…has been on my hit list for ages. So I was thrilled to recently find myself enjoying a balmy night on the Bosphorus. A sickle moon and a lone star create a near perfect replica of the Turkish national flag.
I instantly find a new use for my tape measure, as when we fancy a beer on the waterfront at Dolmabahçe we find there are strict rules now about selling alcohol within a certain distance of a mosque.
Not to be beaten, we take the lift to the rooftop terrace of the Swissôtel The Bosphorus for an Efes beer and some delicious Turkish wine. From May to September, depending on the weather, there is a lot of fun to be had on the roofs of Istanbul…
An Alice & Co silk scarf dress in Bosphorus blue
There is so much to see it’s a good thing that despite their reputation the bright yellow taxis are cheap and plentiful, with cheery drivers.
Stock up with a good breakfast, put on some comfortable shoes and set off to the Golden Horn to see the big three sights – guaranteed to knock your socks off with their scale, artistry and history.
with a complete Byzantine and Ottoman history under its magnificent dome.
The Blue Mosque
I wish my mosque outfit was half as snappy
The Topkapi Palace
…which must have the world’s greatest tiling.
This is part of the Harem – it looks stunning but living in it was not so lovely.
Consider splashing out on a guide for the day. Zerrin Sapmaz is a walking wikipedia of Turkish history, with a sharp insight into present day politics, and a woman with the power to march straight to the front of the fearsome queues.
And when you’re all cultured out she knows all the best shops and cafes!
You should also see the mosaics at the Chora Church museum
where the saints wear pixel chic
… and there seems to be a free hotline to heaven!
When you’re done with pounding the pavements get clean and serene in one of the many hamams. I opt for the newly restored Kiliç Paşa Hamam. Part of the 16th century mosque it has an incredible domed ceiling made of biscuit – coloured bricks, wooden balconies and a tangerine and oatmeal decor. The friendly staff fill you in on the etiquette: get naked or keep your togs on. Your choice!
Tut tut no photography allowed in the Hamam.
A big, cheery woman chucks buckets of water over me then swishes my body with soap suds squidged from a giant pillow case. The first round smells of lemon verbena, the second something closer to Dettol disinfectant. If you want to keep your sun tan don’t let them get too fierce with the loofah.
When you’re done, you relax on a big marble slab under the starry dome. My washing lady chucks me under the chin as if I was a five year-old and I feel all cleaned, scrubbed and ready for dinner.
Everything I eat in Istanbul is delicious, starting with some roasted chestnuts in Taksim Gezi Park. I do hope it doesn’t get built over – it’s a welcome green lung for locals and tourists.
For some fine dining on the Asian side, head for Tapasuma, a hotel and restaurant in a converted arak distillery with terrific views of the nightly light show on the Bosphorus Bridge. They will collect you in their complimentary launch and I always feel glamorous arriving by boat – some Alice & Co stretch cotton trousers are just the ticket. We eat stuffed squash blossom with seafood basil and dill, lamb rolled with pistachio and fresh artichoke with saffron sauce and drink some fine Turkish wines – try Urla Vourla.
Waiting for the boat in Alice & Co stretch cotton trousers
The Bosphorus Bridge from Tapasuma
Other culinary delights were lunch in the pretty courtyard at Āsitāne, beside the Chora Church museum which specialises in recreating dishes from the Ottoman Empire. My lunch of vine leaves stuffed with pine nuts and sour cherries from an 1844 recipe is certainly worth recreating.
Staying with the Ottoman theme, Hunkar in the Nişantaşı area has been going since the 1950s. The stuffed aubergines are my favorite. A lot of the dishes are laid out canteen style and the staff are very happy to explain them. We’re not allowed to leave without sampling the rice pudding which the waiter describes as better than Viagra!
For something more of the moment, seek out Lokanta Maya in the old port area of Karikoy which is rapidly being trendified with galleries. shops and restaurants. It’s close to Istanbul Modern, which is the city’s nearest thing to Tate Modern. Didem Senol is a talented female chef who studied and worked in New York – Ottolenghi is a fan. Her stuffed courgette fritters are very popular, but I really like the fish cakes and herb salad.
You can buy her cookbook, Aegean Flavours, and try and recreate some Istanbul sparkle back at home.
Our last dinner is at new kid on the block Lokanta Yeni who squeeze us in at the bar for a delicious update on the traditional meze and some interesting cocktails. A green apple ginger mint vodka was good.
The Park Hyatt Istanbul is quiet and elegant with a swimming pool and a fabulous breakfast spread. It’s in Nişantaşı, the Knightsbridge of Istanbul with all the big name shops.
If you like to party, The House Hotel Bosphorus is in the lively Ortakoy district and right on the waterfront. An elegantly restored 19th century architect’s mansion run by the lovely Bahar Karaca, who is full of tips on how to enjoy her city.
Erten Konak in Sultanahmet, close to all the big sights, is a charming converted private bourgeois mansion full of vintage delights. Six chambres du calme have been lovingly created by French/Turkish owner Nurten Rollier. The hallways are a mini museum of Turkish fashion in dresses and hats, many of which belonged to Nurta’s grandmother. An Alice & Co home from home as our Islington Studio is also full of charming chapeau designed and made by my colleague Susie Hopkins.
Breakfast is served in the pretty courtyard.
Istanbul style from the 1920s
The Grand Bazaar has 5000 shops and will suck you in whether you like it or not! I resist the urge to buy a huge box-set of mirror balls, and am soon in haberdashery heaven in the textile quarter. Here I buy funky coloured elastic, braids, ribbons and beaded flowers for my clients. Expect to barter but it’s all good natured.
Braids and ribbons in the Grand Bazaar
Istakal Caddesi is the cobbled Istanbul equivalent of London’s Oxford Street, but pedestrianised and with a lovely old wooden tram trundling down the middle for when you get tired. The world, his wife – and their children will be out well into the night, shopping, gossiping and taking apple tea and sweet pastries in the glittering cafes.
Beyoglu was the old European quarter and has lots of embassies and churches. Çukurcuma is a charming neighbourhood within it centred around the Museum of Innocence created by the Nobel Prize-winning Turkish author Orhan Pamuk.
Çukurcuma Avenue has a nice cafe with a shady terrace (whoops! I can’t find their address card) but you can easily find it at the top of the street.
There are several vintage shops nearby including Mozk with lots of mid-century furniture – some of it is brightly re-upholstered in their workshops. If you didn’t come in your own jet they can ship it home for you.…………………………………………………………………….
A bit easier to carry, Karederİ & Parsömen has beautiful soft leather bags and accessories designed on the premises and made locally. They’d go very nicely with an Alice & Co coat.
Orhan Pamuk’s Museum of Innocence is a fascinating display of the everyday objects used by the characters in the novel of the same name. What they used, wore, heard, saw, collected and dreamed of in the 1950s and 60s. All meticulously arranged in boxes and display cabinets.
Buy a copy of Pamuk’s book Istanbul to read on the way home.
For an in depth understanding of Ottoman history watch the current BBC series The Ottomans : Europe’s Muslim Emperors narrated by Rageh Omaar