The car-free Princes’ Islands are only a short ferry ride from Istanbul, and provide a welcome break from the city heat. It’ll be a memorable day trip if you eat in one of these great restaurants
This blogpost first appeared on the Istanbul Eats blog www.istanbuleats.com
Whenever we’re in need of a vacation but can’t afford the airfare, we take a ferry to Princes’ Islands, a lovely archipelago just off Istanbul‘s Asian shore. For the price of just a few lira, we’re transported to a small slice of traffic-free paradise where, if we manage to get away from the crowds and explore some of the islands’ quiet back streets, we feel as if we’ve found our way back to the late 19th century and an Istanbul that no longer exists on the mainland.
We’re especially fond of the islands in springtime, when their Judas, mimosa and wild plum trees are starting to bloom and a walk along one of their tranquil trails serves as the perfect cure for the lingering effects of the Istanbul winter blues. Of course, a good meal is essential any time of the year, and we’ve been lucky enough to find a few spots on the islands that are worthy destinations in and of themselves. For those planning a visit to the Princes’ Islands, here are some suggestions:
On Burgazada: Kalpazankaya Restaurant
Kalpazankaya Restaurant. Photograph: Yigal SchleiferBurgazada is the smallest and least visited of the Princes’ Islands. The island has few easily accessible beaches and picnic spots, but what it does have is a laid-back atmosphere and several charming waterfrontrestaurants and cafes in the harbour. Better yet, Burgaz is home to Kalpazankaya, an out-of-the-way, open-air meyhane (traditional bar/restaurant) that will quickly help you forget about the crowded mass of humanity left behind on the ferry.
Getting to Kalpazankaya is easy: take the road that leads to the right when leaving the ferry terminal and continue walking along that road for about 30 minutes until it comes to an end. In front of you, sitting in splendid isolation on a hillside overlooking the blue waters of the Marmara Sea and a small pebble beach below, is the restaurant, a collection of vine-shaded terraces with rickety wooden tables and chairs.
The meze tray holds all the classics, plus a few surprises, such as a ceviche made with sea bass tossed in what seemed like a mustard vinaigrette.
• +90 216 381 1504, kalpazankaya.com
On Heybeliada: Heyamola Ada Lokantasi
Heyamola Ada LokantasiWhile the Princes’ Islands make for a great escape from the city, it’s been hard to think of them as a culinary destination. Until now. The new-offshore-kid-in-town Heyamola Ada Lokanatasi is a perfect storm of inspired food, chill ambience, and small-label Turkish wines, all at ridiculously low prices. Heyamola is reason in and of itself to plan a day trip to the islands, and if you are already organising your island adventure, this place is a compelling argument for ditching the ferry at Heybeli Island, often overlooked in favour of the more popular Buyukada.
In every way that matters, it’s a great spot to spend an extended afternoon that will easily melt into evening and beyond!
• Yali Caddesi, opposite the IDO (hydrofoil ferry), +90 216 351 1111
On Buyukada: Club Mavi
Considering that you’re on an island, you probably want to eat somewhere with a view of the sea. Most visitors to Buyukada end up getting lured to the row of busy fish restaurants found just beside the island’s ferry terminal. All have seaside terraces with a view of Istanbul’s rapidly developing Asian shore (and of the occasional piece of urban flotsam and jetsam that drifts by) and similar, predictable menus with decently made but uninspiring food.
A more pleasant (but not cheap) island experience, though, can be had by hailing one of Buyukada’s horse carriages and asking the driver to take you to Club Mavi, a restaurant and hotel located inside a rambling old house on the island’s undeveloped backside. The ride – past many of the island’s grandest mansions and through a scented pine forest – is part of the fun. And while the restaurant has a menu of fairly typical, though well made, meze and grill items, it more than makes up for the lack of any culinary pizzazz with its stunning location: up on a bluff that overlooks a nearby island and the open sea
Particularly at around sunset, the view from Club Mavi’s outdoor tables rivals those you would find on the Greek islands or the Dalmatian coast.
When dinner is done, a carriage driver or two are usually waiting at the restaurant’s gate to take you back to town for a ride under the stars in order to catch the last ferry back to the city. It’s probably one of the best endings to a meal that we know of.
• Büyüktur Yolu No: 12, +90 216 382 6075, clubmavi.com
Also on Buyukada: SofrAda Restoran
One of the questions that we frequently ask ourselves during visits to Buyukada is just where do the locals eat? The seaside fish restaurants are too pricey, while even the “budget” places away from the sea are clearly aimed at the tourist trade.
We recently found the answer to our question in the form of SofrAda Restoran, a homey version of an esnaf lokanta (tradesmen’s restaurant), located on a small side street near the aromatic lot where the horse carriages are parked while their drivers wait for rides.
Run by an islander who clearly knows what she’s doing, the restaurant features a large daily menu of prepared dishes, freshly made with a loving touch. After several visits to the restaurant, we’ve grown fond of their vegetables stewed in olive oil – okra and green beans, in particular – and served at room temperature. Everything else that we have had, including their mücver (zucchini fritters, köfte and karniyarik (eggplant stuffed with minced meat), have been very tasty and, unusual for these parts, offered up at mainland prices.
• Isa Çelebi Sok. No: 10, +90 216 382 7639
This is an article from the Guardian Travel Network.