For all of Istanbul’s charm, the seemingly endless urban sprawl and horrific traffic jams can be a little overwhelming for even the more enamored Turkophile. But amazingly just a short ferry ride from the Asian shore (or long ferry ride from Kabataş) are several islands where bicycles and horse-drawn carriages are the primary means of transportation, the houses are wooden and historic, and the air smells like the sea instead of car exhaust.
Yet in spite of their picturesque beauty and relaxing atmosphere The Princes’ Islands, or Adalar as they’re called by Istanbullus, remain one of Istanbul’s best kept secrets (or perhaps just one of it’s most poorly promoted features). Most travel books barely dedicate a page to the Adalar, and even then Büyükada, the most commercialized of the Islands, gets the lion’s share of the attention. There might a paragraph about Heybeliada (largely due to the controversial Halki Seminary). But as for Kınalıada (or Henna Island), I was only negligibly aware of it’s existence until my friends invited me to go there last week.
Although Kınalıada has less nature than the other islands, it’s somehow the most charming. The houses have more ornate facades. The streets are lined with trees. There’s even a country club with an olympic sized pool which seems to be fairly exclusive. I actually think the island would almost be too cute if it weren’t for the dramatically steep cliffs on the far side of the island which add a certain amount of allure.
Like the other islands, renting a bicycle and going for a dip in the Marmara remain the main activities. Biking around the perimeter includes a challenging climb with a steep descent (it’s a good idea to make sure you rent a bike with good pair of brakes- the one I rented didn’t). The nicest rock beaches are on the far side of the island, follow the main road clock-wise to get there without walking up any hills. Kınalıada is the smallest island with regular ferry service so it doesn’t take long to get anywhere. There’s also an Armenian church building and a Greek Orthodox monastery, and of course many places to get some Döner or a glass of çay.