55km (34 miles) off the west coast of Geyikli Harbor; 50km (31 miles) southwest of Çanakkale
Off the northwestern coast of the Çanakkale peninsula are two idyllic island getaways, Gökçeada and Bozcaada, second only in popularity to the Princes' Islands in the province of Istanbul. The smaller of the two islands, Bozcaada, has the bigger role in mythology. Located opposite Troy, it was from the shelter of Bozcaada (also known as Tenedos, after Poseidon's grandson, Tenes) that Homer tells us the Greek fleet hid while staging the Trojan Horse offensive. What you'll find here today are the predictable remnants of the earlier Greeks, Venetians, and Ottomans, sparsely dotting a landscape that includes pristine stretches of beach and thermal springs. The absence of any villages, apart from the wharf, combined with the revival of a centuries-old legacy of viniculture, are what make this island so much like the original paradise. It doesn't hurt that guests get to hole up in restored Greek stone mansions set amidst the rolling landscape of vineyards (the island economy also relies, nominally, upon red poppies, used in jams and sherbet), dotted by graceful modern windmills. The island packs in visitors to the gills for the annual grape harvest festival on July 26 and 27, when the island population swells from 2,500 to 15,000.
Meanwhile, Gökçeada (aka Imroz), or the "Island of the God of the Seas," while also appealing in its own right, requires an additional, even heroic, effort to access (1 hr., 45 min. by boat only 2-3 times per week). Assuming our estimable readers have limited time, such a stopover will absorb much of the time required to visit the other stellar destinations we write about in this book! Therefore, regrettably, we don't cover Gökçeada here.
Getting There -- Ferries making the 35-minute trip depart frequently every day from May or June through September from the Yükyeri docks west of the Geyikli town center, about 40km (25 miles) south of Çanakkale (ferries run less frequently from October through mid-May). Tickets for passengers cost 3TL; cars cost 20TL. There's also a passenger seabus service direct to Bozcaada from Çanakkale in winter (beginning Oct 1) with departures on Wednesdays and Saturdays at 9am, returning at 6pm the same day. The trip takes 1 hour. The number for the Geyikli port offices is tel. 0286/632-0383.
What to See & Do -- Eat, drink, and be pastorally merry. That's the point of bellissima Bozcaada. There are four main wineries on the island; you can either go directly to the factory/farms or to a little wine-tasting tour at a number of establishments on the wharf (they make it easy here). Talay is a family-owned vintner established on the island in 1948 (Lale Sok. 5; tel. 0286/697-8080; www.talay.com.tr). Ataol Farms (also a guesthouse and restaurant) is located in Tekirbahçe (tel. 0286/697-0384; www.ataolciftligi.com). Çamlibag/Yunatcilar (Eminiyet Sok. 24; tel. 0286/697-8055; www.camlibag.com.tr) has been pressing grapes since 1925. Corvus is a more ambitious vintner, with vineyards not only on Bozcaada, and sales points all over Turkey (tel. 0286/697-8181; www.corvus.com.tr).
There are other reasons besides wine tasting to come to this island. Visitors flock to the most famous beach, Ayazma Cove, known for the cold spring that lies beneath. Sulubahçe and Habbeli are two other picture-postcard coves. Minibuses depart regularly for service to these beaches from the town center. In season (meaning July-Aug), the lounge chairs shaded by faded straw-hat umbrellas fill up by 9am, so ideally, it's best to set aside 2 days in early summer or September/October. If you're heading here off-season, keep in mind that the high winds for which Turkey's largest wind farm was erected gust over the seven rolling hills of Bozcaada.
It'll be impossible to miss the Medieval Castle, reconstructed by Mehmet the Conqueror in the 15th century (remember the strategic location of the island). The castle foundations were probably laid by the Phoenicians; it was later inhabited by the Venetians and Genoese. The construction of the Church of the Virgin Mary (Meryem Ana Kilisesi) may also date to the Venetians but the current church only dates to 1867-69.
There's also some exceptional diving around the island, including a kilometer-long (2/3-mile) reef that extends down to a depth of about 20m (66 ft.). You might even get a glimpse of the Mediterranean sea lions from Mermer Burnu. Special permission from the authorities is required for diving off Bozcaada; for information, contact Aganta Turizm at Belediye Dükk 7 (tel. 0286/697-0569; www.aganta.net).
420km (261 miles) to Istanbul; 90km (56 miles) south of Çanakkale; 65km (40 miles) south of Troy; 160km (99 miles) north of Bergama; 250km (155 miles) north of Izmir
Several years ago, Jacque Avizou (of Les Maisons de Cappadoce, in Cappadocia) confided in me about a "little paradise" that he described as Turkey's "best-kept secret." He told me it was located far enough off the primary road system to ensure that it remained off the tourist radar, a tiny settlement of Anatolian families living atop the lofty ruins of an ancient commercial and religious center. I was intrigued and set out to plan an entire week's itinerary around the little Aegean village of Behramkale, also known by the name of the ancient city it stands on, Assos.
Physically, the village of Assos/Behramkale (which I will from now on call Assos for brevity's sake) occupies the site of a conical volcanic rock on the south-facing shores of the Bay of Edremit. The Acropolis, surrounded by a 3km-long (1 3/4-mile) defensive wall, is crowned by the Temple of Athena, placed artfully, advantageously, and tactically high above the expansive Valley of the Satnioeis and the bay. The agora, gymnasium, and theater, all still in continuing stages of excavation, are terraced down the steep slopes of the rocky landscape, making a visit to the far-flung sections of the city not just a little bit of a workout. At the base of the city (reachable via a steeply cobbled roadway) is a tiny port made up of a single breakwater and a handful of stone warehouses converted into guest accommodations and waterfront restaurants. The moonlight reflecting off of the tranquil waters of the Aegean is even more romantic when you consider that this same setting served as inspiration for Aristotle during his 3-year sabbatical at Assos. Frankly, Assos has already been discovered, but is thankfully nowhere near overrun. The day that happens, though, it'll be a tight squeeze, because thanks to kryptonite-like volcanic rock upon which the village is built there's not much room -- at least at the wharf -- for this little village to grow.
Getting There from Çanakkale -- By Minibus -- The public transport route (on one of Ayvaçik dolmuses; tel. 0286/217-2141) from Çanakkale to Assos is a bit convoluted, but here goes: Take a minibus from the Çanakkale otogar (not the dolmus terminal under the bridge) to Ayvaçik (1 hr.; 10TL), and then change in Ayvaçik to the dolmus to Assos (1 1/2 hrs.; 5TL). The latter drops you off at the crossroads near the village entrance and the ancient site (but 238m/781 ft. above the wharf). Dolmuses run from approximately 7am to 8pm, sometimes not at all in winter; a taxi from Ayvaçik to Assos will run around 40TL.
If you're coming directly from Istanbul or Izmir, take a Çanakkale Truva bus (tel. 0212/658-3640) or Kamil Koç (tel. 0212/658-2000) to Avaçik or Kücükküyü. From both locations you'll have to take one of the hourly minibuses departing for Assos (the minibus from Kücükküyü only runs in summer).
By Car -- From Çanakkale, follow the signs south to Ayvaçik, and then follow the (well-marked) scenic road to Assos/Behramkale.
The longer, alternative route (and the one I took) follows the road south of Çanakkale through Ezine (where you should stop for cheese!). You can make this a day of sightseeing beginning with a stop at Troy. On the road south of Troy, take the turnoff for Pinarbasi, following the road through Mahmudiye, Ovacik, and Geyikli. After Geyikli, if you follow the road toward Dalyan you will encounter the roadside ruins of Alexander Troas, an enormous (and as of yet still unexcavated and/or looted) candidate for the capital city of the Roman Empire. Dalyan port is an idyllic and untouched corner of Çanakkale and a great spot to stop for a drink or a bite to eat; on your way keep your eyes open for the Kestanbol thermal waters, a natural and artesian hot spring bubbling up to 154°F (68°C).
South of Dalyan (from the road you turned off of) through Kösedere leads to the ancient temple of Apollon Smyntheon at Chryse (in the village of Gülpinar). From Gülpinar, depending on your level of stamina, you can either take the turnoff to the Ottoman castle of Babakale (another paradise on earth, if you ask me), constructed under Sultanahmed III to protect the villagers from frequent pirate attacks, or continue along the peninsular road to Assos/Behramkale.
The entrance to the village and the ancient acropolis, and a number of pensions and hotels, are clustered together near the turnoff from the main road. The sea-level wharf and additional hotels are accessed by continuing along this same secondary cobbled road (past the entrance to the village/site) as it winds its steeply sloping way along the city's fortification walls.
Visitor Information -- You should have your information in hand before you arrive at Assos. The Anzac Hotel in Çanakkale (www.anzachotel.com) maintains an excellent website with information and maps to aid your way through the maze of secondary roads, olive groves, and plane trees.
Where to Stay & Dine -- There are a number of pensions (some called motels) and lovely inns up on the hill high above the wharf in the village of Behramkale. From the rooftops or gardens you can see the horizon over the Aegean. Try the Eski Köprü Evi/Old Bridge House (Eski Köprü Basi Mevkii 357, Behramkale; tel. 0286/721-7100; www.oldbridgehouse.com.tr) or the Biber Evi (tel. 0286/721-7410; www.biberevi.com), two smart options. The Timur Pension (Behramkale Köyü; tel. 0286/721-7449; www.assos.de/timur-pansiyon) is a good budget option, with four spare rooms and a newly added "Hunters Lodge."
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.