Tranquil Turkish escape

Four hours from Abu Dhabi Covered with pine trees and the 19th-century houses of the European bourgeoisie, the Princes' Islands are well worth the short ferry ride out of the city.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Cemal Koyuk / Rex Features ( 763496i )

Horse-drawn carriages in Buyukada, Prince's Islands, Turkey

Turkey - 2008

The Prince's Islands are a chain of nine islands off coast of Istanbul in the sea of Marmara. Only Kinaliada, Burgazada, Heybeliada, Buyukada and Sedefada open to tourism and have residence. The largest and most popular island is called 'The Grand Island' (Buyukada). Motorized vehicles are forbidden on the islands, so the people explore the islands by foot, bicycle, in horse-drawn carriages or by riding a donkey.
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The Princes' Islands south of Istanbul are a popular destination for locals and visitors alike. The summer sees Istanbullus flock to the islands for their beaches, seaside promenades and tranquillity. Covered with pine trees and the 19th-century houses of the European bourgeoisie, they are well worth the short ferry ride out of the city. Though there are nine islands, only four are inhabited: Kinaliada, Burgazada, Heybeliada and Büyükada. Motorised transportation is prohibited, so many visitors rent bicycles or faetons, two-horse carriages that are useful to scale the islands' hilly geography.

Kinaliada Kinaliada, which comes from the Turkish kinali (dyed with henna), derives its name from the island's earth, made red by copper and iron deposits. Worth visiting on the island is the Kinaliada Camii, a sharp-angled mosque with the architectural mark of the 1960s, as well as Bahar Patisserie, on the corner of Kinali Meydani (Kinali Square), next to the ferry landing. Burgazada Burgazada is known chiefly for its large Greek population, much of which remains from the Ottoman era. The island is home to St John's Orthodox church, as well as the Sait Faik Museum, a tribute to the famed Turkish writer, who lived on the island from 1939-1954.

Heybeliada Heybeliada, which means "saddlebag island", is home to the Turkish navy's Naval Cadet School, which seems more mansion than maritime with its high windows, scalloped stairs and tiled roof. Also on the island is the Halki seminary, the Greek Orthodox theological school that has been a long-time source of contention between Greece and Turkey since it was shut down in the 1970s.

Merit Halki Palace also demands a visit, if just for the hotel's architecture. Built in the 19th century to house parents visiting their children attending the island's prestigious commercial school, it was renovated in 1991 after a huge fire. It combines the charm of 19th century Ottoman life with modern amenities, such as a health club. The hotel also has access to the island's forest, in which guests can ride or cycle. Walk to the balcony for a panoramic view of the Marmara Sea.

Büyükada Büyükada, or Prinikpo, is the largest of the islands, and is home to a large Jewish population, as well as Armenians and Greeks. During the early 20th century, it was home to Leon Trotsky, who, along with about 25,000 other White Russians, fled to Istanbul in exile after being defeated by the Red Army. While there, he completed The History of the Russian Revolution. Trotsky's house, like many others, was a relic of the wealthy merchant class that prided itself on building wooden houses in a highly corrosive climate. Accordingly, the gingerbread-like architecture begs a walk around, which reveals scalloped-edged houses eroded by time and the salty air. Though many houses have been renovated in recent years, the look is that of many post-colonial landscapes, where old and new vie for predominance.

Hire a faeton and take a ride to the island's park, which has grills set up underneath pine trees for family picnics. St George's Monastery, which is accessible by faeton and a long walk up a steep hill, hosts two annual festivals, which see thousands of visitors - particularly infertile women - seeking answers to their prayers. The monastery boasts the most beautiful view of the island, as well as its own open-air restaurant, which serves homemade food and beverages. For a few lira, load up your tray, pick a picnic bench and watch the sun set over the Marmara with a plate of köfte and kebabs. On your way to the dock, stop by the main square at one of the myriad ice-cream vendors and pile a cone high with mastixa, a flavour made of resin that comes from the trees on the Greek island of Chios.

Kinaliada: Bahar Patisserie, Kinali Meydani, (+90 216 381 41 41). Burgazada: Barba Meydane, (+90 216 381 2404). Heybeliada: Merit Halki Palace, @email:www.halkipalace Büyükada: St George (Agio Yorgi) Monastery, Aya Nikola Pansyon Cafe, @email:www.ayanikolabutik

Where to stay There is no accommodation on Kinaliada or Burgazada. Heybeliada: Merit Halki Palace, Büyükada: Hotel Princess,; Splendid Palas,; Aya Nikola Pansyon, @email:www.

Jazeera Airways offers flights from Dubai to Istanbul for Dh400, while Qatar Airways offers flights from Abu Dhabi and Dubai for Dh1,800. From Istanbul, take the Ido fast ferry, which leaves every half-hour, at either Sirkeci or Kabatas station.