Be amazed by the Blue Mosque and, later, ex­plore the fish­ing vil­lages and ham­mams of Istanbul

Friday - - Leisure Charts -

I want to... ex­plore

At the heart of this conur­ba­tion and cen­tral to its his­tory, the Sul­tanah­met district boasts three of the city’s most pre­cious ar­chi­tec­tural gems. Seat of the Ot­toman sul­tans for four cen­turies, Top­kapi palace is home to the 86-carat Spoon­maker’s di­a­mond, but most vis­i­tors flock here to gape at Sul­tan Mehmet II’s 300 rooms.

A stroll through the lux­u­ri­ant gar­dens of Sul­tanah­met Square leads to the Blue Mosque, built in the 17th cen­tury by Ot­toman ar­chi­tect Mehmet Aga, and eas­ily iden­ti­fied by the six slim spears of its minarets pierc­ing the cobalt sky. Step in­side, out of the sear­ing sun, and be blinded by a dozen crys­tal chan­de­liers cast­ing their bling of light onto the 21,043 Iznik tiles from which this glo­ri­ous mosque de­rives its azure moniker. Out­side once more it’s the vast dome of Ha­gia Sophia, dom­i­nat­ing the sap­phire skyline, which daz­zles.

In­au­gu­rated by Em­peror Jus­tinian in 537, the church served as chief mosque for five cen­turies fol­low­ing the Ot­toman con­quest in 1453.

Küçükaya­so­fya Av­enue leads to the at­mo­spheric Kumkapi fish­ing district, where wooden-fronted Konak restau­rants serve scrump­tious fish mezes.

From here, the Su­ley­maniye Mosque is within easy reach. The minarets of this chef d’oeu­vre of Ot­toman ar­chi­tect Mi­mar Si­nan cast their shadow over the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul’s big­gest souq, which has sprawled over the same site for the past four-and-a-half cen­turies.

I want to... un­wind

The 300-year-old Ca­ga­loglu Ha­mami, a short stroll away from this mar­ket’s riot of colour and per­fume, once at­tracted celebri­ties like King Ed­ward VIII, Franz Liszt and the Rock­e­fellers. Cur­rent A-lis­ters who come here to en­joy a treat­ment, in­clude James Bond ac­tor Pierce Bros­nan, who’s also been spot­ted sip­ping çay in the ceme­tery gar­den tea room a few doors fur­ther down. Galata Bridge leads to Istik­lal Cadessi, and links the old city of Stam­boul with mod­ern Istanbul. Once home to Istanbul’s most af­flu­ent ex­pats, Istik­lal Cadessi was known as ‘Paris of the Ori­ent’ dur­ing the 19th cen­tury. The al­ley­ways around Tunel Square at the south­ern end of this boule­vard, are lined with 19th-cen­tury houses, many hous­ing lively cafes, and Fran­siz Sokak street, a short stroll north, is lined with French restau­rants.

But lo­cals like to un­wind in the streets be­hind Cicek Pasaji, or Flower Pas­sage, where flower stands have been re­placed by Tar­ihi Ne­vizade Mey­haneleri, a col­lec­tion of tra­di­tional restau­rants serv­ing snack-food mezze. Tak­sim Square at the end of this bustling road is the Times Square of Istanbul. Home to sev­eral cin­e­mas and a top-notch opera house, this is the ideal spot to fin­ish your stay in this mag­i­cal city.

Ex­plore the suite where Agatha Christie penned Mur­der On The Ori­ent Ex­press at his­toric Pera Palace ho­tel (jumeirah.com; rooms from Dh1,584) or un­wind in a suite over­look­ing the Bospho­rus at the lux­u­ri­ous Four Sea­son ho­tel Istanbul At The Bospho­rus (foursea­sons.com/ bospho­rus; rooms from Dh5,789).

From the Top­kapi Palace to bustling streets and chic restau­rants, there is plenty to ex­plore in Istanbul

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