By Maxine Albert
What’s not to love about fashionable and fabulous Turkey? Chic, romantic and mystical, Istanbul offers a unique combination of ancient city and swinging modern metropolis. You’ll find a well-heeled beautiful set, great art scene, happening nightlife, trendy boutiques, eateries and cafes. Enhancing the aura of mystery and glamour is Topkapi Palace with its jewel collection and the city’s old historic sites, Turkish Baths and a tented five hundred fifty year old Grand Bazaar. A visit to Bodrum’s seaside with its famed yachts and beaches plus a jaunt at magical Cappadocia’s fairy chimneys and underground cities – is guaranteed to satisfy even the most discerning palate.
Your journey begins aboard Turkish Airlines, which offers comfortable seats, superb amenities and direct service from major US cities to Istanbul. In addition to having the smoothest take off and landings ever, they are one of the few carriers to offer wifi on international flights. Don’t be surprised to see celebs on board – Ben Affleck, Pam Anderson and Paris Hilton are Istanbul aficionados. A ‘ Flying Chef ’ in the kitchen of every business cabin on overseas flights executes fine dining in the sky. My meal started with a typical selection of mezes –hot and cold appetizers, which was a great introduction to the country’s cuisine. www.turkishairlines.com
The luxurious and opulent 5 star Ciragan Palace Kempinski, former home of the Ottoman Sultans, is truly resplendent. With manicured gardens and a huge swimming pool, this haven of grandeur is situated right on the Bosphorus, with lavish palace suites and exquisite rooms fronting the water. Stunning interiors with elegant antiques, plush furniture, spacious bathrooms and king size comfy beds with the softest linens, plus the gorgeous marble and exquisite crystal chandeliers in the palace wing, guarantee every guest the royal treatment. Superb classic Turkish and Ottoman cuisine is served at their signature restaurant Tugra. At the outstanding Bosphorus Barbecue, you dine on local and international specialties with magnificent views of the sea, passing boats, the lights of Istanbul and the starry sky. It’s not surprising that Madonna, Oprah and Bono have stayed here. www.kempinski.com
Istanbul is magical. A visit to the famous Hagia Sofia with its massive dome and striking Byzantine design will leave you spellbound. Catch dazzling views of the Sea of Mamara from the second floor of this basilica turned mosque, now a museum. I was swept into a serene state at the iconic Blue Mosque, an architectural wonder with six minarets and striking blue tiles. Descend into the Basilica Cistern, an ancient reservoir with Medusa head columns, dripping water and classical music. Ogle the sparkling emeralds and diamonds of lavish Topkapi Palace, fabulous home of the Ottoman Sultans.
Istanbul thrills with an endless array of fascinating things to do and see and no trip is complete without a stop at a hamam, aka a Turkish Bath. Men and women in separate areas are washed from head to toe in steamy rooms. I felt totally rejuvenated after a bubble massage and pampering at the historic Ayasofya Turkish Baths, where the sultans bathed. My skin never felt so smooth and soft. A boat cruise up the Bosporus provides unforgettable vistas of castles, waterfront palaces and Ottoman villas. Stop for a leisurely lunch at Mavi for delectable seafood and more amazing views.
Treat yourself to unparalleled retail therapy at the Grand Bazaar. This tented shopping extravaganza has thousands of booths selling everything from rugs, fabrics, shawls and ceramics to gold jewelry. If you like Gucci and Prada, you’ll love Armaggan. Just steps from the Bazaar, this luxury goods store boasts gorgeous leather, artisan wares and the outstanding Nar Restaurant. Check out the hip art scene at Salt, then have the grounds on the bottom of your coffee cup read at a nearby café by a friendly local – a true Turkish delight!
ISTANBUL NIGHT LIFE:
Teeming with the hottest club, restaurants and celebrity haunts, Istanbul’s nightlife is legendary. Hang out with the stylish set at Babylon in trendy Beyoglu for cool jazz, reggae or other hot live music. Drop by Reina and savor the ultimate Turkish party scene. Try one of the open – air nightclubs and dance beneath the stars – all night! Relish an aperitif or dinner at in spot Nuteras, on the rooftop of the NuPera building, for the epitome of hip Istanbul with the backdrop of the Golden Horn. Stop in a local taverna for colorful Farsi music and tasty lamb kebabs with raki – the national liquor known as ‘lions milk.’ You’ll find that the Turkish people are warm, outgoing and know how to have fun.
Often compared to St. Barts and St. Tropez, the resort town of Bodrum is known as the playground of the rich and famous - Angelina Jolie, Catherine Zeta Jones and Tom Hanks among them. This picturesque seaside locale with beautiful natural light attracts artists and creative types, along with the fabulous. During the day the action is aboard traditional wooden gulets and modern yachts offering trips along the turquoise coast to secluded beaches and inlets. Join in the pastime of the glitterati - yachting about and enjoying the good life. For lunch, anchor at local favorite Ali Riza’s Place in Gumusluk for excellent fish. Back in town, Bodrum Castle offers panoramic views of the harbor and the town’s whitewashed houses splashed with colorful bougainvillea. Marvel at sunken treasure from a fourteenth century shipwreck at the cool Museum of Underwater Archaeology. You’ve never seen anything like this.
BODRUM NIGHT LIFE:
The glamour of the nightlife makes Bodrum the most popular party destination in Turkey, with each spot trying to outdo the next. You’ll find bars, discos, taverns and restaurants that sizzle till the wee hours in the morning. I took in the scene over dinner at The Marina Yacht Club, with live music and a fashionable crowd of all ages. Then I stumbled into Campanella, an upstairs café, where I was mesmerized by a dark haired beauty who sang ballads about love and longing like a Sufi mystic. After many hours I retired to my haven at the stylish 5 star Kempinski Hotel Barbaros Bay, with private beach, infinity pool, the best spa in Bodrum, superb cuisine and expansive balconies overlooking the Aegean Sea.
If fairy chimneys and subterranean cities turn you on, Cappadocia is your paradise. A favorite of the fashionable set, the region boasts a surreal landscape and luxury cave hotels. Volcanic eruptions and erosion created giant mushroom shaped rock formations, called ‘fairy chimneys,’ that make you feel as if you’re walking on the moon.
Goreme National Park’s wondrous open air museum includes monasteries, chapels and churches cut from rock and adorned with colorful Byzantine frescoes. The ancient town of Zelve consists of buildings and caves carved into cliffs. Phenomenal underground cities Kaymakli and Derinkuyu, where Christians escaped marauding enemies, have rooms for wine aging, cooking, storage, animal stabling and anything imaginable.
High above the charming town of Uchisar, you’ll find the ultimate in modern 5 star luxury in the chic restored caves of the Argos Hotel. Martha Stewart was so taken with this unique hotel’s scenic restaurant, rooms and suites with fireplaces, indoor pools and private terraces for breathtaking panoramic views that she featured it on her show. www.argosincappadocia.com
For the truly unforgettable Cappadocia experience, take in the magical landscape from a hot air balloon. You set off at dawn, the rising sun’s rays playing on the bizarre rock formations in a phantasmagoria as you glide silently through the sky. There are many balloon operators but my pick – and Martha’s - is Royal Balloon. www.royalballoon.com
Earthbound yet no less heavenly, a divine highlight of my stay in this magical land was watching the Whirling Dervishes as they twirled themselves into a mystical state in an ecstatic dance of devotion at Carevanserai.
For ancient beauty and modern luxury, head East to the timeless destinations of Turkey - Istanbul, Bodrum and Cappadocia.
HOW TO GO: Turkish Airlines flies from Major US Cities to Over 200 Destinations via Istanbul. www.turkishairlines.com
Maxine Albert, was a columnist for Elle. She has traveled the globe and written about the great barrier reef in Australia, maharajah's palaces in India, the Serengetti migration in Tanzania, the Aeolian and Greek Islands, the best spas in China and Thailand and the best of Paris, among others.