With its old forts and scented clove forests, Ternate offers a glimpse into a fascinating chapter of Indonesian history.
Roughly a tenth the size of Singaporeâ€”and an hourâ€™s flight from the diving hot spot of Manadoâ€”Ternate is the gateway to an idyllic island chain known for its cloves. The aromatic spice once grew exclusively in these parts, drawing the attention of foreign merchants and competing European conquerors. Today the island is a relaxed, off-the-radar destination for soaking up some intriguing history and culture.
ROADSIDE ATTRACTIONS Ternate is girdled by a well-paved coastal road that can be driven in 90 minutes, but not if you stop to check out the string of colonial-era fortresses along the way. Built by the Portuguese in the early 1500s, Fort Kastela is the oldest, while the restored Spanish citadel of Tolukko offers sweeping views from its hilltop perch. The largest of them all is 17th-century Fort Oranje, a former bastion of the Dutch East India Company and now home to a recently opened spice museum.
PALACE INTRIGUE In the main town on Ternateâ€™s east coast, visitors to the Sultanâ€™s Palace can ogle a range of artefacts, royal regalia, and a throne room with votive offerings to placate Gamalama, the active volcano that dominates the island.
NATURAL SELECTION Alfred Russel Wallace lived on Ternate for three years in the mid 19th century, and it was from here that the British naturalist posted his well-known letter on evolution to Charles Darwin. Although the location of his house remains a subject of much debate, a Dutch-style bungalow on Jalan Wallace is now dedicated to his memory.
DISHING IT UP Local specialty gohu ikan features chunks of skipjack tuna tossed with lemon basil, birdâ€™s-eye chilies, and shallot. The original recipe is served raw, but many prefer the tuna doused in hot oil. Kedai Mita, an open-air restaurant near Ternateâ€™s stadium, is a great place to try the dish alongside papeda, a sago-based congee served with fish stew and an array of sides.
HOME COMFORTS Ringed by clove and muscat trees, Villa Maâ€™rasai (vilamarasai.com; doubles from US$56) is the islandâ€™s best bet for boutique lodgings. Two of its eleven guest rooms come with balconies, while the cozy communal spaces are adorned with ikat textiles, woodcarvings from the Tanimbar Islands, and antique Chinese porcelain salvaged from a shipwreck.
This article originally appeared in theÂ DecemberÂ 2016/JanuaryÂ 2017Â print issue of DestinAsian magazine (â€śSpice Island Sojournâ€ť).