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For a city that spans two continents and has more than 16 million people calling it home, you can bet there are some luxurious haunts to be found. FYI – luxury is my new favourite cure for feeling under the weather (trust me, it works).
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Conrad Hilton Istanbul: Luxury done right
When it comes to hotels and luxury there’s a fine line between getting it right (a.k.a. the most subtle of touches that make your stay feel posh but still comfortable) and going completely over the top in gilded fashion (where you feel like you might break something). The Conrad Hilton Istanbul ( conradhotels3.hilton.com)gets it right. With a chic rooftop lounge where you can nibble breakfast and sip Turkish coffees, suites that come with the softest beds imaginable and views of the Bosphorus and the Asian side of the city, not to mention friendly service from the staff, this hotel embodies chic travel. The air-conditioned lobby was a total reprieve from the thick and sticky air outside and the added touches of fresh fruit and chocolates as a welcome in the room are the details that count. It’s also ideally located so hopping from one historic site to another is quite easy even through Istanbul’s infamous and incredibly slow moving traffic. (Hint: Book tours and day visits through InS Luxury Travel not only for driver service but also for the chance to get filled up with plenty of knowledge and history about the city).
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Not to be missed: The Summit Bar and Terrace on the top floor offers some of the most spectacular city views. I thought it was amazing during the day, but by night Istanbul’s lights twinkle, the Bosphorus Bridge to the Asian side puts on a light show and, if you’re lucky, some fireworks might be going off in the distance.
Istanbul's amazing rooftops.
Armaggan: Boutique at its best
Armaggan Bosphorus Suites: Boutique at its best If boutique is more your game, unpacking your bags in a custom, one-of-a-kind room at the Armaggan is in order. Perched on the edge of the Bosphorus nearly beneath the bridge crossing over to Asia, these rooms have had every minor detail looked over, from the tasteful hand-woven Turkish rugs under your feet to the unique chandeliers hanging over your bed. With only 15 rooms and suites you can bet that you’ll find peace and quiet in this huge city.
Not to be missed: Sipping afternoon tea on the terrace, watching ferries and sailboats passing by in the river is possibly one of the most perfect ways to spend a sunny afternoon. Or take a spin on the Bosphorus onboard the private yacht.
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Hilton Istanbul: Understated luxury
When the likes of royalty and Jacqueline Kennedy have graced the rooms of your hotel, you know it has to be impossibly good. The Hilton Istanbul ( hilton.com) was the first Hilton built outside of the United States and has been a longstanding traditional hotel in the bustling city ever since its doors opened in 1955. Take a dip in the foot-shaped pool, stroll through the Japanese inspired gardens on the grounds or, even better, sip cocktails in the quietly refined lobby pre-dinner.
Not to be missed: The rooftop restaurants offer two distinct foods options: Chinese (sharing your city with Asia has its perks) and Lebanese. Both are stellar and come with a night view of the city that really can’t be missed.
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The stunning tiles at the Blue Mosque.
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Visit the markets
Whether you’re on the hunt for evil eye jewellery, need to fix your sweet craving for copious amounts of Turkish Delights or just want to take in that old world market buzz, hitting up the Grand Bazaar ( grandbazaaristanbul.org) in Istanbul is always at the top of a travel to-do list. Scour stalls and shops for leather goods, jewel-toned glass lanterns and petite Turkish coffee sets – and be set to bargain.
The Spice Market is another hotspot. Stock up on Turkish teas, spice sets and more in these colourful stalls. If you can bypass the rows and rows of deeply saturated spices (and likely have no sense of smell), we commend you. But chances are you won’t be able to leave without at least one or two brightly hued items in your bag.
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Visit mosques and palaces
Talking about luxury and religion seem to go hand in hand. And when you have the chance to visit a mosque in Istanbul, take the opportunity. The Blue Mosque ( bluemosque.co) is the most famous and decorated in the beautiful hand-painted tiles. Lights dangle just above your head, setting off the moody feeling with ambiance.
And how can the word palace not conjure up some hefty images of royalty and luxury? The Topkapi Palace ( topkapisarayi.gov.tr) is a wonder to walk around, sit and enjoy a latte, or peek into the museums (where you’ll see an 85-carat diamond and extravagant clothing).
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Day trip to the Princes' Islands
You can hire a private yacht to speed you over to Istanbul’s picturesque and quaint south of France like islands in the Marmara Sea – or you can do like the locals and hop on one of the many ferries for a longer journey. Either way the destination comes with beaches, horse and carriage rides, narrow streets and traditional Turkish seafood restaurants – all of which beckon for a day of total relaxation and lounging. This is also the perfect spot to indulge in one of Turkey’s best sweet treats – ice cream. And you’ll be in awe as you see the server spin and twirl the ice cream into an elastic twist thanks to the secret binding ingredient, mastic.
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Think of Istanbul as Turkey’s equivalent to Germany’s Berlin. The art scene is buzzing. One of the best ways to capture the vibe is to visit the countless museums in the city.
Museum of Modern Art
Istanbul Modern ( istanbulmodern.org) takes you on a tour of the modern side of the city – take a morning or afternoon to walk through the clean and minimalist building and ponder the meaning behind the modern works.
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Armaggan Art and Design Gallery
The newly opened gallery features contemporary exhibits with a focus on Turkish design. The added bonus: just above on another floor is Nar restaurant ( armaggan.com). This oasis of a restaurant dishes up gourmet Turkish delights (the sweet candy treat and otherwise). Test out the salad buffet, piled high with every type of dip, spread and rice dish you could imagine, and save room for the huge dessert selection and, of course, a strong no-sugar-added Turkish coffee to buzz you through the rest of the day.
Then head downstairs for boutique shopping, where you can take in the art scene, get a fashion fix and fuel up all in one spot.
Turkish Airlines ( turkishairlines.com) has direct flights from Toronto to Istanbul and offers some of the best business and comfort class options around (why not start your luxury on your way there?). Business class comes with fully flat beds for a restful sleep and onboard chefs, while comfort class features supersized seats with a deep recline and loads of foot space.
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