The story begins when Leon Trotsky was deported from the Soviet Union in February 1929. His first residing place in exile was a house in Büyükada, ( Big Island ), the largest of the 9 scattered Princes islands in the Sea of Marmara. He lived here for 4 years between 1929 and 1933. During the Byzantine period the imperial family and disgraced aristocrats where exiled in the monasteries on the islands.

They then became the favourite weekend destination for the Ottoman aristocracy and this is the reason for the Victorian style villas.

This large archipelago is still largely unspoilt. Partly due to automotive transport being banned. First the islands where known as the People’s Isles, during Byzantine time they were known as Papadonisia, the islands of the Monks . Then Emperor Justin 11 built himself a palace and monastery on the largest of islands in 569. This isle had been known as Megale, or the Great, but once he established residence there it became Prinkipo, the isle of the Prince. Later the entire archipelago came to be called the Prinkiponisos, or the Princes’Isles.

Having been to Büyükada at least three times, I love it more every time I go and find it rejuvenating from the rush of city life.
Heading out to the island with the companionship of seagulls, and wind blowing in your hair be sure to see the following sights on the island.

Aya Yorgi Greek Orthodox Church

Make this your first stop on a hot day. The horse and carriage will wait at the bottom of the road and you will “go up” and literally its a steep never ending test to endurance to go up the hill. However the trip is worth it. The church is built on the highest point of the island. There is a belief that wishes made at this church come true, so don’t be surprised if you see many items like watches and necklaces in the glass case at the entrance.It is also said that the Holy water has healing properties . On the way up the hill you will notice many lines of thread attached to the bushes, this wish making ritual takes place on the 23 April and 24 September each year it is when Orthodox Christians climb the cobbled road barefoot and make a wish by tying a thread on the trees leading up to the church. An easier option is to hire a donkey to do the leg work for you to get to the top.


Interior of the church

Eat at

After you have enjoyed your walk through the church and the various look out points, go over to Yucetepe Restaurant. This self service lokanta has wifi and perfect seating to enjoy the views of the archipelago. Cats are found all over , not just at this restaurant but every where on the island. Turkish coffee compliments the ambience while listening to the birds in the trees.

Greek Orphanage

The worlds second largest wooden structure ( the largest in Europe ) is found amidst pine forests and is abandoned and dilapidated. It now has the appearance of a haunted manor. It was first built as a hotel / casino in the 19th century but the Sultan refused it so it then became a Greek orphanage. When the Greek population in Turkey declined in the 20th century , the orphanage closed its doors. It has been closed for more than 30 years now. Hristos Monastery has a small graveyard next to it ,where the graves of the workers who worked in the construction of the monastery and the priests who held duty there are buried .

Transport on the island

Motorised transport has been banned except for a few municipal vehicles, this makes the island an oasis of peace and quiet. For an authentic experience take a horse and carriage ( fayton ) trip around, they are the taxis of the island. You can buy tickets near the clock tower. Another option is to hire a bicycle and do a small or big tour. Cycling on the island dates back to 1885 when Thomas Stevens, the author of the first cycling travel book visited the island. I was given a lovely map at one bicycle rental shop, its detailed and gives a good description of what one should see. The bicycle shops are located in the side streets from the town square.

Eat an ice-cream ( dondurma )

As you exit the historical port building you are surrounded by gelato ice cream stores. Their location is ideal. Before heading out on your journey of walking or horse and carriage be sure to have one of these yummy ice creams. The Turkish mastic ice cream is also available and is made of cream, salep, mastic and sugar. The Turkish ice cream has a marvellous resistance to melting on hot summer days so one can consume it slowly without fear of dribbling down the cone.

Gelato Ice cream 4TL for two scoops

Clock tower

Built in 1923 this is the centre of town and the meeting point for locals and tourists alike. Its the hub of the town and all roads branch off from this tower. Dont expect to get a photo of the tower alone as people hustle and bustle around it trying to arrange their itinerary for the day.

Lovers Way ( Aşıklar Yolu )

Many inseparable couples can been seen here walking hand in hand enjoying the smell of the pine forest. These pine trees have great historical importance to the island. During the summer heat its a safe haven from the ravishing sunshine that beats down on you as walk the island.

Market across the road from the forest sells flower head bands

Victorian – style mansions

The Eastern and Western side of the island if full of magnificent wooden style Victorian mansions dating back to the 19th / early 20th century set along leafy lanes. The Western side has the more splendid looking homes, this is about a 15 minute walk away from the quay. Çankaya street is the famous street, flanked with the wooden houses including Trotsy’s house.

How to get there

Take a sea bus or ferry from Kadiköy, Bostancı, Sirkeci, Kabataş and Eminonu The sea bus will get there faster but the ferry boat which has continuous trips from the Sirkec coast is more authentic and as they say its in the journey not only the destination. On board you can buy Çay ( tea ) and simit.

View from the ferry at sunset

Where to stay

23 Nisan Caddesi is the address for the Splendid Palace Hotel with its silver domes and red shutters. This opulent hotel was built by Müşir Kazım Paşa from Chios Island in 1908 and today is recognised as a class 1 national monument by the Ministry of Culture.The hotel has been managed by the Hamamcıoğlu family since 1957 and is decorated with original Ottoman furniture, Christofle silver plated cutlery sets and Lion Paris wicker sets all from 1908.

Best time to visit

With its sandy beaches , laid back atmosphere and cozy town vibe, the best time would be from Spring to Autumn. Weekends are particularly busy as the local’s enjoy a days outing with Sunday being the busiest of all.Weekdays are the best if you want to avoid the invasion of townspeople and tourists.

Little Black Book for ferry schedules Splendid Palace Hotel

Trotsky’s House: Hamlaci Sokak No 6 restaurant at the Greek church on the hill

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This nostalgic island is full of little treasures, waiting to be discovered , surrounded by the beauty of nature and only an hour away from the cosmopolitan city of Istanbul. In this small haven of peace and tranquility you can wonder the streets and daydream as you take a step back in time or soak up the sunshine on the stretches of beach.