Your Istanbul Travel Cheat Sheet

Istanbul at Dusk (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

Istanbul at Dusk (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

Turkey, the site of two wonders of the ancient world, is a present-day marvel – the cradle of many civilizations, the very center of world history and a modern republic which, at times, struggles between embracing the relics of her past and a forward-seeking future. A country of fascinating contrasts, antiquity is juxtaposed with the contemporary, the familiar with the exotic, and sun-swept beaches beckon less than an hour away from snow-capped mountains. Everywhere, however, visitors say they are often treated to the extraordinary warmth of the Turkish people. Istanbul is the most popular 1st stop for those visiting Turkey and it’s a clear winner among people of all nationalities and religions. If  you only have a few days or a long weekend, here’s a quick cheat sheet of the Top Things to Do and See in Istanbul, to soon be followed by the Wonders of The Turkish Coast.

The Bosphorus

The Bosphorus

What to See

In addition to the well known sites of the Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace, two years ago, Istanbul was rated Travel + Leisure‘s #1 European city to visit, so, to celebrate Staff of the Turkish Cultural Foundation (TCF) compiled a list of the 10 places every visitor to Istanbul must experience which we wanted to share.

  1. Sip the best Turkish coffee at Mandabatmaz
  2. Browse the sustainable, locally-made, high-end contemporary Turkish goods at Armaggan Emporium
  3. Indulge in centuries of Anatolian culinary tradition at NAR Gourmet and NAR Restaurant
  4. Absorb the work of Turkey’s greatest contemporary artists at Istanbul Modern
  5. Hop on a Bosphorus ferry to Kadikoy for people watching and Alinin Dondurmasi’s famous ice cream
  6. Experience the centuries-old tradition of raki and fresh fish at İsmet Baba in Kuzguncuk
  7. Relax in the pleasure of a traditional Turkish hamam bath at Cağaloğlu Hamamı
  8. Shop the collection of critically acclaimed Turkish designer Simay Bülbül
  9. Soak up the sounds of Turkey’s thriving jazz scene at Nardis Jazz Bar
  10. Enjoy cocktails and conversation in Münferit’s quiet garden before returning inside to dance until dawn with locals
Istanbul (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

Istanbul (c) Ritz Carlton Istanbul

The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul

A few years ago, we stayed at The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul because we always know we’ll get top-notch service and food, but Istanbul has several fantastic properties that are unique and special (Note: Ciragan Palace). The Ritz is located at one of the most exciting cultural crossroads in the world in a city that bridges the continents of Asia and Europe along the banks of the Bosphorus Strait. From the outside, it may look like another skyscraper, but once inside, international recognition for its commitment to exceptional levels of service becomes clear. You’re not simply told where the Ladies room is located, you’re escorted there, after being offered some warm Turkish sahlep, a delectable sweet warm drink reminiscent of yogurt and cinnamon. The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul was voted “Best Overseas Business Hotel 2009” by readers of Condé Nast Traveller UK and it’s no surprise. It’s about as stress free as you can get. In addition to 244 rooms and 23 suites, there are 57 Ritz-Carlton Club Level rooms (since I’m obsessed with the Club Level) and The Ritz also offers the award-wining Laveda Spa that includes ten treatment rooms including a not-to-be-missed Turkish Hammam where you will feel transported back in time, dreaming of the days of Suleyman the Magnificient.

Ritz Carlton Couples Hammam

Ritz Carlton Couples Hammam

At the Laveda Spa, the experienced therapists apply the miraculous methods of massage and skin care with Aromatherapy Associates offering all natural plant oils and the high-end line of Carita products. Apart from that a variety of holistic massages like the relaxing “Sultans Royal Six Hands Massage” applied in synchronization by three trained artisans, there are also exclusive body treatments like the “Hot Chocolate Seduction”, “Caviar Therapy”, “Milk & Honey Bath,” or an intoxicating wine therapy called “The Gift of Bacchus,” all infused with natural ingredients.

The Indoor Pool at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul

The Indoor Pool at the Ritz Carlton Istanbul

The indoor pool, the biggest of all indoor hotel pools in the city, is another alternative for more sporty activities or a few lazy laps. You’ll have the feeling of soaking under the Turkish sky when swimming in the mosaic pool as twinkling “stars” on the ceiling illuminate the pool area and highlight the impressive architecture of the Byzantine period of Istanbul.

But perhaps the most stunning section of the Spa is the authentic Turkish Hamam modeled on the 16th century Baths of Roxelana. The Hamam ritual entails a process of complete surrender to scrubbing, washing, and relaxation where you enter a private hamam room and lay a warm slab of marble. Once there, you’re exfoliated and cleansed like a goddess with copious amounts of warm and cool water, followed by a thorough body wash, and a bubble massage where the therapist creates clouds of bubbles with the use of a special towel that surrounds you like a daphine-scented cloud (an exotic flower from Western Asia).

This was, in many ways, the highlight of my luxurious vacation.

Ritz Carlton Cooking

Ritz Carlton Cooking

After our Turkish Hamam, we headed to the Ritz Calrton Istanbul’s Çintemani restaurant for dinner, an exciting autumn menu designed to celebrate local seasonal produce and showcase a unique approach to the culinary traditions of Turkey. Highlights on the autumn five-course degustation menu from then Chef de Cuisine, Ali Ronay (now at Raffles). His menu included Turkish puff pastry with pumpkin and pomegranate, lamb from the Thracian region and Turkish pancakes, while the à la carte menu was a whirlwind journey around the country’s regional flavors from Thracian beef fillet, prawns from Turkey’s Mediterranean coast, tuna and octopus from Dardanelles, veal from Balikesir, and chicken from Bandirma on the Sea of Marmara. The fusion of local flavors and innovative cooking techniques made the dishes so unique and mouth-watering that I can honestly say I’ve never quite tasted food like this before. Prawns were infused with Turkish Raki brandy, Bosporus bonito fish was prepared in traditional tomato and onion ragout, while mullet from Dardanelles was dressed with virgin olive oil from Bodrum. Innovative techniques included lamb prepared à la sous vide (a method of cooking vacuum-packed food in a plastic pouch at a set temperature often in a water bath) and cheesecake created from Aegean curd and seasonal pumpkin.

Now are you hungry to check it out?

Rates from $269/night

Other amazing places to stay in Istanbul:

  • Kempinski Ciragan (truly historic and palatial)
  • The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul (can’t go wrong with the always solid Four Seasons)
  • Pera Palace (a Jumeirah property so expect proper opulence)
  • Georges Hotel Galata (a unique boutique property with an intimate vibe)
  • Hotel Ibrahim Pasha (another boutique property in the Sultanahmet district of Istanbul on a quaint quiet street)
  • The House Hotel Nisantasi (a smaller elegant modern hotel)

Bars and Restaurants to check out:

  • 11:11 (open Wed. – Sat. this hotspot is owned by the son of one of Turkey’s famous singers)
  • Public (where you want to people watch and party)
  • Poseiden (one of the top fish restaurants in Istanbul with classic mezzes & raki in an upmarket terrace atmosphere)
  • Casita (late night peruhi aka. vegetarian Turkish pasta with yoghurt & mint… yum!)

Glamping with The Ultimate Travelling Camp

India Glamping

I like a good adventure like the next person, but these days I’m more glamp and less camp. So, whenever I come across a great glamp group, I have to spread the word.

Enter: The Ultimate Travelling Camp which brings glamping to remote parts of India so travelers can safely go places where the infrastructure is inadequate or non-existent.  In fact, it’s the first truly mobile luxury camps in India covering a calendar of destinations and festivals!

Here’s what they offer:

*3 Regions: Ladakh, Adawdh, and Nagaland

*4 Camps: Chamba Camp, Thiksey (Ladakh), Kotwara Camp, Terai and Suheli Camp, Dudhwa (Awadh), and Kohima Camp, Nagaland (Nagaland)

This allows adventurers to experience the many moods of exotic India with its dramatic landscapes, mountains, deserts, jungles and unexplored countryside. Relax in individually designed tents, with en-suite bathrooms, private decks, crisp linen and the services of your very own butler. Enjoy delicious family recipes, hear stories from specialists and guest “travelogists” over fire-lit evenings, and immerse yourself in the magic of India. The Ultimate Travelling Camp can also be customized for special occasions.

So, check out these trips below and tell ’em we sent ya!

June 15 to September 30, 2014


Watch the sunset from Shanti Stupa overlooking the old city of Leh
Join the monks for a magical early morning prayer ceremony at  Thiksey Monastery
Indulge in a picnic lunch in a picturesque setting
Witness the traditional fanfare of a Ladakhi polo match
Kotwara: November 15, 2014 to March 31, 2015
Dudhwa: January 1 to March 3, 2015

Highlights for Kotwara
Visit the 400 year old frog temple in Oel
Have a Gala dinner at the Palace of Raja Muzaffar Ali
Enjoy sufi meditation and music
Spend some time viewing Raja Muzaffar Ali’s films
Relish high tea by the lake
Try the famed Awadhi dishes

Highlights for Dudhwa
Search for the one-horned rhino and elusive tiger by jeep and elephant safaris
Visit the local Dudhwa tribe, the ‘Tharus’ and watch them skillfully weave
Enjoy rural music and dance
Explore the Kishanpur Wildlife Sanctuary
Relish a picnic breakfast in the depths of the jungle

December 1 to December 7, 2014

Revel in the excitement of the
Hornbill Festival watching local tribes performing cultural displays
Watch indigenous games such as ‘chilli eating contests’ and ‘greased bamboo pole climbing’
Have a drink by the campfire followed by a feast skillfully created by our Chef
Listen to rich folklore at Phesema Village
Visit the beautiful Kohima War cemetery

Looking for Om in 2014? Here are some Yoga Trips for You



We all know yoga based vacations are gaining popularity with travelers looking for a balance between wellness and exploring a new place and intriguing culture. Our readers love ’em! Rachel Quinn, Head of Group Sales for Holidays for Humanity, also states that over 35% of their enquiries now include requests for yoga, alongside some other vacation “must haves” like white sandy beaches, water sports, and tropical encounters.

So, we thought we’d share several new ideas of yoga trips to kick off the new year right!

Yoga Vacations for Sailors in Turkey

This sailing journey is an exclusive one-of-a-kind voyage that offers guests a chance to practice yoga among the enchanting blue waters of the Turkish Mediterranean coast. The striking coastline, with its pristine beaches, idyllic villages, picturesque coves and remote ancient civilizations is waiting to be explored. This is an excellent opportunity to experience a taste of traditional Turkey in the unhurried pace of staying aboard a sailing yacht. Sit back, relax and let their experienced captain, crew and chef take you on an unforgettable journey. Rates start at $1399 per person based on seven-nights shared accommodation.

Yoga Vacations for Surfers in Costa Rica

Founded in the spirit of adventure, Rip Jack Inn in Playa Grande, Costa Rica is known for tropical bliss and friendly ambiance. They are just steps away from Playa Grande’s main surf break, and offer daily yoga classes in their beautiful shala. If you love to surf, practice yoga, and love great food, you’ll feel right at home here. Rip Jack Inn is also a member of Pack for a Purpose, and supports local community outreach programs. Expect prices around $170 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Purists in India

Shreyas is dedicated to promoting the authentic spiritual tradition of yoga in a holistic manner and is recognized as one of the finest yoga retreats in the world. What makes Shreyas unique is that, whilst yoga is taught in traditional ashram style (daily yoga, meditation sessions, chanting classes, a strict vegetarian, no alcohol policy and community service), their guests live in a luxurious environment normally associated with a star rated hotel. They enable their guests to integrate the ‘manifold facets’ and benefits of yoga into their daily lives without the austerity and rigor usually associated with ashrams. Expect prices around $550 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Beginners in Mexico

With personalized yoga, pranayama and meditation classes the Zoetry Paraiso de la Bonita is a great place for beginner wellness travellers. Set on 14 acres, including a picturesque sugar sand beach, the resort is perfectly positioned along Cancun’s famed Riviera Maya. Intimate in design, with only 90 luxury suites, they offer a completely new kind of vacation experience focused on wellness, serenity, and romance, balanced by a commitment to social and environmental responsibility. Expect prices around $750 night/based on double occupancy.

Yoga Vacations for Nature Lovers in Nicaragua

Aqua’s explicit vision statement is to “lead luxury sustainable development in Nicaragua” and as such, they built, and operated their resort in close partnership with the local communities, and in complete concert with nature. Additionally, they are completely committed to sea turtle conservation, and encourage their guests to join along. They provide opportunities to work with trained staff in caring for the turtle eggs, protecting them in the nursery, and for those fortunate enough to be there during hatching, to help release them back to the ocean. Daily yoga takes place on their palm-thatched open air, ocean-side platform. Expect prices around $280 night/ based on double occupancy.

About Holidays for Humanity:

Holidays for Humanity connects travellers with vacation options that appeal to their self, as well as their soul. By working with partners that promote sustainable and eco-friendly practices they offer a range of travel options including eco resorts and hotels, health and wellness, volunteering abroad, cultural and culinary and expeditions and tours.

Setting Sail & Sightseeing in Burma

Set Sail to Burma

Set Sail to Burma

There is just under 12 months to go before luxury cruise and safari specialists offer something pretty spectacular. Sanctuary Retreats’ new custom built ship, Sanctuary Ananda, sets sail on its maiden cruise voyage in Myanmar. The coolest part? The all-suite ship is being custom built by two renowned Burmese brothers in a Yangon shipyard using traditional materials combined with modern technology to ensure she can navigate Myanmar’s rivers.

A familiar sight in a Burmese village

A familiar sight in a Burmese village

Sanctuary Ananda will offer eight exciting itineraries on 3, 4 and 7-night ‘Discovery Cruises’ between Bagan and Mandalay and 7, 10 and 11-night  ‘Exploration Cruises.’ The longer journeys will allow guests time to explore the Upper and Lower Ayeyarwady Rivers as well as the Chindwin River, incorporating must-see sights and the opportunity to engage with many local tribes and Burmese people. These ‘Exploration’ itineraries are particularly suited to guests who want a more relaxed cruise with a chance to explore off-the-beaten path.

Your bed in the suite

Your bed in the suite

The four-night “Mandalay to Bagan” itinerary begins in the cultural capital of Myanmar, and makes its way to Bagan, the spiritual heart of the country and home to more than 2,000 gilded pagodas. Guests admire the beauty of life along the river with visits to the Sale monasteries, textile workshops in Amarapura; Sagaing; the living centre of the Buddhist faith in Myanmar, and the local markets and traditional shoe factories of Pakokku.



Bagan, the 11th-century capital of the country is one of Asia’s most extraordinary destinations; more than 4,000 temples, pagodas and stupas (Buddhist memorials) cover Bagan, a true treasure trove of Buddhist art history. Work on the new ship is taking place in Myanmar, employing skilled local craftsmen. In addition to the furniture built by local carpenters, Burmese teak and traditional handmade fabrics will be used throughout and all Sanctuary Ananda’s guides will be local, Burmese experts. Recruitment and extensive training has now begun to build a team that will deliver the high standards behind Sanctuary Retreat’s ‘Luxury Naturally’ philosophy.

A little Burmese scene on the side of the road

A little Burmese scene on the side of the road

There are 21 spacious suites, ranging from 291 sq ft to 721 sq ft, including the exclusive Aloungpayah Suite. Most offer large private balconies with uninterrupted views of the surrounding countryside, towns, villages and riverside life.  Accommodating 42 guests, Sanctuary Ananda will offer a high level of personal service. The Aloungpayah Suite, along with the 4 Luxury Suites, will also have a private butler service.

Prices start at $2.244 per person, based on two people sharing a Deluxe Suite, for a 3 night itinerary including sightseeing, all meals, soft drinks and local beer.

Burmese textiles

Burmese textiles

Sanctuary Retreats’ runs a collection of luxury safari lodges and explorer ships so we trust it’ll be amazing. Bringing the boutique experience to guests with the promise of authenticity, all have the same aim: to allow guests to have a “real” experience and enjoy a more natural kind of luxury in properties that have a strong commitment to conservation and responsible tourism. The Sanctuary portfolio also includes safari camps and lodges in Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia, as well as expedition cruise ships on the Nile, the Yangzi, in Myanmar and the Galapagos Islands.

Just Opened! Como’s Point Yamu in Phuket, Thailand

Point Yamu by COMO

Point Yamu by COMO

One of our luxe favorites, COMO Hotels and Resorts’, has just opened another sweet property. Personalized luxury travel is what COMO is all about: Urban Hotels, Island Resorts, Adventure Retreats and Wellness Resorts all highlight wellness, cuisine, adventure and culture, service and design – while always upholding a sustainable approach towards the people and places where they operate. Founded by Christina Ong, COMO Hotels and Resorts develops and manages handpicked, individually curated properties like The Halkin by COMO in London, two Metropolitan by COMO hotels in London and Bangkok, Parrot Cay by COMO in the Turks and Caicos, Cocoa Island by COMO in the Maldives, and three Uma by COMO experience resorts in Bali and Bhutan.

A rendering of Point Yamu's Italian Restaurant, La Serena

A rendering of Point Yamu’s Italian Restaurant, La Sirena

Enter their 106-room resort, Point Yamu by COMO. The property, on the coast of the island of Phuket, Thailand, has COMO’s classic stunning interiors, this time by famed Italian designer and architect, Paola Navone. New to the hotel world, Ms. Navone designed Point Yamu with deep, bold colors, clean lines, and a myriad of textural elements to combine COMO’s signature style with indigenous designs. Point Yamu is also home to a COMO Shambhala Retreat, a 100-meter infinity swimming pool and infinite views of the turquoise waters of Phang Nga Bay. In addition, private residences with access to all Point Yamu’s facilities are also available to purchase for those who want to keep coming back to your own sexy digs.

The bathroom in a suite

The bathroom in a suite


Point Yamu by COMO is located on Cape Yamu, a peaceful peninsula on the east side of Phuket, Thailand. The resort overlooks the limestone karsts of Phang Nga Bay – a UNESCO World Heritage Site – and the Andaman Sea.


Cuisine prepared in a wood-fired oven also plays a star role at Point Yamu. The resort offers everything from relaxed Italian cooking and locally caught seafood at La Sirena to spicy southern Thai cooking at Nahmyaa. Healthy COMO Shambhala Cuisine, designed to maximize energy and wellbeing, can be nibbled at The Central Bar while private dining such as beach picnics and romantic sunset meals can be arranged in-room and at a number of special locations in and near to the resort.


  • 330-foot swimming pool
  • COMO Shambhala Retreat with eight treatment rooms including one beauty treatment room and yoga studio
  • Pilates and Asian-inspired therapies
  • Italian and Thai restaurants
  • Child-friendly interactive learning area


The resort is a quick 25-minute drive from Phuket International Airport. So get thee to serenity.

Rates for a Bay Room begin @ $500/night

Tokyo’s Best Luxury Hotel for Business

Hotel Chinzanso's Spa

Hotel Chinzanso’s Spa

Looking for a sexy hotel while doin’ business in Nippon? Look no further than the Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo, the iconic five-star flagship property of leading Japanese hospitality company Fujita Kanko. They’ve just announced that the hotel has been designated “Best Luxury Hotel, Japan, 2013” by Business Destinations magazine. The Business Destinations Travel Awards showcase companies whose products and services represent the pinnacle of the business travel industry.

Can you tell we're imagining going to Japan on business and then holing up in the spa?

Can you tell we’re imagining going to Japan on business and then holing up in the spa?

Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo was re-flagged in January after 20 years as the Four Seasons Hotel Tokyo at Chinzan-so (so you know that means ‘swanky digs’). Within six months of rebranding, Hotel Chinzanso Tokyo was then awarded five Red Pavilions by The Michelin Guide. The hotel is best known for its historic heritage and its lush Japanese garden, home to various botanical species, birds and insects – extremely rare in the middle of Tokyo and reason enough to stay a few nights.

Mokushundo, one of their restaurants, where they specialize in stone grilled delicacies

Mokushundo, one of their restaurants, where they specialize in stone grilled delicacies

The hotel offers 260 rooms and suites; 12 restaurants (wait… 12? Yes, you read that correctly, 12); Tokyo’s largest meeting/banquet facilities (36 banquet rooms, to be precise), including one of the city’s biggest banquet rooms with a tiered-seating amphitheater equipped for simultaneous interpretation (impromptu Japanese theater, anyone?); oh, and did we mention it also possesses Tokyo’s largest hotel spa. Since we need plenty of space for our big personality to unwind.

And food... let's not forget food. This is at one of their many restaurants, Ryotei Kinsui

Beautiful, glorious food. This photo features delectables from one of their many restaurants, Ryotei Kinsui

As part of the renovations and upgrading started at the time of the rebranding, a new one-of-a-kind facility, Serenity Garden, was also opened on the hotel’s rooftop, occupying 16,145 square feet (1,500 square meters). With the scenic garden as a backdrop, the property is certainly one of Japan’s most prestigious venues, hosting international functions for royalty, state leaders, and you… yes, you.

From $280/night and up

Retreating to Bali: The Floating Leaf Hotel

The Floating Leaf Hotel, Bali

The Floating Leaf Hotel, Bali

This just in from Asia. The proprietors of a new Balinese property recently reached out to us about an interesting little hotel in Bali called The Bali Floating Leaf Hotel. Described as a “peaceful retreat in a lush oasis in which to nourish, recharge and heal your mind, body and spirit, holistically,” they’ve combined ancient Balinese wisdom with modern convenience and luxury to offer a safe place for relaxation, personal enrichment and wellness.  If you’re looking for a true retreat, they’ve got just the sort of amenities you need; an open air yoga center with views of the Indian Ocean and Mount Agung Volcano, Bali arts and culture, photography, surfing, and an onsite Balinese spa.

A Room at the Floating Leaf

A Room at the Floating Leaf

Guests can look forward to an ultimate relaxation pool complete with waterfalls, hidden meditation areas and more. The grounds also feature an organic permaculture garden (hurrah!), as well as a large kitchen where their private chef will prepare delectable healthy meals, juices, and snacks with locally grown organic nutrient-rich food. And to top it off, world-class surf is steps away!

The Yoga Studio!

The Yoga Studio!

Floating Leaf Eco-Resort is rooted in a deep commitment to Bali’s environment; it’s people, and sustainable tourism so their eco-tourism efforts are aimed at conserving precious natural resources and diverting waste from landfills. They also strive to involve the community in deciding exactly which philanthropic efforts will be of most help and interest to them. Other projects include building water purification facilities, playgrounds, greenhouses and subsidizing local farmers so they can grow nutrient rich foods using traditional and organic methods. As they say in Bali, “Bagus!”

Currently offering soft launch opening prices for individuals and retreats, prices are are as low as $150 a night and some retreats for approximately $1000 for a week-long package.