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Teşekkürler Istanbul

Turkey

Istanbul is one of those cities you can never tire of as there’s always something to discover at every visit. It’s the bridge that connects the East to the West and therefore a source of perpetual contrast. The city is an Ottoman cultural plethora which invites to experience the fusion between old and new culture, Islamic and modern architecture; not to mention a new, authentic flavour unravelled at every new dining experience.

As with every holiday, you’ll go through your ‘must-see’ checklist, which ultimately will lead to more fulfilling discoveries: quirky side streets and shops – the real hidden jewels scattered across the city – not to mention the many street cats you’ll be forever petting along the way!

No first visit to Istanbul would be complete without a trip down the Bosphorous. On my first visit down to the Asian side, I discovered the stunning Sumahan on the Water hotel. Located on the edge of the Bosphorous, this highly recommended boutique hotel, owned by a Turkish-American couple, is nestled in a busy neighbourhood and offers hotel guests a private taxi boat should they wish to venture out to the European side.

Docking at Kabataş, Istanbul offers a tourist-friendly tram system which you can hop on and off of at any stop, choosing to visit anything along the way from the Istanbul Modern Museum of Art , the beautiful and soulful Hagia Sophia, the grand Topkapı Palace, the hectic Grand Bazaar, and my favorite, the majestic Blue Mosque.

As you unravel these gems, make sure to look up at the ceilings at Istanbul Modern, and I would highly recommend an hour of pampering at the hamam nearby the Hagia Sophia. Don’t be shocked if they scrub ’til you are squeaky clean!

While the Grand Bazaar is a tourist trap, you absolutely must tick that box. It’s worth getting lost in all its madness alone, fighting off all the friendly Turkish bargainers. Make sure to aim for at least half of the initial bidding price set by sellers.

While at the Grand Bazaar, lose yourself until you stumble across Nuru Osmaniye Caddesi and discover Sofa. This art dealer and collectors showroom is a must visit for every art enthusiast. Delve into the quaint store’s rich bohemian ambiance, which hums to the soft Jazz melodies playing in the background. The owner is a friendly and charming gentleman who’ll take you through short readings about Turkish art.

While in the neighbourhood, try to locate Nar Lokanta, a 4-floor paradise filled with art exhibits, culture, home made virgin olive oil, jams, and top-notch Turkish cuisine.

For those who aspire to shop till they drop, the city has a wide variety of choices, ranging from the commercial shops at the beautiful Istanbul Sapphire skyscraper at the heart of Levent, which provides breathtaking views of the city. The charming Teşvikiye Caddesi and Rumeli Caddesi, will quench the thirst of premium brand shoppers.

Taksim Square is busy and vibrant square, and probably the best place to do, well… a bit of everything. Offering a selection of shops, cafés, patisseries, restaurants, pubs, wine houses and clubs, as well as bookshops, theatres, cinemas and art galleries, the Square will keep you busy with its hidden gems.

212 Golden Arrow is an amazing tattoo parlour owned by Hell’s Angels look-a-likes. They are quite intimidating at first – as one would expect – but happen to be a wonderfully friendly bunch, as we discovered. This is definitely a place to go to if you’re looking for an ever-lasting souvenir of your experience in Istanbul.

The Artist Café is a beautiful café on one of the alley streets. Owned by an Armenian-Turkish photographer whose artwork provides the rich decorum for the venue, and who on rare occasions can be seen dining peacefully in the corner of his own restaurant.

Heading further up toward the Galata Tower, is one of the most beautiful boutique home décor stores I have ever seen. Hiç, pronounced in Farsi ‘Hich’, hand picks an array of arabesque art pieces that would look great in anyone’s home. With hand-crafted pieces by the women of Anatolia, and the beautifully presented modern-Islamic art work, this small concept store is rich beyond its size; with unimaginably beautiful ceramic tableware, Afghan and Turkish carpets, and contemporary crafts on display.

As you walk further up from Hiç, and if you are lucky to plan in advance, like the geek that I am, in the very heart of the Galata district – where industrial rustic meets ultimate design chic – you’ll find the discrete and stylish Istanbullux Suites.

I am a fond lover of luxury boutique hotels, and trust me I am hard to please, but this newly launched gem is all but exceptional because of its flawless architectural design, coupled with a down to earth, trendy rawness. The exterior of the building itself, among the worn out neighbouring buildings, is constructed out of wood and glass, and begs to be explored from the outside. There are just 6 deluxe suites that feature high-arched ceilings, and rich wooden furnishings dressed in soft, golden-opulent fabrics juxtaposed against the raw gray concrete slates.

Once again, Istanbul has truly proven to be an exceptional destination to me, which will keep raising its profile and become more notorious for its beauty, culture, location, and history. As a candidate for the Olympics 2020, I see this city becoming an even more popular hot spot destination.

Until we meet again, Teşekkürler Istanbul.

Images: Lara Mansour