Let’s continue from where we left off on Friday…. After three nights at the Ciragan Palace on one side of the Bosphorus River, we were picked up by boat (a beautiful boat with polished teak and tan leather cushions) and ferried across the river to Sumahan on the Water.
Sumahan is a luxury boutique hotel located in an old raki factory in Cengelkoy- the Asian side of the Bosphorus. Just to clarify, there is nothing Asian feeling about it.
Arriving by boat at the magic hour just before sunset and being greeted with minty lemonades dockside, we were off on the right foot at Sumahan. Our suite (one of only 20 rooms and suites) was magnificent– modern and sleek with a wall of windows opening to the Bosphorus and the lights of Istanbul across the way.
The large bathroom was all white marble with a separate bathtub, Turkish towels and I loved that their fresh scented toiletries had Turkish words translated on the back into English (Turkish is haaard by the way!). Breakfast at Sumahan is in a word: lovely. On the jasmine scented patio a medley of Turkish breakfast items are brought on a plate in a arrangement that can only be called artistic. Complimented by fresh baked treats, eggs, fresh squeezed orange juice (a very big thing in Turkey– all day, everywhere), coffee or tea, a perfect start to the day.
Ironically too, although Sumahan is farther away from most sights and neighborhoods you’ll want to explore, we found it more pleasant to get to them via the frequent ferries that are fun to ride and a great way to see the city from the water. After being immersed in the hustle and bustle of the city, Sumahan is a tranquil refuge we decided– the perfect spot to relax with a glass of wine at sunset on their riverside patio and then walk a few minutes through the lovely neighborhood to a local fish restaurant for dinner.
Which we did. Iskele is not my dream aesthetic, but the roof top patio was open to the night air and the food was delicious, the service professional and unpretentious. Order several mezzes (Turkish appetizers) and then select your fish from ice and have it prepared as you wish. The Turkish wines are also very good — we were big fans of their chardonnay, particularly Sarafin chardonnay. Another night we took the boat back across the river (Sumahan has a set schedule that is complimentary) at sunset for dinner — just the way I’d get around all the time if possible– no traffic, fresh air, fantastic views! A short taxi (car) ride up the hill and we were at Sunset Grill & Bar perched on a hilltop overlooking all of Istanbul. Sunset Grill has been a hot spot for the Istanbul elite and well heeled visitors for over a decade and it has the grace regarding service of an establishment that has been around that long yet the energy of being newly opened. The asian influenced international cuisine was very good and the scene was fun– this is the spot we discovered the hot drink of the season– Moet champagne on ice! A fun night indeed.
Other must visit restaurants are Lokanta Maya in Karakoy (like the Warehouse district of New Orleans, nothing else to see or do in the neighborhood), Zuma and House Cafe on the Bosphorus in Ortakoy (cute neighborhood to wander around), and G Balik for fish and views if you go for lunch, a scene at night. Lokanta Maya was our favorite dinner in Istanbul. A tiny restaurant that is quite cosmopolitan and international in terms of other diners (their rave review in Travel & Leisure no doubt has bolstered their popularity), yet the food was all Turkish but with inventive and divine twists. We loved it. Do not miss the zucchini fritters! House Cafe is the ground floor of House Hotel in Ortakoy. The House Hotels are a hipster boutique hotel mini-chain in Istanbul and the one on Ortakoy looks like a good option for a riverfront room in a boutique hotel. The House Cafe is literally on a dock on the Bosphorus and was a fabulous spot for brunch. Zuma, a few doors down is an international Japanese restaurant beloved by swishy Turks– great sushi but you’re really coming for the stunning setting– smack on the river.
Our new Turkish friends Adviye (of Aida Tours who helped me plan our Turkish adventure) and Hakan took us to the most unique spot for lunch one day. A little shuttle boat takes you from the mainland to a small island (Suada) comprised of several restaurants and clubs. We enjoyed fresh calamari, shrimp and fish at G Balik and we were hopeful to return after dark to the open air nightclubs — pretty sexy to be at an open air club on an island!
We also did a little shopping in Istanbul. Our first stop was the famous Grand Bazaar. One of the oldest and most well renowned shopping spots in the world, the Grand Bazaar is a maze of shops and stalls selling everything from high end jewelry to cheap souvenirs.
You should go in with a plan of what you’re looking for and some direction– my Turkish friend Zeynep recommended two jewelers who will give you a fair price and have gorgeous things: Timucin and Selcuk. I also found some cool Grecian style leather sandals (could not tell you where!), ikat pillow cases, rose scented olive oil soaps and Turkish towels. It is customary to bargain! The Spice Market was our next stop and we found it eventually wandering around. A big L-shaped building, stalls selling fragrant spices are heaped into colorful piles.
One afternoon I decided I really wanted to just wander the hip, cool neighborhoods and pretend like we lived in Istanbul– I like “trying on” the places we visit. Beyoglu is allegedly the “Soho of Istanbul” and sounded bohemian and cool. We set off for it — alas, not totally sure we quite found “it.” Found a lot of lightbulb stores… and eventually found a cute stretch in Galata (a neighborhood southwest of Beyoglu). One of, it not the best boutique I found in Turkey is on this stretch- Atelier 55. I browsed their shop in Galata and then bought a cool clutch and top by Turkish designers at their just opened sister store in Turbuktu on the Bodrum peninsula. The owners have a great eye and offer fabulous things from around the world in addition to on trend Turkish designers.
After five nights in Istanbul, I feel like we got a great introduction to this incredible city. I can’t wait to return to dive in deeper.
In the coming days will be reporting on a medieval city, boat trips and the Bodrum Peninsula!! xo