We all have The Island Fantasy. You know the one, the idea that simmers quietly in the back of your head on dreary workdays, the idea of escape, isolation, and relaxation: The Island Fantasy. We dream about getting away from it all. Most people picture tropical islands, probably because the tourism industry markets the hell out of tropical locales, but because they are so heavily advertised, tropical island experiences can be rather limited. As with many popular tourist destinations, the whole experience is often tightly controlled. To truly get away, a less popular, less developed island may be in order. We wanted to get away from it all, we wanted to experience island life, and we wanted to do it on our own, so we went to Bozcaada.
Despite boasting nearly 4,500 miles of coastline, Turkey doesn’t have many islands. In the Aegean Sea, most islands are Greek and have well known names like Mykonos. You know the kind: painted white, beautifully sited, full of tiny cobbled streets that beg to be wandered. Turkey has this too, only few people know about it. The guidebook we used didn’t even have a map of this island. And getting there, well, that’s the adventure. To get to Bozcaada from central Istanbul involves taking a tram, a commuter train, a bus, a ferry, a small local bus, another ferry, and a short walk. All told it takes about twelve hours of travel to get there. But oh, when you do, you are greeted by a tiny village lining a small harbor, choked with modest fishing boats. On one side of the harbor rises a disused fortress, and everywhere are low brown hills that end at the water in rocky cliffs.
We found our hotel by wandering around town and asking about it. It was a beautiful place, a very Mediterranean, airy affair complete with an outdoor patio close enough to the water to hear the waves. Bozcaada is known for its vineyards, so we spent our days on the island drinking excellent wine, eating cherries we bought from the market, and generally wandering about the place. It is not a big island: we walked from one end to the other in about two hours then took the island bus back into town. There isn’t much to do either, but that’s the point. Bozcaada has beaches, of course, and in town, it also boasts quite a few great little restaurants and bars, punctuating various cobbled, tree-lined squares, and alleys. We visited in June and felt like we were the only out-of-towners.
The best part of a small island is that you can get to know it; it is finite and easily explored. The best part of an island like Bozcaada is that you aren’t fighting other visitors for space: you’re there to experience the way of life in a distant place. So when you look for your little island, don’t just look for nice weather; don’t concentrate only on the luxuries. Think about who else will be there, who you would like to meet, and what you would like to explore. If you’re adventurous enough, and willing to go a long way off the beaten path, you might just find a hidden gem, full of people living the way their families have lived for generations. You might just find a little island you can call your own.