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Travelling to Istanbul and discovering what it has to offer

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Istanbul – There are many reasons in travelling to Istanbul, the largest city in Turkey, for a future trip. Indeed, one of the largest and oldest cities in the world is more accessible than ever since the arrival of the carrier Turkish Airlines in 2015, which offers 3 direct flights per week to Istanbul with an Economy Class that has nothing to envy to some North American Business Classes (comfort kit, Wi-Fi in flight, full meal, personal entertainment unit aka it’s very, very comfortable.) And, once you arrive in Istanbul, you will land at the brand new airport, inaugurated earlier this year, which has quickly become the largest airport in the world. But furthermore, you will understand that you are elsewhere … far from everything you know.

When travelling to Istanbul – one of the only cities in the world to span two continents at the same time, Europe and Asia

Istanbul is a fascinating and unique city; it is one of the only cities in the world that spreads on two continents at the same time, Europe and Asia, it is also a unique metropolis where you will be able to live at the same time cultural shock (visit mosques, places of worship that are full of history), but also discover “the new Istanbul” where skyscrapers, futuristic and modern buildings will make you feel like home. No matter what you prefer to experience, Istanbul offers something for everyone, and it’s one of the most diverse and diverse cities in the world. Dare to discover it on a future trip, and follow the guide …

Travelling to Istanbul: traditions and history

The largest city in Turkey is a city full of history and tradition. The majority of them are still relevant and you can discover all the subtleties if you walk in the “Old City” where neighbourhoods surrounding the Bosphorus extend. In this historic part of the city, the cultural influences of the many empires that ruled Istanbul are still omnipresent. In the only district of Sultanahmet, you will find the iconic Hagia Sophia Mosque including an imposing 6th century dome and rare Christian mosaics. That is one of the most beautiful mosques in Istanbul, and there is a lot more to discover in addition to the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, three places of cult for the Ottoman culture.

A trip on the Bosphorus, this water race that divides the city in two (the European portion and the Asian portion) is a must and ferries and pleasure boats are flocking at a breakneck pace. Take the opportunity to cross the bridge and go to two stages, three movements on another continent and visit the Asian portion of the city of Istanbul. Speaking of traditions, a visit to Turkish capital would not be complete without visiting a traditional hammam. There are several in Istanbul, but Kılıç Ali Paşa Hamamı, tested and approved by yours truly, offers an authentic experience in a neat and modern decor (the hammam was built in an old mosque). Otherwise, the Grand Bazaar, though disconcerting, and the Spice Bazaar, are also obligatory stops, to understand the history and wealth of Istanbul’s magnificent. Our suggestion: hire the services of a certified travel guide for a first-time visit. Istanbul can be overwhelming and sometimes confusing, and, even if its just for one day, a local’s insider tips and point of view will be a great help.

Where to stay when travelling to Istanbul

Istanbul is full of hotels of all kinds, but few of them have as much history as the Ciragan Palace Kempinski , a 17th century palace built on the shores of the mythic Bosphorus. It is also the only imperial palace from the Ottoman Empire that was converted into a hotel on the edge of the Bosphorus. The palace was converted in 1991 by the Kempinski Group, the oldest collection of luxury hotels in Europe. The renovations included the addition of an annex, which today serves as the hotel’s main building with 310 rooms and 20 suites. The “Palace” section is still in operation, and there are 11 presidential suites and the excellent Tugra restaurant serving upscale Turkish cuisine.

Today, the Ciragan Palace has retained its splendor and welcomed a new outdoor bar, the Monkey Bar, to enjoy the spectacular view of the “Europe/Asia” bridge and the bosphorus in the evening, as well as a spa, an outdoor pool and a restaurant overlooking the waterfront. The rooms have retained the historical charm with subtle reminders of the Ottoman culture and it’s like being in an Ottoman palace. It is therefore the perfect hotel for those wishing to live an authentic and royal experience.

Travelling to Istanbul: modernity and openness

Raffles Istanbul is the third European hotel of the prestigious Raffles hotel chain, that is mainly established in Asia. It was built in 2013 as part of the new Zorlu neighbourhood, which is, in fact, the equivalent of Hudson Yards for New York. The Raffles hotel is absolutely spectacular and reflects the neighbourhood that houses it: luxurious, technological, gigantic, grandiose and completely modern. For travellers wishing to stay in “known territory” in a city as disorienting as Istanbul, the district of Zorlu has nothing to do with the old city, traditions and history. Here we are catapulted into the future, in the middle of modern skyscrapers, designer shops and trendy restaurants and bars. When we leave the “old city” and we arrive at Zorlu, the shock is immense. It’s like being in another city, even more, in another country.

The Raffles Hotel was built to complement this mega-project, inaugurated with great fanfare in 2014 in the high hills overlooking the city. Absolutely spectacular, the rooms are of course ultra modern, up to date, and much larger than the ones you will find in the old city, considering that the building is completely new. On site, the customers have a direct access to the shopping center and to the attractions of the district, to a remarkable restaurant, Isokyo, which obtained 4 petals to the Turkish Guide (equivalent of the Guide Michelin) is the highest distinction for a Asian restaurant. There you will also find : a spectacular spa with indoor and outdoor pool, steam room and high-end treatments, a lobby where you can enjoy tea (high tea is served every day in the afternoon) and hotel rooms offering all the latest technology, a large balcony and floor-to-ceiling windows. In short, the Raffles Istanbul is an excellent choice for discerning travellers who want to discover a city out of their comfort zone, without being too much out of their comfort zone, precisely. But, no matter how you choose to live and discover Istanbul, you will be completely captivated, seduced, shocked, transported … that is the Istanbul effect.

Raffles Hotel Istanbul offers an outdoor pool and rooms with balconies

by Catherine Maisonneuve

catherine@mtltimes.ca

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