It is said that the Greeks do not “go to Constantinopole”…. rather they “return to Constantinopole”…
This was my second visit. The first one was 6 years ago, on the occasion of an exciting Basketball Final Four. In spite of our limited time and the full program then, we managed to see many of the major sites, including Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace, the Ecumenical Patriarchate and the Theological School of Halki. So, this time I was more relaxed to discover more of the city itself and alternative sites. Still, there it a lot to see!
Constantinopole is a magical and erotic place! Gazing at the Bosphorus, it is impossible not to feel the energy of all the civilizations and cultures that have blended here over the centuries. This is a city trying hard to find balance between the East and the West, sometimes successfully, others not so much…
I give you here some recommendations, based on our recent three-day visit.
The city is rather chaotic, with heavy traffic, during most hours of the day. At times, it may take hours to get from one side to the other. I guess 20 million inhabitants will do that for you… I must admit we did not use any of the public transportation. We did, however, on two of the days, hire a car with a driver. A bit of an extravagance (especially for only two persons), but it proved to be the most convenient way to move around. Burak, our driver, who was professional, polite and attentive, would pick us up from the morning and drive us around with all stops as requested, until late at night. In conclusion, I would say go for it!
There are a lot of four and five-star hotels of course. And a big number under construction.
We stayed at the four star The House Hotel at Karakoy. Value for money. Recommended.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus. Expensive but luxurious and with a stunning location overlooking the Bosphorus. Go at least for drinks or coffee. (There is a second Four Seasons at Sultanahmed).
Kempinski Ciragan Palace. Located next to the Four Seasons. Expensive. Very tired, badly in need of renovation. Nevertheless a beautiful location for weddings.
The St. Regis Istanbul. Expensive. Fresh, with Modernist Art Deco influence. Nestled in the heart of Nişantaşı, the most prestigious address in the city, also known as the 5th Avenue of Istanbul.
On our first day, which was a Saturday, we journeyed to Bebek. A trendy village along the European shores of Bosphorus, offering stunning views on both directions. In the 19th century, Ottoman aristocrats picked Bebek’s ideal location to build their summer houses and palaces. With a buzzing atmosphere, nice cafés and shops lining the waterfront, its ideal for long strolls. Locals love Bebek and they go to absorb the great atmosphere.
The famous Turkish cuisine is more than kebap and döner. Having been the host to three different empires, and with Constantinopole still being a melting pot of cultures, Turkish food reflects these many influences. Whether you love meat, fish, or just vegetables, you’ll never be short of choices. Tea, Coffee & Desserts are a must! And it is not expensive…
We had lunch at Karakoy Lokanstasi, an elegant restaurant with colorful tiled interior serving traditional Ottoman food (a must visit). We bought mouth-watering sweets and baklava from Karakoy Gulluoglu.
Any Constantinopole shopping spree must include the colourful and chaotic Grand Bazaar (with over 4000 shops!), the atmospheric Spice Bazaar as well as some of the most impressive shopping centers. The first because of their grandeur, historic value and authenticity. I was impressed by how clean and orderly they were! Prepare to bargain though! And bear in mind that most of the items on offer are copies. Small tip, Arasta, a miniature Bazaar near Hagia Sophia, were you can also find organic & eco-friendly cotton towels and bed covers at Jennifer’s Hamam.
Shopping centers can be considered as a very young concept in Turkey, since the history goes back only to the late 80s. Almost every neighborhood has at least one. Most of them are modern, luxurious and home to famous international and local brands. We visited two of the most famous ones, Istinye Park and Zorlu Center. Their target clientele is from the Middle East, as well as the wealthy locals and as it seems there is potential.
Nişantaşı is not a shopping center, but a district within walking distance of Taksim known for committed shoppers in search of sophistication. It also has the third largest community of foreign residents in the city. It is a fashionable shopping and an upper-scale residential area and also a well-known culture and art center.
My absolutely favourite jewellery designer!
Sevan Bıçakçı is a famous Turkish jeweller of Armenian descent. He is one of the few renowned jewelers in Turkey and is known around the world. He is also known as the Lord of the Rings and considered a “star jeweler” in Turkey. His first personal collection, created in 2002 was inspired by the historical Grand Bazaar – Sultanahmet. Since then his unique designs that require intensive craftsmanship have been attracting the attention of collectors and the most famous clientele worldwide. He has an impressive store at Zorlu Center. Top of my bucket list!
I saved the best for last! This is an experience not to be missed! I would personally go back just for that! The visit to the Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı.
Enter the hammam, you can scrub away the city’s grit, seduced by beautiful surroundings and traditional treatments as tensions melt with the steam. I honestly felt like I was floating on my way out!
Located in a 16th century historical building that forms part of the Kılıç Ali Paşa complex, which also comprises of a mosque, a medrese, a türbe, and a fountain, this hammam exudes class from the outside in. The complex was commissioned by Kiliç Ali Paşa, an Italian slave turned Grand Admiral of the Ottoman Fleet and designed by Istanbul’s most famous architect, Mimar Sinan and finished in 1583. The relaxation/reception area, called the Camegah, is set under one of the largest single domes built by Sinan; 14 meters across and 17 meters high. After seven years of intensive renovation, you can now bask in hundreds of years of Ottoman history while in the lap of luxury. Featuring gentle service and a magnificently restored bathing area. This hammam is ideal for first-timers as well as habitual hammam-takers. The hours are divided between men and women; women get the morning shift, whereas men are only allowed in the evenings.
Inescapably, Constantinopole is a combination between past and present, old and modern. An experience to be savoured…
Thank you to my friend Polis Ioannou of @epitome.xyz for providing some of the photos!