Turkish delights... springtime in Istanbul
Client Barbara Smith explored Istanbul with Cox & Kings, discovering a destination that challenged and exceeded her expectations.
On the flight to Istanbul my friend asked, “How do you think it will smell? Dusty? Damp? Of kebabs or old carpets?” No. The old city smelt of spring flowers and roasting chestnuts.
It's a beautiful and fascinating place, with iconic buildings every bit as magnificent as we expected. You then turn a corner and enter the unexpected – the very different but equally enchanting world of domestic Istanbul; old wooden houses painted in jewel colours and festooned with flowers.
The Blue Mosque and a garden at Dolmabahçe Palace
We knew Ayasofia and the Blue Mosque would be breathtaking, that we'd walk through history as we crossed the Hippodrome, and Topkapi would cap it all. We didn't think we'd find so many other little treasures, nor that the whole city would be so clean, fresh and friendly.
We stayed five nights at the Celal Sultan, which is ideally situated to explore on foot, or pick up the metro. The hotel oozed Turkish charm, with rich red carpets in the public areas, and wonderful views from the rooftop restaurant. The staff were friendly, polite and helpful with a wealth of local knowledge, and great recommendations for tours and excursions.
The Celal Sultan
We hired a guide to see the major sights. It was well worth it. We could have wasted hours otherwise, standing in line and missing out on the insights into Turkish culture. On other days we took a short boat trip on the Bosphorus, crossed into Asia on the brand new underground link, ate delicious food, drank apple tea, and unwound in a Turkish bath.
My personal highlights? One was the Dolmabahçe Palace, designed with grandiose 19th-century bling, yet somehow quite tasteful. Another was the bazaar, crammed with wonderful things but not in-your-face, and not threatening. From tacky-cheap to high-quality expensive (check out leather, carpets and jewellery), you can look without being pressured to buy. If you do buy, the preferred currency is definitely the euro.
Spices at the bazaar
The Turkish bath was an experience quite unlike anything I'd ever had. I did once go to something in London I thought was a Turkish bath – an hour sitting in a boiler-room and a masseuse better suited for kneading bread. In Istanbul it was more of a lazy afternoon in the hammam, sweet-scented, softly lit, warm and welcoming, where a 'bubble bath' is a fluffy duvet of scented suds.
Poised between two worlds, Istanbul has had a rich, colourful and sometimes brutal history. Today it's still a place of contrast, compromise and harmony – a total Turkish delight.
Cox & Kings offers a number of short breaks to Istanbul. To enquire, call one of our European specialists on 020 7873 5000.Share: