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

www.ritzcarlton.com/istanbul

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!)

Ireland: The Wild Atlantic Way with Vagabond Adventure Tours

Vagabond Tours

Vagabond Tours

The Wild Atlantic Way… we’d never heard about this rugged beautiful place before, but, apparently, it’s the longest defined coastal touring route in the world, embracing Ireland’s wild West Coast landscape, ancient monuments, and historical sites. This stunning route twists and turns for 1,600 miles along an undulating coastline from the Inishowen Peninsula in County Donegal to Kinsale in County Cork. The Wild Atlantic Way is not just a driving route, it’s an invitation to adventure.

With countless ways to explore it by sea kayaking, hiking, mountain biking and even surfing, we wanted to introduce our readers to Vagabond Adventure Tours of Ireland makes it all accessible, thanks to their smartly planned multi-sport scheduled trips that take adventurous travelers to these authentic, off-the-beaten path areas along the route. In operation since 2002, Vagabond was founded by Rob & Amy Rankin after traveling extensively through Southern Africa. Impressed by the classic African travel modes of safari and overland tours, they decided to bring the concept to Ireland. They established Driftwood Irish Journeys of Discovery in 2011 as a division of Vagabond to offer trips for more leisurely travelers. We can dig that since we love leisure.

Surfing in Ireland with Vagabond Tours (because... why not?)

Surfing in Ireland with Vagabond Tours (because… why not?)

Utilizing custom-designed Land Rovers that take no more than 13 passengers, Vagabond trips explore an area in depth with daily adventures. One day, it might be sea kayaking in sheltered waters off the coast of Cork, while another day its horseback riding along a beach in Kerry. Nightly stays are in coastal villages and towns, in locally-owned guesthouses and small hotels.

One of Vagabond’s classic Wild Atlantic Way journeys is their World Tour of Ireland. Focused on the southwest and counties Kerry and Cork, this seven-day trip includes sea kayaking off the Beara Peninsula, horseback riding on the Dingle Peninsula, and mountain biking in Killarney National Park.

The price is $1,340, based on double occupancy, including accommodations and breakfasts.

The Wild Atlantic Way may be Ireland’s best-kept secret and with the dollar at its strongest in 11 years, this is quite possibly the perfect year to discover it.

vagabondtoursofireland.com

Europe: Last Minute Luxury Deals

Hotel Martinez - Cannes

Procrastinating summer-trip planners, here’s a last minute luxury hotel steal for you — 30% off on 21 luxury hotels through Concorde Hotels & Resorts! Concorde Hotels & Resorts, the leading luxury hotel group (à la trendy Hotel Martinez in Cannes), is offering up to 30% off on stays from June 1 to  October 31, 2011. Travelers can choose from 21 four- and five-star Concorde hotels throughout Europe, Egypt, and Tunisia. Concorde’s luxury hotels are offering this sweet deal (otherwise known as their “Summer Offer”) for in-the-know readers of snazzy websites like Jaunt Magazine so call reservations at 1-800-888-4747 and visit the links for more info.

The Palais de la Mediterranee

We suggest a swanky beachside getaway to the Hotel Martinez in Cannes or Le Palais de la Mediterranée in Nice. A popular celebrity destination, each year the glamorous Hotel Martinez welcomes guests to bask in the sun at its private beach and ocean-side Zplage bar along the famous Croisette (starting rates at $304/night), while Nice’s Le Palais de la Mediterranée overlooks the Mediterranean Sea on the illustrious Promenade des Anglais.

The Hotel Martinez has also just revealed its highly anticipated new Prestige Vue Mer Suites. The latest in the property’s multimillion-dollar renovation project, the thirty new suites maintain the unique Martinez art déco style while upping the glam factor. Taking full advantage of the hotel’s ideal location on the Croisette, Cannes’ bustling beachside avenue, each “Prestige Sea View” suite offers breathtaking views of the Bay of Cannes and the Mediterranean.

Hotel Martinez Renovations

Acclaimed Parisian interior designer March Hernich was given carte blanche in the large-scale redesign. Hernich sought to merge roaring-twenties-style décor and elements of modern, clean 1930’s lines with contemporary design aesthetic and amenities. Walk-in closets, and two white-marble, black-mosaic–incrusted bathrooms, Hollywood-esque king-sized beds with a mother-of-pearl quilted headboards, desks trimmed in beige leather,  mahogany dining tables, and silver chairs facing large seaside bow window all round out Hernich’s calming, beachy shades of beige, champagne, and turquoise to create modern elegance with a tinge of decadent 1920s. Integrated seamlessly, all of the rooms also boast state-of-the-art technology and LCD screens.

Up the coast in Nice, party at the Palais, where you can whet your whistle on bubbly or peruse a vast collection of classic and contemporary art at the Musée des Beaux-Arts. Take a stroll in Vieux Nice, sunbathe at the pool terrace, and then check out the hotel’s sauna and Turkish bath… please. (Starting rates at $254/night.)

Offer subject to availability and good until Oct. 31st, rates listed above reflect US dollar to Euro rates on the date of June 3, 2011. For more information or to book the “Summer Offer” call reservations at 1-800-888-4747 or visit http://www.concorde-hotels.com/en/promotions/summer-2011.aspx.

Doing Business. Croatian Style.

Hotel Lone's Sexy Pool

Check it out, ballers! Hotel Lone, Design Hotels™ first member in Croatia, is now open. Okay, yes, we’re obsessed with Design Hotels, but we’re also obsessed with Croatia. Not only did we rub elbows with the ex-PM’s daughter in Grad School (talk about a stunner!), but we also think Croatian men are hunks. So, what better reason to hit the road, Jack, then to head to the 248-room property located in the picturesque Mediterranean town of Rovinj, in the exclusive Monte Mulini neighborhood. Built to resemble a sleek white ocean liner floating on the hillside, the hotel also offers a range of places to wine and dine including three restaurants, three bars and… you guessed it… a night club. It also features a Mediterranean-inspired wellness center, a 600-seat auditorium and nine other meeting and conference spaces with state-of-the-art technology (since those of us who’ve had to put on events know just how critical good A/V equipment can be). So we say, Hotel Lone’s design focus, together with first-rate event and leisure facilities, create the perfect symbiosis of work and play.

Hot Tubbin' It at the Hotel Lone

As Design Hotels explain, “The ancient woodlands and wave-lapped coves of Croatia’s Adriatic coast have long been attracting sun-hungry tourists, leaving business travelers with no choice but to seek refuge elsewhere. Now though, after years of meticulous planning, there’s a proper design-focused place for them to stay in. The Croatian architectural firm 3LHD teamed up with Studio Numen and freelance conceptual artists to create an exterior and interior that ooze tailor-made design.

Wrapped by the emerald trees of the Zlatni Rt forest, and marked out by seductive minimalist curves, Hotel Lone is a conference hotel with a difference. Owned by Croatian hotel company Maistra Inc. and just a 10-minute walk from one of the most picturesque towns on the Mediterranean, Rovinj, it bends away from the coastline in a distinctive Y-shape, which means all 248 rooms and suites have views of the island-speckled coastline. Some of the hotel’s six meeting rooms benefit from this unusual profile, too, with high ceilings and wide spaces giving guests the freedom to think.” And, when you’re off galavanting around Europe for work and play, that’s exactly what you need.

The Swanky Spa

Locally grown rosemary, lavender and olive oil only add to the temptation of the Mediterranean-inspired wellness spa, while the open-plan lobby – decked in mirrors and cool white stones – allows the outstanding natural beauty of the surrounding area to flood inside. The project, led by Croatian architect Silvije Novak of 3LHD and inspired by the typology of 1970s Croatian hotels, brings the idea of terraced hotels with large lobbies to the scene and all rooms have spectacular sea or park views, with a dramatic hotel lobby opening up towards the sky with an atrium spanning six levels.

Hotel Lone's Infrared Spa

From Gastronomy to Wellness
With seven restaurants and bars, each with a different concept and cuisine, the hotel is a must-visit for food and wine enthusiasts. A la carte restaurant “L” offers traditional Croatian cuisine and over 200 old and new world wines. “ON” focuses on Mediterranean and central European cuisine through buffet and live cooking stations. Restaurant “E” features traditional Eastern cuisine infused with Mediterranean flavors; a highlight is the seafood tapas.

The Wellness Center boasts eight treatment rooms, some with large glass walls with stunning views. The offerings are varied including facial and body treatments, massages, invigorating baths and sauna with scented steam, Finnish, Turkish, salt and infrared sauna options. Infrared, what? That’s right… infrared sauna. We don’t skimp on our suggestions now, do we?

Inside the Wellness Center is also a gym, an aerobics room, a relaxation room, water beds, experiential showers and a swimming pool with hydro-massage therapy. There is also a specially designed space dubbed “sunken room” where guests float on hydro massage beds and chairs. LOVE sunken rooms. You too?

A View from the Hotel Lone

Bespoke Art and Furniture
Hotel Lone also features a collection of furnishings from renowned designers like Patricia Urquiola, Richard Schultz and David Rowland. Specially commissioned visual art installations can be found throughout the hotel’s public spaces. “We wanted guests to feel comfortable in vast spaces without being intimidated,” explains Croatian artist Silvio Vujicic. On the walls as well as along the lobby, spatial mixed media installations draw guests into the story and concept behind Hotel Lone. The rooms and suites are also decorated with graphics by Vujicic. As a screen-printing, textile and mixed media impresario, Vujicic drew his inspiration from Istrian cultural heritage and 15th century frescoes.

Location and Rates
With a private location near the sea of the Golden Cape Nature Park, Hotel Lone is surrounded by the historical Mediterranean Park Forest Zlatni Rt and is a 15 minutes walk from Rovinj’s historic town center and marina.

Rates range from EUR 186 – 1813.

The hotel is currently offering a 3 for 2 Summer Special. Available for a short time only, from now until September 1, 2011, guests booking three nights will only pay for two. 

www.designhotels.com/lone

Porto, Portugal: A Palacio Among the Trees

InterContinental Hotel Room: Porto, Portugal

We say, “Drink Port, hang in Porto.” And now… there’s even more reason. The first InterContinental hotel has opened in Porto! After a $43 million-dollar renovation… that’s right, $43 million bones, the InterContinental Porto-Palacio das Cardosas is the first upscale hotel in Porto. Designed by Russian architect, Alex Kravetz, and situated in the city’s main square, this fine palacio is housed in a refurbished 200-year-old palace with 105 guestrooms and 16 suites. How suite is that? We must also admit… it’s the little things in life and we love the fact that there’s free WiFi throughout the property (because we think EVERY hotel should have FREE WiFi). You hear that, stingy hoteliers? We also like their re-opening 20% discount, late check-out, and complimentary breakfast from July 14th through the end of September 2011.

Located in the heart of Porto and within the boundaries of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, InterContinental Porto-Palacio das Cardosas is in an area brimming with historic cathedrals, markets, museums, local bars and restaurants. And I can say this much… I’ve known quite a few Portuguese in my time and they’re some of the warmest, most beautiful people around. Often a niche vacation (due to the proximity of their bull-toting neighbor), Portugal – and her people – are the next big thing. The property is a quick distance – 30 minutes by car – from the international airport Francisco Sá Carneiro as well as the Ribeira, where travelers can enjoy – if they do desire a little Spain in their trip – a cruise up to the border to explore the wine-producing cellars for a scenic tasting. Pssst… “port” wine historically takes its name from Porto from which it was shipped.

Why we also like the Porto Palacio das Cordosas? Because they’ll also be taking part in InterContinental’s new and unique ‘Insider Collection,’ offering eco and wine excursions, personalized guided tours, helicopter trips, access to personal shopping services, and more. So we say, get thee to Portugal (and pick up a bottle or two of port, just for us).

www.intercontinental.com/porto

Last Minute Fall Getaways

Rajasthan, India

Looking for some last minute fall getaways? Who isn’t? If you’re anything like me, you’re a workaholic often being told by your colleagues to just ‘get some rest already!’ So, as it’s just around the corner, fall is the ideal time to discover the world, with many destinations around the globe featuring cooler temperatures, colorful panoramas, abundant wildlife and a kaleidoscope of festivals. India, already a vibrant country, explodes in a riot of colors in the fall, when many festivals take place, including Diwali and Pushkar Fair.

Budapest by Night

Budapest, Vienna and Prague are also beautiful during the Fall, along with Berlin, China, and Tanzania.  So, when Abercrombie & Kent sent us a list of their special fall journeys (with added discounts and deals), we wanted to spread the word so that you, too, could experience your dream destination at its best. Solo travellers take note: you can also save up to 96% on the single supplement on: Treasures of Northern India from Oct 7 and Nov 11 and Essence of India from Oct 13 and Nov 17. Remember, Abercrombie & Kent is high-end so you won’t be skimping. This is 5 star all the way with guides that are some of the best in the world. We’re talking life changing travels, baby, and you could use a shift in your continuum, right?

Right.

Though I tend to be more of a fly by the seat of my pants kinda traveller, as I get older and wiser I find that sometimes it’s just easier to have someone in the know do all the legwork for you. At Abercrombie & Kent, the nice thing is that you can also search for tour options like the following:

August through November departures are filling fast so click the link below to see last-minute destinations for fall travel, and reserve a fall getaway now!

Abercrombie & Kent Last Minute Fall Getaways

The Marbella Masters

Marbella, Spain

If lounging by the beach in Marbella isn’t sexy enough for the likes of your hot bod, we caught wind of a Grand Slam competition cool enough for you to slip on those white tennis duds and have a swing. The Marbella hotel, Hotel Puente Romano, on the Southern coast of Spain, along with Northern Vision have announced the full line-up for The Marbella Masters 2011 taking place at the Puente Romano Tennis Club 25th-27th August. In addition to the 11 time Grand Slam Champion, Bjørn Borg (with the best name in sports ever) and former World Number 1, Yevgeny Kafelnikov ,will be joined by Wimbledon Champion Pat Cash and former top 15 players Younes El-Alanoui and Ronald Agenor. Iranian tennis trickster, Mansour Bahrami will also return to the Masters this year.  The club is particularly excited to welcome back Bjorn Borg to the hotel as he once managed the club after it first opened in 1979.

Where the Marbella Masters Magic Happens….

The resorts, located just 500 meters apart, are, therefore, inviting guests like you and me the chance to enjoy the Marbella Masters program (and maybe even hang out with those tennis pros too). As an alternative option you can always find great flights through Expedia to visit the Marbella Masters.

Starting from 395 Euros, VAT included, per night for two persons for a double room, the Hotel Puente Romano Marbella Masters Program includes:

•                   Upgrade to Double superior room guaranteed

•                   Welcome amenity upon check in. Could it be Cava and fresh fruit?

•                   Gourmet breakfast buffet for 2

•                   Complimentary entrance to the Marbella Masters

* Minimum stay of three nights required.

For slightly more dough, starting from 570 Euros, VAT included, per night for two for a Double classic room, the Marbella Club Hotel, Marbella Masters Tennis Program includes:

•        Complimentary room upgrade upon availability

•        Cava and fresh fruit upon arrival

•        Daily champagne buffet breakfast

•        One Dynamic Pool Session at the Thalasso Spa

•        Complimentary entrance to the Marbella Masters

* Minimum stay of three nights required.

Tickets are available from El Corte Ingles and Ticket Master or visit this link:

http://www.marbellamasters.es