Summer in Bozcaada
Like any seaside town with a beach, its the perfect destination for a summer vacation. Quiet the rest of the year, Bozcaada is a popular weekend choice among Turks in the summertime. Bozcaada, a small Aegean island off the western coast, is actually the third largest island of Turkey (15 mi²). From Istanbul, it’s approximately a 7 hour bus ride. Two car ferries are necessary, first to cross the Dardanelles to reach Çannakale (the major city 30 km North of the site of ancient Troy), and the next from Geyikli to cross the Aegean Sea to reach Bozcaada.
A Supporting Role in the Trojan War
Bozcaada, formerly known to the Greeks as Tenedos, has a history and mythology dating back to ancient Greece. Due to its location at the edge of the Dardanelles, the island has always been of popular demand. It caused controversy during the Venetian-Ottoman conflict, and was the first island in the Aegean Sea controlled by the Ottoman Empire. It was fought for control during the Battle of Gallipoli during World War I, and then in 1923 it was awarded to Turkey after signing the Treaty of Lausanne. However, since its also located opposite the coast of ancient Troy on the mainland (of Turkey), it also played a role in the Trojan War. Mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and the Odyssey, Bozcaada is where the Greeks hid their fleets waiting, after leaving behind the Trojan Horse. (I even found some articles that believe the horse was assembled on the island too, but I couldn’t find any sources to verify it.) Its from here, the Trojan War, that the Greek name Tenedos was chosen for the island, named after the war hero, Tenes.
“God created Bozcaada for those who visited there, to have a long life”.
– Herodotus, Greek Historian
Upon approaching the island by ferryboat, you’re instantly greeted by the site of the island’s main attraction, the Bozcaada Castle. Here you exit between the castle and the fishing port as you immediately enter the center of town filled with shops, tents of crafts, souvenirs and farm vendors, restaurants, and bars along narrow, old cobblestone streets – best to be explored by foot. The town was once divided into Greek and Turkish quarters, which you can tell by the location of the mosque vs. the church, in addition to the architecture, decorative ironwork and houses. The island is relatively flat, and a lot can be accessed and seen by foot or bicycle. However, to reach the famed vineyards and beaches it’s best to go by vehicle.
Life is a Beach
The long beaches line the Aegean sea of turquoise color and crystal clear waters, though the water is freezing cold. (Apparently the water is nearly freezing cold up until September – I was shocked since I did not have the same experience when I had visited Bozburun). The best beaches are Sullubahçe, Habbelle, Akvaryum, and Ayazma – the most popular beach on the island, and the one we visited daily. Umbrellas and chairs are available to rent, and there’s a restaurant and market above to buy water, snacks or beer. Its a windy island, so no matter how hot the temperature reaches, you don’t realize it, (unless you enter the freezing water), it’s also perfect for windsurfers.
One of Turkey’s Best Wine Reigons
The island is famous for wine, and its especially known for the red Kuntra grape, known as Karasakız in Turkish. According to Greek mythology, when Tenes came to the island he had found a Kuntra grape and replanted it, making it the oldest cultivated grape on the island. With the Mediterranean climate and strong north winds, the weather enables low humidity with a dry and warm climate, allowing the grapes to grow and flourish throughout the year. Vineyards cover one third of the island. Upon driving around, you’ll notice the roads cut through the vineyards, and you’ll even see cows, goats, and sheep freely roaming the fields. The most popular vineyards are Talay, Corvus and Çamlıbağ. Popular red wines include Karalahna and Kuntra, and popular white wines include Vasilaki and Çavuş.
Small anecdote, we thought Barack Obama had visited the island, hence seeing his name on the wall of the Corvus store, however after speaking with the associate we discovered that when he was visiting Ankara (Turkey’s capitol) he had tried some of Corvus’ wine, Teneia made from Cavus grapes, and enjoyed it. So…Corvus is Barack Obama approved! It was also tasted and enjoyed by Queen Elizabeth II and Pope Benedict XVI during their visits to Turkey as well. Incase you needed some celebrity endorsements to encourage you to drink.
We were able to score reservations at Maya, located on a vineyard and working farm. It was a true meyhane experience. (The Turkish word ‘meyhane’ originally meant a house of wine, but today it usually refers to a place where you can drink raki.) Speaking with the chef, we learned that besides obviously making their own wine from the grapes out back, all his ingredients are sourced from their own land, or from locals around them. Everything is made fresh and from scratch on the premises… let’s just say we were BEYOND impressed with the quality, service, ambience, taste and price.
I don’t know if I remember everything, probably due to the amount of wine we drank and food we ate, but some of the many rounds of food delivered featured: six types of their homemade cheeses accompanied with their own smoked meat, homemade spicy mustard and breads. Followed by hummus, freshly cut tomatoes with homemade pesto, baba ghanoush and muhammara. The chef from the grill stopped by to give us roasted eggplant and squash filled with goat cheese and herbs, and then later stopped by with köfte and börek. There was also a point in the evening when they brought out some of their experimental olive oil dishes, their take on traditional Turkish mezes. For example, artichoke hearts with plums, and green beans with mastic. The pièce de résistance was a choice of entrecôte or beefsteak cooked to your liking. And the meal was not complete without a dessert platter of four tastings accompanied with Turkish coffee.
I can not highly recommend this place enough, and will never forget the experience I had there. It was out of a film, and the food was unlike anything I’ve ever tasted. ★★★
Tenedion House of Çamlıbağ Vineyard
Near the downtown area, we stopped in at the Tenedion House where we did a sampler of nine of Çamlıbağ’s wines: Vasilaki 2015, Blush (Roze) 2015, Kuntra 2015, Karalahna 2015, Kuntra Özel Rezerv 2012, Merlot & Kuntra 2013, Cabernet Sauvignon & Kuntra 2013, Merlot 2013, and Cabernet Sauvignon 2013. This allowed us to more easily make our decision of which ones to purchase to bring back with us to Istanbul. Definitely something to consider if you’re undecided which to select, or if you’d like a chance to sample some wines from the island.
Let’s Talk About Food
Either have a taste on the island or take it to-go as a gift or souvenir.
Ice Cream / Don’t leave without eating ice cream, I feel its a must when visiting a seaside town. We frequented Çiçek Dondurma and were big fans of their homemade flavors made from fresh fruit on the island. Flavors included: chocolate, milk cream, fig, mastic, coconut, almond, blueberry, mulberry, lavender, blackberry, lemon, raspberry and strawberry.
Breakfast / Turkish breakfast included the usual dishes in addition to stuffed grape leaves, jams and marmalades native to the island, and pişi, a fried dough bread (pictured on the plate in the lower right).
Island Cookies / The most popular cookie on the island, a Greek-style almond cookie with mastic.
Tomato Jam / Çanakkale is famous for its tomatoes, so I guess its no surprise the island’s speciality is tomato jam.
I will say I was surprised by the amount of mastic being advertised throughout the island, especially in coffee, ice cream and cookies. On our last day before leaving we stopped at the farm vendor stands and purchased some souvenirs of local jams and herbs – we ended up buying 3 different types of thyme – lemon, purple, and local (island). We also purchased olive oil and soap made from ingredients on the island. My one regret was not purchasing cevizli süt reçeli – walnut milk jam, it was like a creamy version of Nutella, but I didn’t want to end up eating the entire bottle, since it’s only good for up to two months.
The local people and the island’s economy is mostly made up of fishing and wine production, tourism is relatively new to the island. It only recently become popular, especially after the Turkish film “Bi Küçük Eylül Meselesi” (A Small September Affair) was filmed on the island in 2013. Before then, people overlooked it’s existence. That same year Conde Nast’s Reader’s Choice Awards named it one of the Top 10 Islands in Europe. This year the the NY Times mentioned it in the 52 Placed to Go in 2017 – who knew I was in on the trends!
I will note that during the duration of our stay I did not see another foreigner or hear English spoken, that said not to deter you from visiting, but keep in mind that the island is not fluent in English. We did learn upon visiting a coffee shop that a lot of the workers come from Istanbul to work here during the summer months, so I’d assume a good amount of people do know English enough to help you.