The question: We have two weeks in Turkey and want sightseeing by day, excitement by night. What are the spots the locals love, that will take us off the guidebook path?
The answer: Start with the obvious: colourful, cultural and hip Istanbul.
“There’s no better place to combine sightseeing and nightlife than in Istanbul,” says Tristan Rutherford, who co-penned the artful Istanbul à la carte (alacartemaps.com), a map-cum-insider’s-guide that no traveller would be ashamed to unfurl at a café.
In the sightseeing category, the list goes on and on: the Blue Mosque with its uncommon six minarets; the original crowded mall, a.k.a. the Grand Bazaar; the stunning Aya Sofya, a church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. Here, you can wander the tiled halls at the Topkapi Palace where the Ottoman sultans’ harems were secreted away or experience pleasure yourself with a scrub-and-bubble massage at the recently restored Turkish bath, the Ayasofya Hurrem Sultan Hamam (ayasofyahamami.com).
When you’re ready to slake your thirst and slip into your stilettos, cross the Galata Bridge into Beyoglu, the city’s European district.
(Stay in this area, too, and just visit the overrun Sultahament, Rutherford suggests.)
“Rooftop bars, including 360 (360istanbul.com) and Mikla (miklarestaurant.com), offer sublime views from Europe to Asia, as well as superb sundowners made from raki, the local firewater,” says Rutherford, who splits his time between Istanbul and Nice with fellow travel journalist Kathryn Tomasetti.
And you don’t need to leave the sprawling city for unique day trips, he says. Instead, jump on a Bosphorus ferry to visit these former villages: Istanbul’s answer to Venice, Arnavutköy, with its canals and wooden mansions; the fortress of Rumeli Hisari, conveniently surrounded by hip pavement cafés, or the village of Ortaköy with its waterfront clubs and restaurants.
As for getting out of town, Rutherford suggests following the fashionable Istanbullus to the Aegean resort of Alacati, located on the Çesme peninsula, northwest of the ancient ruins of Ephesus.
“This historically Greek village is peppered with enchanting guesthouses, known as pansiyons, such as Tas (tasotel.com) and Incirliev (incirliev.com). Each one offers romantic rooms, many with authentic features, such as ancient stonewalls and old Turkish carpets.
“A blowout home-cooked breakfast of pickled tomatoes, sheeps’ cheese and olives is almost always included in the package.”
Which would be well-timed, Rutherford says, as there are many reasons to stay up late here, including Babylon’s Aya Yorgi outpost (babylon.com.tr). Happy dancing.