Thursday, November 11, 2010

Princes' Island

Princes' Islands are in the Sea of Marmara, about an hour-and-a-half ferry ride from Istanbul. A cheap and easy day escape from the city, we've been twice already to Büyükada, the Big Island of the group. Princes' Islands traffic is pedestrian, horse phaetons, and bicycles, which is a great break from the car-dodging of Istanbul. The islands got their name from their use as residences for exiled royalty. Not a bad way to go. All of them seem to have lovely wooden gingerbread houses and great gardens. We will have to explore more. On both excursions to Büyükada, our goals were simple: make the long uphill walk through the town to St George's Monastery on the peak, and have a good lunch. 

On the first visit, we made the walk up, which takes several hours and culminates in an extremely steep climb up the cobble stoned monastery road. White ribbons are tied in tree branches all along this road, representing prayers said for children. At the top is a grand view and the BEST köfte we have had yet. Maybe it was the exercise, or the setting, or the Efes beer, but we wish this outdoor cafe with the wood fired grill was closer to home. The Greek church on the site is a golden chapel to which van-loads of old Greek ladies make pilgrimages (the pilgrimage van must be the exception to the no-cars rule.) On that first visit, we were tired enough to hire a horse drawn phaeton to take us back down to the ferry. On the second visit we decided to get smart and hire the carriage for the trip up, and then walk down. But, we have to admit, we missed the climb and the long, slow look it provides of the island's gorgeous summer houses. On that trip we had an incomparable fish lunch at Kiya, a seaside shack, just past the long row of glassed-in tourist restaurants. Hoping to be back there soon for more of their pickled sea bean meze, grilled whole fish and sweet hospitality.

View to Princes' Islands from the ferry.

Shane with the purple bougainvillea flowers and palm trees that overflow the gardens on Princes' Islands.

The community center of Büyükada(!)

Many of the grand old wooden buildings here are in need of restoration. 

A fabulous mansion undergoing a very sensitive and deserved restoration. 

One of the many large wooden summer homes on Büyükada. 

Walking through the town and up to the peak gave us many lovely garden views down the slope of the island.

View from the peak. The red-roofed building on the hillside at left is the ruins of the enormous wooden Greek orphanage. The land in the background is the outskirts of Istanbul. 

Köfte with Julia's brother Paul in the outdoor cafe at the peak.

Park near the peak. 

A ride in the phaeton. 

Lunch with our friend Colleen on the coast. 

Having coffee and waiting for the ferry home.  


  1. The food sounds so interestingly delicious. I'll have to look up recipes.

    Does anyone own residents or live on the islands now?

  2. There are year-round residents, but lots of the places are just used on weekends and in the summer. We think most are privately owned. We just met someone in our neighborhood who is moving to her Grandmother's old house on Büyükada, and we are invited for a visit, so we will find out more.