Destination: Turkey: Istanbul
Just Back from...Istanbul
Located at the crossroads of Eastern and Western civilization, Istanbul is one of the world’s most unique, complex and magical cities. I fell in love with it on my first trip ten years ago, immediately mesmerized by its energy and rich cultural heritage. Once a religious Mecca and the seat of four great empires, Istanbul has as impressive a history as any European hub, but feels more, alive, modern and captivating than many others. When I first visited, I could not see enough, do enough or eat enough in a single week, so I extended my stay to two.
Recently, I returned to Istanbul for just two and a half days, a short time to refamiliarize myself with the city. Present were all of its whimsical qualities I fondly remembered: The resounding daily calls to prayer, the twinkling lights over the Bosphorus, the wafting smell of spices at the Spice Bazaar. What I seemed to have forgotten, however, were the logistics and most notably just how painful it is to get around the city. Without a convenient public transportation system, traveling through Istanbul can be slow and cumbersome. Over the course of an eight-hour day, I spent at least four in gridlock traffic covering a mere 20-block radius. A frequent topic amongst commuters, traffic has become unbearable to the point that locals literally plan their days trying to avoid it.
With tourism at an all-time high and so many fabulous hotels to choose from, visitors must think strategically about their travel goals and locate themselves accordingly. Whether your trip’s aim is sightseeing, lounging by a pool overlooking the Bosphorus, shopping for designer labels or brokering business deals, we have scouted the perfect hotel and location to match your travel needs.
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For power lunches and people watching: This last trip brought me to Istanbul for the grand opening of the Istanbul EDITION, Ian Schrager’s most recent hotel project. A stylish hideaway in the business and residential Levent neighborhood, the EDITION is a great new option for business travelers, frequent visitors and locals. A particular draw for resident scenesters is the on-site Gold Bar, Cipriani restaurant and underground nightclub.
Read a full review of the new Istanbul EDITION.
For culture seekers: Most of Istanbul’s historical attractions are located in the Old City, and for those who want to be steps away, a 1-to 3-night stay at the Four Seasons Sultanahamet is in order. Converted into a hotel in 1992, the property began as an Ottoman jailhouse and possesses a meaningful history and sense of place. Rooms maintain the simple elegance typical of the Four Seasons, but include touches of local charm like traditional Turkish carpets and other crafts. While not sun-drenched, this was a prison after all, rooms have views of neighboring cobblestone streets or the hotel’s courtyard, regularly filled with seasonal flowers. One of the property’s most appealing features is a roof terrace open during the summer, where guests can enjoy cocktails and small plates. The terrace offers unobstructed views of the Sea of Marmara and Hagia Sophia, which is truly spectacular when lit up at night. Most of Istanbul’s sights are within walking distance, as are some noteworthy restaurants so guests are not trapped on property for meals. Our top picks include Balikci Sabahattin the best fish restaurant in the area, Karakol located inside the garden of the Topkapi Palace and the traditional Ottoman House.
For R&R with a view: A more resorty experience can be found in the New City at the Four Seasons Bosphorus, where guests can swim, hit the spa and dine by the sea. The property consists of three buildings (the Palace, North Wing and South Wing) each with very distinct characteristics. The original Palace is a beautiful, turn-of-the-century Turkish villa with 18-foot ceilings, and is the only building on the property that houses rooms with views of the Bosphorus. Flanking the Palace on either side are the North and South Wings, contemporary additions to the hotel that hold additional rooms, conference centers and the hotel’s remarkable 22,605 square foot spa. The side wings have views of the “garden,” unfortunately a loose term for the hotel’s main entrance and driveway, so be sure to book a room in the Palace. There is no shortage of restaurants within a short drive of the hotel, in fact most of Istanbul’s acclaimed eateries can be found in the New City – one of the advantages of staying here as opposed to sister Sultanahamet. (Our top picks include Sunset Grill, Club 29, Reina, Suada Club and newcomer Angelique). That said, guests may split their time between the two for the best of both worlds. The properties are working on running a boat shuttle back and forth to avoid traffic.
EDITOR’S NOTE Once the grand dame of the Bosphorus, the Ciragan Palace Kempinski is in dire need of a facelift. The pool area is still as fabulous as ever, but overall the property needs some serious TLC.
For shopping and a scene: If your goal is to shop and dine well, look no further than Istanbul’s chic Nisantasi quarter – similar to New York’s 5th Avenue or Beverly Hills’ Rodeo Drive. The Park Hyatt Makca Palace, located in the heart of this area, is walking distance from some of the best shops and restaurants in the city. A high-rise built in the 1920s, the Park Hyatt boasts a very sleek, contemporary aesthetic and is unlike any of the other five stars in the city. With only 90 rooms, the hotel feels relatively intimate and rooms are quite spacious, even at the lowest category. Perhaps the best features are the bathrooms, many of which are set up as miniature hammams so guests can enjoy spa treatments from the privacy of their rooms. Each includes a traditional hammam basin, open-air rainfall shower, stand-alone bathtub and steam room. The Park Hyatt is a great option for a second-time visitor or combined with the Sultanahamet for a first timer.
For a great value: A boutique newcomer to Nisantasi is the House Hotel, built above a Prada store roughly a block from the Park Hyatt. The ambiance is similar to a low-key Soho House and its 44 rooms are comfortable and spacious. The House Hotel is right for a younger crowd looking for a good value in a great neighborhood.
An alternative to the House Hotel is the Tomtom Suites, a Small Luxury Hotel located in the Beyoglu district in the center of the New City. While the surrounding area is somewhat underdeveloped, the property is very attractive, originally a 19th-century Italian monastery recently converted into a hotel. With only 20 suites in total (two on the rooftop have terraces, Bosphorus views and Jacuzzis), Tomtom is one to consider for couples that want to be near the action but don’t want to pay Four Seasons prices.
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