Saturday, August 4, 2012
Istanbul always dazzles; that’s a given. The combination of iconic landmarks like the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the maze like Grand Bazaar and Spice Market with up to the minute clubs and restaurants gives this city an undeniable exotic/historic/cutting edge buzz. And it’s always improving.
Click for full photo gallery: Why You Should Go to Turkey This Year
The Four Seasons Sultanahmet was a standout when it opened in 1996, a luxe hotel in a former prison around the corner from Topkapi Palace, and it still is. But in September, they’re opening the terrace, redone in Ottoman sultan style, with its standout views overlooking the Hagia Sophia to non-guests. Having a glass of champagne while watching the lights click on the domes and minarets of this Ottoman/Byzantine beauty is an atmospheric way to start off the night. Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, Sultanahmet, http://www.fourseasons.com/istanbul
Nearby, the most sybaritic way to start the day is in an elegant hamam reopened last year after a $10 million restoration wiped away decades of disrepair and an ignoble stint as a carpet shop. The Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam built in 1556 for a famous temptress, Roxelana, the former slave who became the harem favorite and then the wife of Sultan Suleyman the Magnificent , has to look even better than in her time: gleaming marble, gently splashing fountains, a labyrinth of corridors, flickering candles. And an attendant to gently lather , scrub, massage and rinse you with warm water, wrapping you in fluffy towels and taking you by the hand to walk you from station to station. You feel like a five year old being tended by a loving nursemaid. Just be glad that you’re not a prospective bride being examined by her future mother in law, as was the practice originally. (Cankurtaran Mah. Bab-ı Hümayün Cad. No.1; 90-212-517-35-35 )
Down the street from the frenzied 61 lanes containing 3000 shops and stalls of the Grand Bazaar is a shopping experience at the other end of the scale: one of the most exquisite stores in town—or in any city in Europe. Armaggan is a four level emporium dedicated to recreating the finest Turkish crafts and elevating them to an elite level. Buttery leather goods, diamonds in unique, modern designs, hand woven silks, marble, silver and porcelain objets d’art and, of course, carpets–everything is made by their artisans and sold in a store so effortlessly stylish that I wanted to live there. It also has a restaurant Nar, that features daily or weekly changing, market driven menus of classic Antatolian and Anatolian dishes created with artisan ingredients. Food for a shopping break that’s as exquisite as the merchandise. (Nuruosmaniye Caddesi, No:65 +90 212 522 44 33, http://www.armaggan.com/en/)
Art is also a theme at Casa dell’Arte, a family mansion turned exquisite 12 suite boutique hotel in Torba, near the Aegean resort town of Bodrum. The owners, the Buyukkusoglu family, have a museum quality contemporary art collection adorning the sleek, white spaces. They also recently started an artist in residence program, bringing young artists in from around the world for workshops, in which hotel guests can also participate. The house also has a private beach and three yachts that guests can charter, as well as a separate 37 suite family resort in which children are allowed, the art exhibited is by the young artists and any of it can be purchased. Torba Mahallesi, İnönü Caddesi No: 66 Torba http://www.casadellartebodrum.com/contactform.php (And while in the area, go into Bodrum to the intimate Campanella Bar but make sure that sultry torch singer Gokce Yildir is performing that night. Even if you don’t understand Turkish, her singing will move you. Cumhuriyet Caddesi, Eastern Bay, 0252 316 5302.)
Turkey is known for its antiquities and ruins of ancient cities but one important one was revealed to the public for the first time on May 20 after years of excavations, restoration and truckloads of sand removal (steady breezes blow the sand from the 7 ½ mile long nearby beach onto the ruins). The semicircle Parliament Building of the Lycian League in Patara, which dates back to 1500 B.C., was the inspiration for the layout of the U.S. Congress, as the system of elected representatives, the first in history, served as inspiration for the framers of the U.S. Constitution and it’s an imposing sight, as are the Roman theater and the colonnaded streets. (The best guide : Tolga Kirilen, an archeologist by education, at Equinox Travel in Antalya,http://www.equinox.com.tr/)
Historic sights of a different kind are on view in Cappadocia: the jagged stone formations called fairy chimneys —towers, obelisks and needles, some over 100 feet high- created through centuries of weather erosion. The landscape is pure fairy tale, and most of all at daybreak, drifting silently in a hot air balloon over the otherworldly terrain of the Goreme Valley. (One of the best: Royal Balloon, http://www.royalballoon.com). And at night, sleeping in a hilltop hotel composed of caves makes the experience come alive. (Argos in Cappadocia, http://argosincappadocia.com/EN/) View slideshow to see 10 top Turkish experiences.
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