A city that awakens the senses like few places on earth.
Istanbul. With its centuries-old minarets, fragrant bazaars and the many ships and ferries chugging up and down the mighty Bosphorus.
Built on two continents the city never fails to impress. The unique blend of East and West, the clash of Christianity and Islam, it provides great contrasts.
Centuries seem to fall away as you look out over the horizon. Slim minarets pierce the air and in the early morning stillness you hear a muezzin wail, that summon the faithful to prayer. Adorned with some of the finest architectural and artistic wonders in the world, and with an extraordinary historic legacy on every street corner, Istanbul remains Turkey’s real social, artistic, and commercial hub, brimming with vitality and activity. It has always been a beacon to poets, explorers, and adventurers.
Turkey is legendary for carpets, and buying one is an experience rich in nuance and negotiation. Embrace the process, because it’s an”invisible souvenir” and also fun.
Sailing on the Bosphorus today affords a perfect opportunity to look at the city as sailors would have seen it centuries ago. Daily boat trips stop at a number of points along its length. At Anadolu Kavagiyou can leave the ferry, eat at one of the fish restaurants by the shore, and wander up to the ruined castle for breathtaking views and a leap of imagination back to the time when Jason was sailing below in search of the Golden Fleece.
It wont be long before you are caught in its midst as you head off to explore, arguably, the world’s largest open-air museum.
1. THE BOSPHORUS
Perhaps the very essence of Istanbul is the Bosphorus, its heartbeat, which connects Asia to Europe and the Marmara to the Black Sea.
2. GRAND BAZAAR
Try your hand at the age old art of haggling at the Grand Bazaar with it’s 4,000 shops. Perhaps you’ll discover an old Turkish pillow cover in the antiques section called the Bedestan. And you don’t have to be a book collector to appreciate the Old Book Bazaar — located outside the Bazaar’s western gate. It’s a treasure-trove of volumes in many languages.
3. HAGIA SOPHIA
On one side of Sultanahmet Park, Hagia Sophia dominates the skyline with its red walls and minarets. It was originally built in 360 AD and for more than a thousand years was a Christian church. It’s not hard to understand why this landmark has always been considered one of the most important in Istanbul. Emperors have been crowned here, refugees have taken shelter here, treasures have been hidden here. Technically it is a museum now, but you can feel the life within the walls.
4. BLUE MOSQUE
On the other side of Sultanahmet Park, the red is juxtaposed with the blue. Although technically called the Sultan Ahmed Mosque, most people just refer to it as the Blue Mosque because of the colour of its interior tiles. The enormous structure was completed in 1616.The big difference is that this is still an active place of worship and the tourists (and they number in the thousands every day) must be respectful. But to see the mosque with its worshippers, to hear the sounds of faith, and to feel the spirituality makes a visit even more special.
5. TOPKAPI PALACE
Home of the Ottoman Sultans, Construction of Topkapı Palace began in 1459. It was also the administrative centre from where all the judicial and executive functions were carried out. The Imperial Harem, the private pleasure palace of the Sultans, is the most well-known aspect of Ottoman royal life. In a sumptuously decorated labyrinth of 400 rooms, lived the Sultan’s slaves, concubines and wives, guarded over by a cadre of eunuchs.
6. STREET MUSICIANS
An ever present feature, the sounds from an accordion, or a reed will add a dash of colour to your walk. You will suddenly find yourself clapping, dancing and joining in.
7. TURKISH BATHS
Relieve the stress of the day with a hammam ritual – a truly unique experience not to be missed. Enjoy a scrub before relaxing and cleansing your body with a foam bath.
8. CICEK PASAJI (THE FLOWER PASSAGE)
One of the most popular places to gather for a celebration, this long tradition has remained unchanged despite the passing centuries. It has managed to preserve its energy through the years and continues to hold a special place in our hearts.
The Turks love very sweet, sticky cakes, pastries, and desserts. Perhaps the most famous is Baklava. It seems to have had its ancestral home in Central Asia, where the Turkish tribes first came from, and was then modified and improved upon to please the Sultan’s palate, in the great kitchens of Topkapı Palace, in the very heart of old Istanbul. Essentially, Baklava is a pastry made from layers of filo filled with chopped nuts and soaked through with syrup. It’s a honeyed heavyweight – a sticky fingered immoderate indulgence. Enjoy!
So close to the hustle and bustle of the city, the Marmara Sea’s Princes’ Islands – Buyukada, Heybeliada and Kinaliada, are a serene escape from frenetic city life.
Where to stay: Sumahan Hotel
Located on a secluded waterfront, the hotel nestles amongst wooden houses, seafood restaurants and seaside promenades with spectacular views of the Bosphorus Straits.