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Epicurean Destination Guide to Istanbul, Turkey
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Food and dining are one of the greatest pleasures of being in Istanbul. We have designed this brief guide to assist the food lover in making the most of his or her visit, including not only restaurant recommendations, but also markets and food shops. Finally, we have selected a group of hotels in Sultanahment, the historical center of ancient Constantinople, some of which also have good restaurants. Two articles on food, shopping, and the good life will complete your introduction and prepare you for a fantastic trip to 'stambul!

Turkish Flavours: Your Guide to Turkish Gastronomy!

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Turkish Cooking at Its Best

  • Cooking classes may be organized for individuals or groups. We work with each client to design the perfect  "Turkish Flavours" experience.
  • Turkish Flavours can create perfect custom-designed events that will suit perfectly an incentive program in Istanbul. Each event has a unique flavour!
  • All classes involve hands on cooking, where participants can understand the ingredients, feel and learn the actual cooking by doing it themselves.
  • Cooking classes will be routinely conducted in English (subject to request and availability courses in other languages can also be arranged)
  • The menu prepared will  be tasted on spot, together by the end of each cooking class
  • Shopping for ingredients at local markets will be the fun part of the culinary adventure during non-cooking hours.

         Clear and understandable recipes of each menu item prepared will be provided to participants.

Turkish Wine Tours
 Do you wish to learn more about the exciting world of Turkish Wines?
 
Our Turkish Wine Appreciation and tasting tours are the most unique and enjoyable way to fully appreciate Turkish wine in a very relaxed atmosphere.
 
Our Turkish wine tour is designed for people who love wine and want to learn more about Turkish Wines.
 
Basic information about Turkish grape varietals and introduction to the major wine growing regions of Turkey, and each region’s type of wine. Six different Turkish wines will be tasted. All classes are held in English.
 
 

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Vacation Apartment Rentals & Istanbul Hotels

Recent stays at several of the apartments offered by Istanbul Holiday Apartments resulted in a pleasant surprise. Each one has great views of  Galata Tower and the city across the Golden Horn. Tastefully decorated with full kitchens, we recommend them.

Istanbul Historic Center, Recommended Hotels

Eresin Crown Hotel

Very pleasant hotel smaller but in the same class as the Four Seasons. Nicely appointed rooms. Professional staff. Rooftop restaurant offers high quality and innovative cuisine.

Ibrahim Pasha Hotel

Our favorite reasonably-priced small hotel. Rooms are small, though they are expanding the number of larger Deluxe rooms. Very friendly and helpful staff. Good Turkish breakfast—no restaurant.

Sultanahmet Palace Hotel

Excellent location immediately to the side of the Arsat Bazaar and the Blue Mosque. The Deluxe Rooms are far superior to standard rooms, with nice views of either the Marmara Sea or the Blue Mosque and mini-hammams for bathrooms. Friendly and accommodating staff. Good restaurant. Our current favorite if you can get a Deluxe Room.

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Mr & Mrs Smith Luxury Hotels

More hotel recommendations:

Sultanahmet Palace Hotel, While not quite as posh as the Four Seasons or the Kempinski, we have found the Deluxe Rooms at the Sultanahment Palace to be an extremely good value with an excellent location. Deluxe rooms overlook either the Blue Mosque or the Marmara Sea and the Asian shores of Istanbul. All Deluxe rooms with a sea view have also have charming private balconies. These rooms also have en- suite turkish bathroom (i.e. a mini hammam in your hotel room), direct dial telephone, central air-conditioning, satellite TV, radio, minibar, hair-dryer, and 24 hour room srvice. (Torun Sokak, No:19 34400 Sultanahmet-İstanbul; +90212-4580460)

The Four Seasons Hotel, Sultanahmet in the heart of the ancient city near Haggia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, and most of the shops described here, the Four Seasons prides itself on individual service and truly sumptuous surroundings. The hotel is housed in the 19th century former prison that inspired the movie, Midnight Express.

For another step above, the Kempinksi Hotel Ciragan Palace, a member of the Leading Hotels of the World, occupying a sprawling center of luxury right on the Bosphorus, will meet even the most demanding traveler’s requirements. Converted from the last Ottoman Sultans’ palace, the hotel lies within walking distance of beautiful Ortakoy district, with many restaurants and shops, and Sultanahmet is an easy taxi, limousine, or ferry ride away. Here, you may want to hire the services of Istanbul’s only Rolls Royce rental, which also charters private yachts for trips up the Bosphorus. (Iskele Meydani Sok. No. 3, Ortakoy, Tel. +90 212 259 8939).

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Traveling to Istanbul? Check out these hip holiday lets and apartment rentals! Istanbul!Place

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Character and charm in Istanbul

The latest find in Istanbul's mind-boggling accommodation scene is Istanbul!Place apartment rentals. Lovingly rennovated and restored, there are 1-bedromm, 2-bedroom, and 3-bedroom options, all in charming historic areas of the city.

Take, for example firuz!place. You will find this Istanbul apartement rental on the first and second floors of a 19th century traditional Turkish house. The apartment has two spacious bedrooms (one double, one twin) with a shower-room on the first floor. A sweet brick staircase leads up to the open-plan living & dining space, with a charming balcony above. It's 80 m2 in total and full of character.

The location of firuz!place is excellent and interesting for the sophisticated traveler: Cihangir/Cukurcuma are 'happening' areas in Beyoglu, yet still very authentic. A short wander in one direction will bring you to quiet streets of antique shops and in another to Istanbul Modern contemporary art gallery on the Bosphorus. Orhan Pamuk's Museum Of Innocence is currently being made ready right opposite firuz!place and Istiklal is just up the hill.

WEB SITE     E-MAIL

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Istanbul Restaurants

Sabahattin Balikcisi Cankurtaran, Sultanahment 212 458 1824

Dining at Sabahattin is always a pleasant experience, with the ambiance of an old wooden house down a side street near the water. The waiters are professional and the food always good, sometimes excellent, including the grilled swordfish kebabs. A much more intimate choice for seafood than the meyhanes of the Kumkapi district. The fixed menu can be a good value. Dine al fresco during summer. Reserve ahead.

Giritli Restoran Keresteci Hakki Sokak, Cankurtaran, Ahirkapi 212 458 2270

Located right next deoor to the Armada Hotel, Giritli is a new seafood restaurant innovating the idea of a completely set menu. The seafood is delicious, and your meal will include over twelve different meze plates followed by perfectly-cooked fish (you do get somewhat of a choice here). Wine is included the price of the "fix-menu." Giritli surpasses nearby Sabahattin for food quality and we hope it keeps up its standards. For those wanting to try a variety of dishes or who don't want to look at a menu, this is a superlative choice. Pleasant ambiance, nice waiters, and a good value especially if you drink with dinner. www.giritlirestoran.com

Pandeli Misir Carisi 1, Eminonu Square, in the 2nd floor of the Spice Bazaar, 212 527 3909

We are not the first to not recommend Pandeli for its food and service. Two out of three visits prove unsatisfactory, with rude waiters and mediocre food. The fish en papillote can sometimes be good. Open for lunch only. The reason to come is the location and interior, which is quite beautiful and can transport one to romantic "Old Istanbul." Pricey for what is offered.

Develi Balikpazari, Samatya 212 529 0833

Home base to what is now a chain of restaurants, Develi has good, sometimes spicy food but is no great value. The mezes are good, including the spiced minced raw lamb, and the grilled kebaps can be very good; try the pistachio.

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Since its days as exotic Byzantium and Constantinople, Istanbul has been a city of great wealth and superlative luxury. An historic mercantile center, this half-European, half-Asian metropolis boasts some of the world’s finest, and frankly, most enjoyable luxury shopping. For the well-healed adventurer, the birthplace of the famed "Grand Bazaar" on the shores of the Bosphorus and Marmara Sea will enchant and satisfy even the most discerning tastes.

The discriminating visitor will arrive prepared for Istanbul shopping: knowing what you want and ready for the subtleties of negotiation. Friendly parley over cost is both expected and appreciated by the Turks. Istanbul is, in fact, a place for the sophisticated bargainer. Unlike the raucous markets of Arab cities or the souks of Morocco, you must display sublime patience and polite persistence, whether the deal’s worth $40 or $40,000. Yet perhaps the hardest decision will be choosing amongst stylish luxury hotels where Turkey’s traditional, amiable, and attentive service transcends the usual trappings of today’s cookie-cutter, deluxe accommodations.

Seven surveys trips to the Turkish capital of commerce since 2003 turned up the following areas for some creative and inspired shopping: rugs, gourmet foods, furniture and home decor. In addition, a shopping escapade to Istanbul cannot be surpassed for immersing yourself in the more personal experiences of Byzantine luxury still living to this day. Rugs

The kilims, carpets, and sumacs found in Sultanahmet make Istanbul the world’s foremost center for serious rug collectors and home decorators alike. Seventy percent of tourists return home with a Turkish carpet, but few take the time to discern and choose quality, or to consider that since the fall of the Soviet Union, Istanbul has become the center for commerce in precious and rare hand woven textiles from all Central Asian republics. Every grade, weave, and color scheme exists in the showrooms, small and large, of Istanbul’s historic center, surrounding the Blue Mosque and Haggia Sophia.

Our advice: after making a brief pedestrian survey of several Sultanahmet shops, choose two whose quality you like and deal with them in a gentle dance of negotiation. This tactic produces better results than canvassing a myriad of vendors for comparison shopping. You will end up with better prices, better carpets, and a better education in the finer points of what makes these hand woven treasures valuable.

Looking at rugs will take hours, perhaps days, and many, many Turkish coffees. The Turks are superb businessmen, and have perfected the art of selling, taking time to deal individually with each client. We have sorted through the hundreds of stores in Sultanahmet and recommend the following to get you started: For decorator-quality rugs, check out Van Halicilik at number 149 in the Arasta Bazaar, just below the spectacular Blue Mosque. Ask for Mr. Asim Erdogan, a distinguished gentleman with a pipe who deals fairly and has a good selection of contemporary kilims.

For one of the finest gatherings of individually-chosen rugs in all price scales, including older rugs and other textiles, go see Hamza Yildiz or his brother Mehmet at Noah’s Ark Carpets & Kilims Collection (Ticarethane Sokak No. 11, Sultanahmet). Hamzah or Mehmet will educate you about Turkish rugs, wool quality, weaving, and double knots, then expose you to a wide selection of offerings matching your individual requirements, he and his assistant combing through piles of woolen wonders for you.

If you want to deal with Hamza electronically, he also now has an excellent web site that offers not only rugs and jewelry for sale, but also informative articles on tribal art. See www.seeingisdreaming.com.

Gourmet Foods

Without actually visiting Iran, Istanbul ranks as the ultimate place for purchasing the best grades of Caviar in the world. A simple trip to the Spice Bazaar in Ominonu, near the historic center of Sultanahmet, will provide multiple vendors vying for your business in Iranian and Russian caviar, including Beluga. We found the shop named, appropriately enough, "Istanbul" amongst the best (Spice Bazaar stall No. 15, Eminonu, Tel. +90 212 512 84 00) for caviar purchases from mere grams to entire kilograms.

Once the end of the famed Silk Road, route of the spice trade, Istanbul still retains its preeminence in culinary flavorings; so while choosing your caviar, don’t forget to pick up some wonderful, fragrant, and deeply flavorful Paprika, pepper paste, Curry, or black, white, rose, or red peppercorns.

Scouring the Asian-side food markets around Uskudar, we found fresh morel mushrooms of superb quality. The price, a mere fifteen million . . . Turkish Lira, that is, or about $10 per pound. These delicacies, which count among the 5-star mushrooms of any connoisseur’s kitchen, store well, and can travel intact back home, where they can be enjoyed fresh or dried for future use. Take a stroll in any of the many Asian-side food markets, and you will find these treasures and more. You will find ferries departing regularly for various Asian-side ports from the Eminonu wharfs.

Furniture & Home Decor

With their tradition of handcrafting and one of the only European locations that still has sufficient timber resources, Turkey produces elegant wooden furniture, often combined with hand woven kilim or carpet upholstery to make for unique and gorgeous home or office decoration. Custom ordering is the way to go, even to the point of picking out particular rug designs and colors you want used in your furniture. You can also provide samples of the style you would like reproduced and choose from a variety of hardwood options. Always deal with actual manufacturers, and not those representing the work of others. Two service-oriented options: Find Kenan Can at Can Hali Pazari (Klodfarer Cad. No. 25, Sultanahmet). Kenan is a charming customer service professional, who will assist in furniture design and also attend to packing, shipping, and brokerage services. Faruk Tekin of Seyitagaogullari (see above under rugs) also makes furniture and is a specialist in the use of old kilims for upholstery as well as stylish shoes, handbags, and briefcases.

For a variety of home decoration options to compliment your new rugs and furniture, Istanbul’s best lies in hand painted ceramic and quartz tiles, textiles other than rugs, and hand worked silver. The most stunning and most prized hand painted tiles descend in tradition from the artisans who decorated the resplendent Topkapi Palace and other historic residences of Sultans and Pashas. Made from quartz rock rather than ceramic, these tiles literally gleam and glow with vibrant colors. We recommend talking to Mr. Ozgur Aydin of Amphora in the Arasta Bazaar, No. 147, who has a wide selection of both ceramic and quartz objects.

Hand worked silver, including wonderful vases, traditional rose water holders, and candelabras, have remained a tradition from Ottoman times. Mr. Semih Arkan’s store Khalkedon, on the Galata Bridge over the Bosphorus, has selected some of the finest silver decorative items as well as jewelry (Galara Koprusu No. 15, Eminonu Tel. +90 212 528 95 43).

Taking Some Time Out for Yourself

Shave, Facial, Massage, & more: Step back to the time before disposable razors and hectic schedules. Your hotel barber or any of the many around Sultanahmet will treat you to an hour or two of a double straight-razor shave, facial cleansing, and upper body massage. There’s nothing better after a hard day of selective shopping. The Turks excel at the art of relaxation in other ways, too. TheHammams are direct descendants of the Roman baths, Turkish Hammams provide a total body cleansing and thermal treatment plus massage. Ask your hotel concierge for a local recommendation.

Inestimable Istanbul: Shopping & Food

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Like taking an historical curve a bit too fast, we passed from Granada, Spain to Istanbul, Turkey in a day. The crescent moon and a single bright star out the taxi window on the 4:00 am drive to Malaga airport foretold our destination. The particular symbolism of this trip persisted, for we passed from a world in Granada where every mosque had in the 15th century seen conversion to a church, to a place where the opposite had occurred at just about the same time. The connections run deeper, of course, for the Jews expelled from Spain in early sixteenth century went to Istanbul and the Ottoman menace became a preoccupation of the Spanish kings. Malaga itself had controlled trade with Byzantium in earlier times, though riding on the aging 757 and MD87 jets of Iberia Airlines made the trip much faster than for our forebears.

Istanbul charms. Rome amazes, but Istanbul charms. Rome has always been Roma, while Istanbul stands as itself and its predecessors, all at once: Byzantium and Constantinople and Istanbul. It's a hackneyed truism to talk about Istanbul serving as the bridge between east and west, between Asia and Europe, but it is truer than one can put into words.

We speak to people who drive nonchalant confidence to Afghanistan, we feel the East in every crowded street, we breath Asia from across the Bosphorus, and sense the frontiers. The city exudes an indelible cosmopolitan air that gives true meaning to this overused word. It is an Islamic place, there's no mistaking it, but not the Arabian Muslim ethic; another more practical, perhaps more mercantile spirit dwells here.

Food-wise Istanbul ingratiated herself to us. The cuisine is noble and well-established, and being a coastal place, replete with seafood. The Mediterranean has left its strong impression here, but so too has the interior and the intermingling of so many cultures over time: Hungarian, Central Asian, Caucasian, French & Italian, the latter two being at different time cultural models for sultans bent on modernizing their country. Let's not forget that much of the French patisserie tradition passed via Austria direct from the Ottoman Empire.

In Istanbul, buying a rug is almost obligatory, and though it's a racket, the kilims, sumacs, and carpets assembled in Istanbul's shops will not disappoint. Kilims are flat-woven rugs (no pile); carpets have pile; and sumacs combine sections of flat-weave and carpet in a single rug. We spent perhaps too much time rug shopping, trying to learn, to distinguish qualities, to compare prices. Many places obviously offer tourist fare, poor quality, intentionally aged, with terrible dye quality. With a little time and forethought, you can weed out such offerings. Don't be offended by the rug hawkers constantly trying to grab your attention--simply be polite, engage in a little conversation, and then tell them you're still thinking and you'll come back to their shop later.

We stayed at a small hotel with a wonderful location just off the ancient Hippodrome, and near the Islamic Art Museum, Blue Mosque and Haggia Sophia. The latter counts among the architectural treasures of the world, and would be worth a trip to Istanbul on its own. Our hotel, the Ibrahim Pasha, has recently transformed its previously teeny-tiny rooms to more spacious accommodations, and the "deluxe" room on the 4th floor has even more space and a bath tub.

The staff are incredibly helpful, the rooms clean and well-appointed. Breakfast is included, and there's a pleasant lobby with a fireplace (if you visit in winter as we did, it's a nice touch). Recommended, but don't expect luxury. Istanbul also has a full selection of international tourist- and luxury-class hotels, with the Kempinski being perhaps the best (and most dear). Our strong recommendation, however, would be to stay in Sultanhammet, the historic center.

For eating, consider the numerous seafood restaurants of Kumkapi, a good choice being Okyanus. Here, you can select from about 20 restaurants next door to one another, all providing fresh seafood and live music. The atmosphere is very pleasant. You might also venture across the highway to the shore of the Marmara Sea, where there are additional restaurants, some with pleasant views.

Balikci Sabahattin gets our best recommendation for seafood, in the center of Sultanhammet, with skillfully prepared and presented cuisine in a traditional wooden house of some elegance, all for an excellent price. You can order a six course dinner topped of by a Turkish liqueur for 25 euros. Tel. (0212) 458 18 24

Save up to 50% at Luxury Link!

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Turkish wine producers have had to struggle for survivial until recently. Now, Turkey offers an array of different wines and styles, including intriguing domestic varieties.
 
An example of one producer is Mahzen, www.mahzensarap.com. Most wine is produced by large companies, one of them formerly controlled by the government. As one article indicates, wine production is advancing rapidly in Turkey. Some of the big producer have made fine efforts, though we prefer to see a boutique wine industry develop as well.
 
A recent tasting: Kavaklidere Narince-Semillon, 2002 made from the native Narince grape blended with French variety Semillon.
 

Some more information on Turkish wines

Mymerhaba page on Turkish wine in recent competition

Canticum Hotels Group
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