Sensual Istanbul

Istanbul is the ultimate city filled with adventure, sensuality and history

Istanbul has long been the conduit between Europe and Asia, a gateway for ideas, people and goods. With the western banks of the Bosphorus marking the geographic start of the European continent and the eastern banks at the edge of Asia some might consider this straddling of history and heritage as an identity crisis but the confluence of cultures in Istanbul is what makes this city glow. Here, identity is experienced as action; it is in the traditions of family, art, music, mythology and food where the true Istanbul resides.

Topkapi Palace
Topkapi Palace seen from the Bosporus by Nurlan Mammadzada

In my first trip to this city, I am overwhelmed by its beauty, which has been described by poets and travellers for millennia and is still the backdrop to works of literature and cinema. It was probably Sean Connery’s signature smirk and dark grey Duponi suit in Bond’s From Russia With Love that first alerted me to the chic mysteries of Istanbul. My love for this city grew deeper and more nuanced through the novels and memoirs of Turkey’s most beloved literary son OrhanPamuk. Any trip to Istanbul will be greatly augmented by reading his work in advance. Especially his memoir Istanbul and his novel The Museum Of Innocence for which the writer has opened a brick and mortar museum in the Çukurcumaneighbourhood. Even if you haven’t read his books the museum is a wonderful introduction to the lives of everyday Istanbulites.

Four Seasons at the Bosphorus Palace Room
Four Seasons at the Bosphorus Palace Room with a view & outdoor dining

I called Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus (Fourseasons.Com/Bosphorus) my home for the next few days as I explored the city. This nineteenth-century Ottoman palace contains all of my childhood fantasies about the opulent East while delivering the best service imaginable. Sitting in all its neo-classical grandeur along the Bosphorus, the hotel was refurbished under the stylish designer and architect Sinan Kafadar. Rooms are tastefully luxurious and understated with a colour palette that hints at post-modern retro while the fixtures are super savvy. Choose one of the Palace rooms for the floor to ceiling windows overlooking the flowing waters of the Bosphorus strait.

Four Seasons at the Bosphorus Palace Room
Four Seasons at the Bosphorus Palace Room with a view & outdoor dining

My usual travel style is to lose myself in the neighbourhoods of a city, but there is so much going on in Istanbul that it is one of the few cities where I recommend the services of a local tour company. Amaze By Neon designed a customised 3-day itinerary that would give me a flavour of authentic Istanbul. From visits to the city’s historic sites to its walking tours through its winding streets and up-and-coming neighbourhoods providing unique insights into the sounds, smells and tastes of Istanbul’s past and present; this was going to be a dive right into the beating heart of Istanbul.

Galata Tower
Beautiful panoramic view of the old district of Istanbul, Galata Tower in the background & ships sailing on the Golden Horn by Viacheslav Lopatin

The location of the Four Seasons at the Bosphorus is perfect. Right near the divine Yildiz Park, once part of the imperial gardens, is always an ideal people-watching spot as locals gather on sunny days to share picnics. Nearby is the Chi-Chi (and must-do) shopping district of Nişantaşı and the indomitable Dolmabahçe Palace, which is where a new visitor may as well start as it’s in walking distance or a short taxi ride from the hotel.

Dolmabahçe Palace
Dolmabahçe Palace

Sultan Abdülmecid I started building the Dolmabahçe Palace in 1843 and perhaps the reason I love this Palace so much is the fact that Abdülmecid is a kindred spirit, willing to break the bank in the quest for beauty. He used 35 tonnes of gold and today the construction would have cost upwards of a billion dollars and in a roundabout way was one of the factors that lead to the downfall of the Ottoman Empire. Dolmabahçe is deliciously over-the-top and even if the mix of baroque, rococo and neoclassical induces style overload you can’t deny the feeling of design schadenfreude – at least my own home renovation didn’t send a whole empire under.

Hagia Sophia
The general vicinity of Hagia Sophia is usually crowded with both locals and tourists

Before Abdülmecid I moved into Dolmabahçe he and all the sultans before him inhabited the majestic Topkapi Palace. It’s where my imagination soars as the stories of salacious sultans, scheming royals and saucy concubines echo throughout the halls and rooms. Filled with jewels and religious relics including (apparently) Moses’ staff and Muhammad’s beard hair, this palace-cum-museum is a history nerd’s dream come true. My expert guide from Amaze by Neon, NazlıZobranli, painted this 15th-century architectural gem with stories of sultans, their consorts, the wazirs and an empire’s conquests as we strolled along the manicured gardens of this historic palace.

Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam
The nearby vicinity of Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam is worthy of a walkabout with fountains, historic buildings and heritage sites, by Zabotnova Inna

Any trip to Istanbul will be incomplete without visiting a Turkish Hammam and Istanbul has some of the best. One of the oldest that still functions is the AyasofyaHurrem Sultan Hamam (Ayasofyahamami.Com). It was built at the behest of Roxelana the wife of Sultan Suleiman in the 16th-century and after the restoration, it has become an even more marvellous experience. Steps from the Hagia Sophia, this Turkish bathhouse is a paradise for relaxation. With separate areas for men and women, The Hamam’s ritual includes a soothing wash-down with continuously flowing hot water, a relaxing bubble massage on a warm marble stone, a body clay wrap, a body massage and finally a time-out in their relaxing zones with a platter of Turkish delights and fruits. This bath ritual lasts for just under two hours and one is thoroughly pampered like royalty. A good Hamam is addictive and stepping out from AyasofyaHurrem Sultan Hamam is always accompanied with a promise to return for this indulging experience.

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