Gökçeada, Turkey. The Turkish city of Çanakkale is not the place to be on a swelteringly hot day. But perched on the Dardanelle straits, it is the most accessible place to hop on a ferry to Turkey’s Aegean islands.
Three hours after the ferry ground its way out of Çanakkale, I stepped onto the quiet harbour at Kuzu on the island of Gökçeada. The air was thick with the scent of thyme, which grows wild across the island, and a stiff breeze meant the temperature felt reassuringly cooler than on the mainland. But most pleasing was the feeling that I had somehow stepped back 15 years – guesthouse and pension signs swung in the breeze outside slightly ramshackle houses, and there was a wonderful lack of the pastel-coloured apartment blocks that characterise so many of Turkey’s coastal resorts. In spite of the lack of mass tourism (or perhaps because of it) there is plenty to do. Many of the beaches are completely free of development, although I found plenty of life at Aydincik Plaji, in the far west of the island, where the breeze picked up and the water was scissored by kite- and windsurfers. Nearby, there were rock tombs to discover, and further afield a handful of ruined Greek villages bear testament to the mixed heritage of the island. It’s a ramble in the morning, laze on the beach in the afternoon kind of a place, and I found myself spending a considerable part of my days lazing in cafés such as Barba Yorgo in Tepekoy, drinking tiny cups of syrupy coffee and eating even more syrupy baklava. The unspoilt nature of the island means that this is not a place to come in search of luxury. But the Zeytindali Hotel is charming: two stone-built houses in the traditional Greek style, housing 16 rooms that are simple without being spartan. The real joy is its restaurant, which serves breakfast and dinner on the pretty terrace, with most of the ingredients sourced on the island. I found myself addicted to the home-made thyme honey, which went well with the salty home-made cheeses that appeared on the breakfast table each morning. The fact that it is the largest of Turkey’s islands makes it likely that developers and aparthotels will soon start to appear. But for now, Gökçeada is a blissful escape – unpretentious, undeveloped, unchanged. (www.gestasdenizulasim.com.tr) run ferries between Gökçeada and Çanakkale four times a week.