Bozcaada: A ruined Aegean island paradise

(CNN) – It takes about half an hour from the port of Geyikli on the Turkish mainland to reach Bozcaada Island, a vast sparkling expanse of the Aegean that is a constant visual companion.

As this idyllic island comes into view, the first thing that catches the eye is Bozcaada Castle, a bold protagonist that represents the island’s long history, dating back to classical antiquity.

The Romans were here. So were the Byzantines, the Republic of Venice and the Ottomans. In addition, it receives a mention, under the alternative name of Tenedos, in Homer’s “Iliad”.

And in many ways it hasn’t changed over the centuries, especially when it comes to offering quiet escapes relatively untouched by modern life.

Wandering through the island’s cobbled city center, it’s hard to miss the remaining influences of its ancient Greek inhabitants. Everywhere there are old stone houses with wooden tables and chairs and bars where fresh seafood, meze, rakı (anise-flavored spirit) or wine are served every night.

The bell tower of the 19th-century Santa Maria Church, one of the two remaining Orthodox churches on the island, juts out from among the flattened orange-tiled roofs.

In the main square, people sit around and enjoy their coffee and sweet or savory pastries at the Petit Café, while other streets browse books and magazines inside the Bozcaada Kitapçısı (Bozcaada Bookstore).

The smell of wine

The sleepy streets of Bozcaada come alive in the evenings.

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In the evenings, people gather in bars like Salhane, a former slaughterhouse painted in lemon yellow overlooking the sea and the castle, to enjoy a glass of local wine or a few cocktails.

Speaking of local wine, this is the other protagonist of Bozcaada, with almost 3,000 years of viticultural history. Old and new winemakers are successfully continuing the tradition, especially the endemic grape varieties, including Çavuş, Vasilaki, Kuntra and Karalahna.

In Calle Lale, the smell of wine is noticeable. Here you can find the Talay wine shop and production facility, in operation since 1948.
A few streets away, Amadeus, run by Austrian winemaker Oliver Gareis, also offers wine tastings, the Çamlıbağ family winery has been around since 1925 and is now run by the fourth generation.
However, the island’s most famous vineyard remains Corvus, established in 2002 by architect Reşit Soley, successfully reviving the island’s wine tradition and bringing it to an internationally recognized and awarded level.

It was Soley’s tenacity and Bozcaada’s long history in viticulture that drove aspiring winemaker İlke Yasa to Corvus Vineyards in 2021, next to Tuzburnu Bay, one of the island’s beautiful swimming pools.

“For me, the best time on the island is April, May, September and October,” he says. “The most crowded is August, which intersects with the bustling grape harvest. During the day you spend hours in the sun among the vineyards and at night you meet on beaches that cannot be reached by car, fires are lit and people dance all night.

“Especially during the annual Bozcaada Jazzaldi, the whole island turns into an open-air music hall, so many beautiful people arrive, so much conversation, rakı and great wine.”

Sunset stars

The island is located in the Aegean, off the coast of mainland Turkey.

The island is located in the Aegean, off the coast of mainland Turkey.

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On one of the island’s highest peaks, the Sunset Houses holiday homes overlook the sea between the valley and the sunset that paints everything in an orange glow every day.

At night, the sky is filled with stars and only the changing wind reminds you that it is an island in the middle of the Aegean Sea.

During the day, the island’s many hiking trails wind their way through vineyards and orchards where figs, pomegranates and olive trees flourish. The aromas of rosemary, wild oregano and sage are everywhere.

For all these reasons and more, Bozcaada remains one of the most unspoiled islands in the Aegean. When the pandemic hit in 2020, it became an escape point for many in the city who wanted more space and a connection with nature.

It was at that time that Sinan Sökmen — the founder and CEO of the award-winning travel agency Istanbul Tour Studio — and his wife Seda Domaniç, the founding editor-in-chief of Vogue Turkey, decided to buy a house on the island. .

Having met and married on the island, their decision was made easier by their strong emotional connection to Bozcaada, as well as its unique beaches and fresh culinary offerings.

“We especially love Sulubahçe Beach in the morning hours, it feels like you’ve just landed on a secluded beach in the Maldives,” says Domaniç. He recommends following this with a long Turkish breakfast at Rengigül, where chef Türkan Çim Işık prepares special salads, pastries and island jams based on the best produce of the month.

Street parties

Bozcaada has a great tradition in winemaking.

Bozcaada has a great tradition in winemaking.

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He adds: “We also love a seafood lunch or early dinner at Yalova Restaurant; homemade Turkish dishes such as mantı, çiğ börek and zeytinyağlı dolma at Hanımeli; a full culinary menu at Maya Vineyards; cocktails at Sapa; and nightly music and DJ performances at 49 Polent , which often turns into a fun street party.”
Inside a stone house built in 1876, hidden behind a bright red door is one of the island’s most fascinating collections. The Bozcaada Museum is filled with more than 15,000 photographs, documents, maps, etchings and objects that tell the long history of the island.

After stumbling across a black-and-white print by Tenedos and four postcards in a second-hand bookstore in Istanbul in 1988, antiquarian Hakan Gürüney embarked on an intensive and systematic journey, collecting everything he could find about the history of history. the island

He founded the museum in 2005 to display a collection of objects and donations from islanders who recognized the importance of sharing their personal family stories.

Upstairs, each room tells the story of the historical events that shaped the island. In the basement, glass displays are filled with everyday island objects from the past, from vintage food to toys to wine bottles and so much more.

As the ferry heads back to the mainland, the islanders are once again separated from the visitors.

And as summer fades, all but a few shops and bars close as locals reclaim the streets, going about their business, perhaps thinking about the past, or looking to the future when it fills up with those who want to share the island again. isolation for a few days.