An insider guide that will walk you around all the secrets of the city where East meets West. Discover Istanbul through the eyes of a beauty catcher: fashion designer and globetrotter Bolka Basaran.
“I live to find beauty. Whether it’s the morning light and cherished solitude in a city before the crowds come rolling in, a beautiful oxymoron found in a book or the juxtaposition of two colours, like icy blue and Bordeaux.”
That’s how Bolka Basaran, young fashion designer and globetrotter, describes herself. Born and raised in Istanbul, she left the city almost a decade ago. During these past years she’s been living in London, then NYC, Milan and Paris, where she is now based.
“Currently, I’m trying my hand at the family business, creating my first collection – of dresses, mainly, which for me are like Istanbul…or like me: where East meets West.”
THE MOST POETIC SIDE OF ISTANBUL
When I’m crossing the Bosphorus on the city ferry at sunset, with the minarets of the city as a captivating silhouette all around me, or when I’m at a fish place surrounded by old wooden Ottoman, or at the yalis – the waterfront palaces on the Asian side.
BOOKS YOU SHOULD READ BEFORE VISITING ISTANBUL
I’ve read all of Pierre Loti’s books on the city in order to help me discover his beloved Istanbul. He was a 19th-century French orientalist/traveller/writer who lived in Istanbul for a while. He used to love it so much that, going back to his hometown in France, he had a minaret built from which he religiously made the call to the prayer!
A MUST-DO IN ISTANBUL
Like I did, when in Istanbul you’ve got to search for the places where time has stopped. You get that feeling of timelessness while having a Kaave (NDR: Coffee Fortune Reading) We are all superstitious and we still believe in things such as bad magic, love potions and death spells made with soap. Everyone I know must have a story of someone they once knew who passed away because of that.
WHAT TO SEE IN ISTANBUL
The European side has always been considered “the place to be” – that was where all the luxury hotels, restaurants and bars were, as well as the historical centre. Perhaps its appeal had to do with the mere fact that it was, indeed, “Europe.”
Now, however, I am discovering the lesser-known palaces of the Asian side (to my big surprise, they are not known by locals, let alone tourists) which are quintessentially Ottoman. They remind me of the sublime palaces one sees in India.
In fact, we share the same Mughal heritage with Indians and have a lot of words in common too. I think Ottoman baroque is my favourite architectural style because it is unique, it really looks like Europeanised Mughal. Dolmabahce Palace, Kucuksu Pavilion, Beylerbeyi Palace, Hidiv Pavilion are all places that infinitely inspire me.
I also get inspired by my mother’s work in our own home in Istanbul. I think she is one of the few people who manage to marry Oriental and Occidental elements without becoming kitsch.
Vişnezade Mahallesi, Dolmabahçe Cd., 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 236 90 00
Göksu Mahallesi, Küçüksu Cd., 34815 Beykoz/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 216 332 33 03
Beylerbeyi Mah, Abdullah Ağa Caddesi Beylerbeyi Sarayı, 34676 Üsküdar/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 236 90 00
Çubuklu Mah. 34805 Beykoz, İstanbul, Turkey
+90 216 413 9253
WHERE TO STAY IN ISTANBUL: INSIDER TIPS
Asian Side – Ajia Hotel
This Ottoman mansion has the best view over the Bosphorus, with its terraces hanging right over the sea. It only has 16 rooms, so quietness and privacy are an everyday occurrence. One thing you shouldn’t miss while there is the chance to get a candlelight dinner in the 1870 pavilion. The prize-winning Mediterranean menu is accompanied by the dark tones of the furniture, contrasting with the brilliance of a sea that feels so close it could be touched.
Kanlıca Mahallesi, Çubuklu Cad. Ahmet Rasim Paşa Yalısı No:27, 34810 Beykoz/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 216 413 93 00
European Side – Our House
If you want to stay in the more established European side, our house in the historical centre, which we no longer live in, welcomes guests at times. It’s a 4-bedroom apartment, each of them with en-suite services and uniquely furnished. It also serves as an art gallery, full of restored European antiques and bespoke eastern furniture.
The apartment is located in Galatasaray, one of the most up-and-coming districts in town. Within walking distance you’ll be able to catch up with all the highlights of the neighborhood, from the majestic Galata Bridge to the medieval Galata Tower, from the fascinating Galata Convent of Whirling Dervishes to Istiklal Street, renamed the “Oxford Street” of Istanbul for its vast choice of chic boutiques, antique shops and gourmet restaurant.
Ismail, our famous painter friend who manages it, can be reached by e-mail for reservations: Ismail@ismailacar.com
WHERE TO EAT IN ISTANBUL
Sitting by the Chora Museum, Asitane is a restaurant where they make all the Ottoman palace dishes from their original, long forgotten recipes. You can expect to find a lot of sweet and sour in Ottoman Palace cuisine, a little bit like Moroccan food but less spicy: quince stuffed with meat, vine leaves stuffed with rice and cherries, almonds and raisins, rice with cinnamon…We love cinnamon, especially in our palatial cuisine!
Edirnekapı Mahallesi, Kariye Cami Sk. No:6, 34240 Fatih/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 635 79 97
Misina, Iskele, Inciralti Meyhanesi
Another classic for Turkish people is fish and mezes (a big round of appetizers) with raki, the Turkish ouzo. For that, I love Misina in Beylerbeyi, on the Asian side. It’s right by the sea and in one of my favourite neighbourhoods where you can experience old Istanbul. I hear Iskele there is good too. Inciralti Meyhanesi is a very cute tavern with delicious mezes and a brilliant option for dinner.
Beylerbeyi Mahallesi, Beylerbeyi İskele Cd. No:9, 34676 Üsküdar/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 850 532 0303
Rumeli Hisarı, Yahya Kemal Cd. No:1, 34470 Sarıyer/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 263 29 97
Beylerbeyi Mahallesi, Arabacılar Sk. No:4, 34676 Üsküdar/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 216 557 66 86
Pandeli, an old courthouse inside the Spice Market, has stunning Iznik tiles on its walls and it makes a very good doner (meat) and aubergine borek (pie.) Ataturk, Audrey Hepburn, everyone used to go there! It’s closed now but should be reopening again shortly and it only serves lunch.
Eminönü, Mısır Çarşısı No:1, 34435 Fatih/Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 527 39 09
WHERE TO HAVE A COCKTAIL IN ISTANBUL
Soho House, the private club and hotel that has everything: from cinemas to an exquisitely furnished cocktail bar, from the Spa with one of the best Hamman in town to an old-style barber and parlour.
Evliya Çelebi Mahallesi, 34430 Beyoğlu, Istanbul, Turkey
+90 212 377 71 00
WHERE TO GO SHOPPING IN ISTANBUL
The Grand Bazaar, no doubt! Abdulla or Dervis in particular for peshtemal, our special towels. At Dervis, you can also find antique kaftans. For the best kilims (the traditional tapestry-woven carpets), our dear friend Erkal Aksoy has the best selection, expensive but always worth it.
Beyazıt Mh., 34126 Fatih, Istanbul, Turkey
+90 212 519 12 48
WHERE TO GET PAMPERED IN ISTANBUL
Kilic Ali Pasha Hamam will treat you with a typical Turkish bath experience in a traditional setting, while Swissotel is my go-to choice if I want a really good service at the Turkish bath or a really good massage – Anya especially is the best masseuse in the world!
Kilic Ali Pasha Hamam
Kemankeş Karamustafa Paşa Mahallesi, Hamam Sk. No:1, 34425 Beyoğlu/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 393 80 10
Vişnezade Mahallesi, Acısu Sokaği No:19, 34357 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Turkey
+90 212 326 11 00
Is there any secret address that you want to share with us?
All of my addresses are secret, so ssshhhh, pretend you didn’t hear anything.
Still, make sure you check out Saffet Emre Tonguc’s website before going to Istanbul or get in touch with him before booking. He organizes special tours, such as Hagia Sophia by night.