byzantine times, the castle you see today is clearly much later in date and stands as a reminder of the days when first the Genoese and then the Venetians dominated local life. It was finally rebuilt by Mehmet the Conqueror in 1479, which is also when the island's romantic old Greek name, Tenedos, was dropped in favor of Bozcaada (meaning “earth-brown island”). Restored again recently, it looks sturdy enough to stand up to anything the future might throw at it.
The castle aside, there's also a small museum that keeps erratic hours but does contain an interesting collection of island artifacts, including a room devoted to the lost Greek population (only an estimated 20-25 Greeks still live on Bozcaada). Look out in particular for a photograph of a ruined building with a huge white star carved into its façade. This was St. Theodoros (aka the Yıldızlı Kilise), one of the island's outlying chapels, which was once tended by the family of writer Dmetri Kakmi. His “Mother Land” is required reading for visitors who want to understand the island's recent history.
Around the island
Every visitor to Bozcaada will want to hop into a bus and cross the island to the south to explore the soft-sand beaches and dunes of Ayazma, Sulubahçe and Habbele. Just up the hill from Ayazma you can also look at (although not enter) the small chapel built above a holy spring (ayazma) that gave its name to the area. Every year on July 26 Greeks come here from their new homes around the world to commemorate the feast day of St. Paraskevi with music, dancing and good food.
Eating and drinking
The truth is, though, that Bozcaada is really somewhere to come to relax, unwind and pass many pleasant hours in the business of eating and drinking. Even here there are what feel like Turkish and Greek sides to the matter. Along the waterfront the fish restaurants facing the harbor are much like those in any other Turkish (or Greek) seaside resort. Inland, however, you'll find a choice of little places to eat that resemble Greek tavernas. Ironically, the fewer Greeks that actually live on the island, the more it's tending to play up its Greek character, with white walls and blue seats now de rigueur as taverna décor.
If you're staying a few days (recommended), then you can take your pick of the tavernas in rotation. Failing that, the Sandal (Rowing Boat) is delightful not just in appearance but in the choice of mezes chalked up on the board every day.
Alternatively you can sample the Bozcaada take on café society at Café@Lisa's, a great little hangout close to the water, run by a long-time Australian émigré who dishes up a reliable menu of comfort foods such as pizza. Or there's Ada Café, which is the place to come to sample a couple of island specialties: “gelincik şerbeti” (poppy syrup) and “sakızlı kurabiye” (mastic-flavored biscuits).
Wherever you choose to eat, you won't be able to overlook the fact that Bozcaada is increasingly known for the wines that have a history stretching back to antiquity. In “The Bozcaada Book,” island veteran Haluk Şahin laments the fashion for newcomers to buy up the “dams,” the vineyard houses in which locals and laborers would pass the harvest months, to turn them into second homes or hotels. In spite of this, the industry seems to be thriving, with five boutique wineries -- Corvus, Talay, Amadeus, Güler and Ada -- all producing admirably quaffable vintages. It's too late to make the annual Wine Festival this year, but that shouldn't stop you making a note of it for next year.
WHERE TO STAY
Otel Ege. Tel.: 0 (286) 697 81 89
Armagrandi Hotel. Tel.: 0 (286) 697 84 24
Rengiğul Konukevi. Tel.: 0 (286) 697 81 71
Katina Hotel. Tel.: 0 (286) 697 02 42
Kaikias Hotel. Tel.: 0 (286) 697 02 50
HOW TO GET THERE
Half-a-dozen daily ferries sail from Geyikli to Bozcaada, with buses leaving Ezine otogar timed to connect with them (get to Ezine by bus from Çanakkale or Ayvacık). There are hourly buses across the island from Bozcaada Town to Ayazma. Bikes can be rented to explore the rest of the island.