Exotic Vacation in Turkey
It is a long flight from Los Angeles to Istanbul, Turkey and I had the pleasure of flying Business Class on Turkish Airlines. Each flight has Chefs on board who prepare your meals along with some of the best service I have had on an international airline. Business class is a true “lay flat” seat and their economy plus service is one of the nicest I have seen. As a fellow traveler said to me “this beats United Airlines” and I agree it was a pleasure to fly on Turkish Airlines.
Once we arrived Istanbul the custom lines were quick and we were transferred to our hotel the Shangri-La Bosphorus. Located next door to the Prime Minister’s office most of their rooms have a view or partial view of the famous Bosphorus River. The rooms are luxurious and are some of the largest we saw in Istanbul. We had the pleasure of dining in their IST TOO Restaurant which provided excellent cuisine paired with exquisite Turkish wine.
The following day we began with a visit to the Old City and our first stop was the Hippodrome one of the largest chariot race grounds from the Byzantine Empire. The Blue Mosque and St Sophia the Church of Divine Wisdom were a highlight of my visit to Istanbul. The workmanship and history of these two structures is fascinating and you can see the Asia and European influence in both along with the Christian and Muslin faiths. We also had a visit to the Topkapi Palace Museum which was the primary residence of the Ottoman Sultans. The complex consists of several buildings where they have many relics of the Muslim faith and also the rooms of the Harem where their women and children lived.
After our morning visit to the old city we had the pleasure of visiting the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul Sultanahmet located near the Old City. I have had many of my clients stay in this property and it doesn’t disappoint. The rooms are comfortable with an old European influence. Lunch was delicious and as any other Four Seasons hotel the service was impeccable. If you have just a couple of nights in Istanbul this is the best location which allows you to visit the most important areas of the city and the Grand Bazaar.
When you visit Istanbul a cruise on the Bosphorus is a must. It is best to go at the cocktail hour and watch the sunset and see the palaces and villas along the shore. It is amazing how much traffic is on the river. There are many Ferries cruising back and forth from the Asia and European side along with large tankers heading to the Black Sea.
Following our cruise we visited the famous Ciragan Palace Kempiski. It has one of the best locations on the Bosphorous with 80% of their rooms facing the River. The hotel is divided by two buildings the historical villa building with 11 suites and a newer building that houses their rooms. They have several restaurants and a gorgeous swimming pool. Unfortunately the hotel is looking very tired and I felt it needed a renovation. We dined in one of their fine dining restaurants and I found the food disappointing when comparing it with all of the other meals we had in Turkey.
The following morning we had breakfast at the Four Seasons Bosphorus which was a treat. Like their other hotel the food and service was perfect. For those of you that have 3 or more nights in Istanbul this is a great location on the Bosphorus. Or a stay of 2 nights at Sultanahmet and 2 nights on the Bosphorus would be a great visit. The rooms are lovely and their spa is gorgeous which has been rated as the best in Europe. I would love to go back and spend a day in that spa!
Before our visit to the Grand Bazaar we had lunch at the Nar Lokantasi Restaurant located near the bazaar. They have fantastic Turkish Cuisine and I can highly recommend this restaurant. A visit to the Grand Bazaar is an entertaining experience. Be prepared to haggle for that special item you want such as a rug, leather goods and jewelry. A visit to Istanbul is not complete without a visit to the Grand Bazaar.
Our evening started with a visit to the world famous Jumeriah Pera Palace Hotel. This is the former Orient Express hotel where many celebrities such as Alfred Hitchcock, Hemingway and where Agatha Christie wrote a part of her book Murder on the Orient Express. Many of the rooms are named after their famous visitors such as the Hemingway suite and they have a room where Agatha Christie stayed. If you are a fan you will want to stay in the Agatha Christie suite which houses her original typewriter. The hotel is full of museum quality exhibits and has an old world charm. Located in one of the hippest neighborhoods of Istanbul it is in an exciting location.
After our visit at the Pera Palace we dined at one of the finest restaurants in Istanbul with the most fantastic view of the city. Imagine it is night in Istanbul and you have a view is of the Bosporus with all of the famous structures of Istanbul lit up. It is gorgeous, romantic and we had one of our finest meals at the Mikla Restaurant. Our representative in Turkey has priority reservations and a visit to this restaurant during you visit to Istanbul is recommended.
I found that I could easily go back to Istanbul and stay for a week and have something new to do every day. The government has cleaned up the city and restoring many of their historical structures. I found it to be a safe city and with it being tulip season the city was full of flowers. All of the main streets are lined with gardens and obvious the locals are proud of their city.
Before leaving Istanbul the following day we had a visit to the Basilia Cistern which held the water supply for the Great Palace. If you have read Dan Brown’s Inferno you will know about this Cistern. Lined with ancient columns it is amazing how it was built and it is worth the visit.
We departed for Cappadocia mid-day and when we landed I felt like I had entered a Star Wars set. This is where you see the famous rock outcrops known as fairy chimneys. Many dwellings were carved out of the hills which became people homes, barns, churches and monasteries.
Our home in Cappadocia is the Museum Hotel a Relais & Chateau property. Much of the hotel is carved out the side of the hill and each room is unique. Rooms are large and there are many stairs to navigate to reach the majority of their rooms. My room had a large sitting area that looks out over the valley with a large L shaped couch and a fountain with gold fish swimming in the fountain. The views and cuisine were amazing.
We had an early start the following morning to meet our hot air balloon which is the best way to see the chimneys & hills from above. I have never seen so many hot air balloons in one place! I can highly recommend the Royal Air Balloon Company that our Turkey representative hires. They have the best safety record in the area and the Australian pilot was a delight.
During our visit of the area we were able to visit the Argos Hotel. Another beautiful hotel carved into the hillside and consists of six different mansions. The rooms are well appointed and have beautiful baths. They have two large two level suites with private pools and a private cave cellar to die for. We had the privilege of sampling some fine Turkish wines and having a magnificent dinner in the cellar. The cellar is perfect for a small wedding and/or special occasion.
If you have an interest in Turkish pottery this is the best place to buy it. There is a beautiful Turkish Pottery Museum that will be opening soon and they plan to have special concerts and occasions in the museum. Like many structures in the valley it has been carved out of the hillside and I saw some of the most beautiful pottery in their workshop.
Our last visit was the CCR Cappadocia Cave Resort which is considered a larger property with 125 rooms. They have ground level rooms so you don’t have to climb stairs to get to your room and a nice spa. The facilities are well appointed and they can accommodate larger groups.
We had a two night stay in Cappadocia which I think works well. It is important for you to be able to climb stairs, hills and be able to crouch under low hanging rocks. There are many historical carved out caves to visit with ancient frescos and underground cities. How they lived underground is amazing to me. The community cooked, ate and slept together to hide from their enemies and I marvel how they were able to store their possessions and animals in such tight quarters.
We flew back to Istanbul for our last night in Turkey and stayed at the House Hotel named The Vault Karakoy. Newly opened it is located inside an old bank building. They gutted the entire building but were able to keep the historical marble, high ceilings and pillars in the building. The rooms are comfortable with nice baths and amenities. It is best you don’t stay in the lowest category rooms unless you are traveling by yourself because they are small. The upstairs bank vault is used as their bar adjacent to the dining area of the hotel and in their two downstairs vaults they have one as a meeting room and the other as their wine cellar. The hotel is building a roof top bar that will be the hip place to go in Istanbul with fantastic views. I like the location of the hotel because they located near the bridge that takes you over the river and to the spice bazaar which is a 15 to 20 minute walk. Then you can take the tram to the Grand Bazaar which is another 15 minutes away. Our breakfast was yummy and I think this hotel will do well for those short visits to Istanbul.
This was a magnificent visit to Turkey and that is because of Sea Song Tours. Their guides, drivers and vehicles were the finest in Turkey. They are well known and can offer special experiences that no one else can in Turkey. Owned by an American they know the US traveler and it shows. Thank you for a wonderful visit to Turkey Sea Song!