Turkey // The North Aegean //

Gökçeada (Imbroz)

Turkey’s largest island, just northwest of the Dardanelles, GÖKÇEADA makes a blissful escape from the often overdeveloped mainland Aegean coast. Unpretentious and for the most part unchanged, it’s scenic, fertile and volcanic, with healthy pine and kermes oak forests, fields of oleander and wild thyme, sandy beaches with mountain backdrops, and springs pure enough to drink from.

Known as İmbroz until 1970, the island was taken by Greece in the 1912–13 Balkan Wars. During the Gallipoli campaign, it served as British commander Sir Ian Hamilton’s HQ, and an important way-station between Límnos and the battlefields. Handed over to Turkey in 1923, it remains an important military base, though its main claim to fame is its superb organic produce, especially olive oil, tomato jam, honey and cheese. Its summer tourist trade comprises some Romanians and Bulgarians, but mostly consists of thousands of returned Greek islanders and their descendants, especially around the main Orthodox panayır (festival) of August 14–16, when beds are at a premium.

Gökçeada’s small inland capital is known as GÖKÇEADA MERKEZ (Panayiá). A modern settlement with little character, it is the island’s business hub as well as a transit point for travel elsewhere.

Gökçeada’s northeast coast is home to the island’s small ferry harbour, at Kuzu Limani, and the seaside village of Kaleköy. Gökçeada Su Altı Milli Parkı, stretching between the two, is a national marine park where Turkish marine biologists are trying to revitalize the endangered black mussel population, which grow as much as 5cm wide.

Arguably the best (and closest) of several south-coast beaches, just 10km from Gökçeada Merkez, is Aydıncık, 1500m of sugary blonde sand lapped by warm, pristine water. The salt lake just inland is a major habitat for migratory birds, especially flamingos, and the entire area is supposedly a protected reserve – though this has neither prevented tourist development nor deterred Balkan tourists from wallowing in the shoreline’s black mud, said to have healing properties. Windsurfing conditions are the best in the north Aegean, so windsurfing schools cluster on the beach.

A paved road heads west from here, mostly hugging the coast, for 15km to the long, unsigned Kapıkaya beach (no amenities); another 5km leads to the marked (1km) side road to Lazköyü (Ayía Káli), a 400m, scenic, protected sandy bay with just a summer snack-shack.

There’s no public access to any beyond before Yuvalı, a further 9km, and even there you must patronize the beach restaurants of the sprawling Mavi Su Resort. The final beach, 3km west of little Uğurlu (Livoúnia) fishing port, is Gizli Liman, with no facilities but fine sand and a pine-grove backdrop. From Uğurlu a paved road leads back to the western hill villages.