by Avril O’Connor
There really is no other city like Istanbul. Uniquely straddling both Asia and Europe, it is frenetic melting pot of cultures and peoples. It is architecturally breathtaking with the greatest examples of Byzantine and Ottoman art and architecture anywhere in the world today.
At the same time it is a city undergoing an economic revival with entrepreneurs opening up trendy shops, bars and restaurants. It has one of the youngest populations of any city. In the numerous cafes you are more likely to find yourself sitting next to Prada-clad locals than anyone wearing a Fez.
So whether you want to marvel at some of the world’s greatest buildings or shop till you drop, Istanbul will have something wonderful and enchanting for you. Another reason to visit now is that Istanbul has been named European City of Culture next year – so get there before the crowds!
One of the most luxurious and romantic places to stay is the Ritz-Carlton Hotel right in the centre of the city. There are not many hotels where you can watch a giant supertanker pass by your bedroom window! And don’t be fooled by the skyscraper exterior, inside this hotel is seriously sumptuous. It is decorated in Ottoman-style splendor with service to match. All rooms have flat screen TV, broadband Wi-Fi internet access, Bulgari toiletries, huge marble bathrooms and terry bathrobes.
The Laveda Spa, offering both Western and Eastern therapies using Carita of Paris products is the best in the city. There is a spacious pool surrounded by Byzantine columns and a painted ceiling to recreate the Istanbul sky. You can try a Turkish Haman – a traditional ritual of exfoliation and cleansing with a total body wash, followed by a massage.
In summer the open air spa allows you to feel the gentle breezes while indulging in a massage or other therapy as you gaze across the Bosphorus. One particular sumptuous and relaxing treatment is the Sultans Royal Six Hands Massage which is carried out by three therapists. Beware this spa is so relaxing that you may not want to leave – but it does have a poolside bar!
Fact Box Ritz-Carlton Istanbul FROM $452, 290 £229, per room per night (+ 8%VAT) Breakfast: $43, 28, £22 (+VAT)
Traditional Hamam Treatment 30 mnts: $83, 53, £42
Laveda Signature Body Massage 60 mnts: $142, 91, £72
Sultan’s Royal Six-Hand Massage 50 mnts: $375, 240,£190 T: +90 (0) 212 334 44 44. www.ritzcarlton.com
Turkish Airlines: www.thy.com Reservations: 0844 800 6666 (from the UK)
Economy return to Istanbul from the UK (inc tax and charges prices may vary ): From Stansted $276, 177, £140; from Heathrow $393, 252,£199: Business return to Istanbul from (inc tax and charges) from Stansted $889, 570, £450; from Heathrow $966, 619,£489
Visit the Blue Mosque is famous for its slender minarets and blue tiles made by craftsmen from the town of Iznik. Afterwards walk through the gardens to Haghia Sophia another of the citys splendid mosques. Inside is a marvelous array of mosaics, friezes and more Isnik blue tile decorations. Spend the afternoon at Topkapi Palace which was home to Selim the Sot, who drowned in the bath after drinking too much champagne; Ibrahim the Mad, who lost his reason after being locked up for four years and Roxelana, consort of Süleyman the Magnificent. Must sees are the harem and the jewels.
The Spice Bazaar where you can buy all kinds of exotic foodstuffs including handmade Turkish Delight and the finest Persian saffron. Follow with lunch at Pandeli which is above the main waterside entrance to the market fantastic mezze including caviar, followed by aubergine pastry and steamed sea bass. There are three salons covered in stunning turquoise glazed tiles and on the walls are the photos of celebrities such as Audrey Hepburn, who have dined there over the years. Misir Çarşi 1, Eminönü, 36420. T: +90 (0)212 527 3909
The Grand Bazaar is a huge Ottoman shopping complex where you can buy everything from carpets, leather goods, to ceramics, jewellery and the finest pashminas.
There are bargains to be had but you must haggle. Buy beautiful diamonds and brown topaz earrings at Jewels Edel Kapaliçarşi Kalpakçilar Cad no 73. T+ 90 212 527 9797. Email firstname.lastname@example.org
Topaz Restaurant & Bar This is a new restaurant, with walls of glass, perched on a hill in the Gurnussuyu district with spectacular views, particularly at night, of the city and the Bosphorus. Sophistictated Mediterranean and Turkish menu. T + 90 (0)212 249 1001. www.topazistanbul.com
Kanyon Shopping Mall
The place to buy designer labels. A modern shopping emporium with a Harvey Nichols store, and boutiques such as Dolce & Gabanna, Gucci and Banana Republic, Mango, Next and Max Mara www.kanyon.com.tr
Ismail Acars Gallery
One of Istanbuls most famous artists has a rather unusual gallery spread across several floors of a wooden house. Ismail works across several different mediums, incorporating traditional historical themes into contemporary works of art including portraits and even kaftans. He has exhibited in galleries in New York, London and Strasbourg. Karaköy, Lüleci Hendek Cad. No: 116/1 Beyoğlu. +90 (0) 212 252 03 88 Email: email@example.com www.ismailacar.com.tr
hire a motor yacht with butler to see the waterside summer residences of the Ottoman aristocracy and foreign ambassadors built in the 17th,18th and 19th century. The rates for private boat tour (min. 2 hrs) on an 18-metre motor yacht accommodating 12 passengers starts from $780, 500, £395 (+18% VAT). $390, 250, £197 (+18% VAT) for each additional hour. Arrange through your hotel concierge.