ESCAPE TO TURKEY
For a luxurious dose of culture and cuisine, adventure and discovery, head to Turkey for a healthy dose of the Orient. And, with the lira being weak, it’s an opportunity for an inexpensive escape and a new wardrobe
WHAT TO SEE
Hagia Sophia: If you don’t visit Hagia Sophia, then did you really go to Turkey? This iconic monument is hardly unrecognizable for its historical trademark. The story of Hagia Sophia is known to most: It was initially built as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal chapel, later turned into and Ottoman imperial mosque, and is now currently a museum in Istanbul.
The Bosporus is the 32-kilometer-long strait that separates Europe and Asia, and joins the Sea of Marmara with the Black Sea. The best way to enjoy the strait would be to take one of the cruises available. There are also plenty of teahouses along its shores to stop by.
After serving as the main residence and administrative headquarters of the Ottoman sultans during that era, the Topkapi Palace has now been repurposed into the country’s largest museum. The museum occasionally holds festivals celebrating Turkish traditions, culture and heritage.
The Sultan Ahmet Mosque is also a site not to miss. The mosque commonly designated to as “The Blue Mosque” given the blue tiles that make up its interior, remains functional as a prayer site. However, even if you do not practice the religion, the mesmerizing architecture is still worth the visit.
If you’re more of a nature junkie, then you will definitely want to visit Pamukkale. Literally translating to “cotton castle” in Turkish, it is a natural site that houses white travertine terraces that hold countless naturally-formed pools of warm water on the side a steep mountain.
For all you adrenaline junkies out there, make sure to pass by Cappadocia and take a tour with a hot air balloon. The landscapes, coupled with the numerous other brightly-colored balloons make for the majestic view of a lifetime – your Instagram will thank you for it!
Finally, you can’t go back home without grabbing some Turkish bling on your way out. The Grand Bazaar, located in Istanbul, is one of the biggest covered markets in the world. In 2014, it was listed as the No. 1 most-visited tourist attraction in the world, with 91.25 mil visitors.
Sumahan on the Water (Kuleli Caddesi No: 43, Çengelköy, Istanbul; sumahan.com) was once an Ottoman-era distillery before its current Turkish-American owners took over and transformed it. The hotel sits on the Asian side of the Bosphorus and is arguably the finest way to cross continents.
If you’re looking to escape the city, then take a trip to Değirmen (AKA The Watermill) (Hisarönü Mah. No: 4, Ölüdeniz, Fethiye, Muğla, +90 252 642 12 45) in Fethiye. The Boutique hotel is surrounded by spectacular sceneries of mountains, along with olive, cypress, and pine trees, as well as a view over the Mediterranean. It also offers a rustic approach, which is evident through its rooms as well as its restaurant. It’s a perfect destination for those looking to explore the rural side of Turkey.
As for those who enjoy the luxurious side of life, perhaps Istanbul’s Four Seasons Hotel at Sultanahmet (tevkifhane sokak no. 1, 34122 sultanahmet-eminönü, Istanbul)-which was built out of an Ottoman-era prison for incarcerating writers and artists- or the Kayakapi Premium Caves (Kayakapi Mahallesi, Kuscular Sokak No:43, 50400, Urgup / Cappadocia)-which, as its name indicates, is a collection of caves turned into hotel rooms- would best fit your desires.
29 (Ulus, 34340 Istanbul) is a great Mediterranean Turkish food restaurant, bar and lounge located in Istanbul. Lacivert (34810 Istanbul, lacivertrestaurant.com ), located by the Bosphorus, is a great place to enjoy fish. No trip to Turkey can be complete without paying a visit to Nusret Gokce, popularized as “Salt Bae”, at his famous steakhouse Nusr-et (nusr-et.com.tr) in one -or more- of their locations.
The eatery scene is not exclusive to Turkish cuisine, though. Try going to Zuma (istinye park, no: 461 sariyer Istanbul / çökertme caddesi no: 36 palmarina yalıkavak bodrum) for some Japanese food, drinks, and cocktails, or to the famous microbrewery-turned-entertainment center housing interconnected restaurants and shops as well as an art gallery and a concert hall Bomontiada (bomontiada.com)
When it comes to food, Turkish cuisine varies greatly when going from East to West. The former side offers food that is more familiar to the Lebanese, as it is very much Middle Eastern-style food, while the latter, which centers around the Aegean culture, is one that focuses on vegetables, seafood, and special herbs that are characteristic to the region. According to Mehmet Gok, executive chef at Dogus Group, the food scene can be distributed along seven regions throughout Turkey.
KOFTE & KEBAB
If you are up for it, take a stroll down Turkey’s street food markets and try their regional specialties. The foods, however, are made of some interesting ingredients. You may come across stuffed lamb intestines, spicy pickle juice and sweet chicken breast pudding – yes, you read that right! A word of caution: It is best not to ask what’s in your food, and just enjoy it (unless you have sensitivities, of course). If you get a chance, ask to try the Keskek: it’s a stew made from lamb and barley on a wood fire and cooked overnight, similarly to Hreeseh, and is eaten often on happy occasions such as weddings and holidays.