Exploring Istanbul: Turkey’s Largest City

The only city in the world straddling two continents – Europe and Asia – Istanbul has always had its appeal of far-off fascination, thanks in large part to its notably rich culture, historical importance, unique architecture, opulent decor, and world class accommodations.

After traveling to Istanbul in 2011, I was grateful to return and explore one of the world’s grandest destinations, just last month! I believe this trip, and others around the world, open up abundant opportunities not only for RE/MAX Lifestyle, but Book ’em Dano Travel

Before we get started I must thank Eric Floyd, Director of North American Luxury Sales for AccorHotels. I had the pleasure of meeting Eric a couple years ago at Virtuoso Travel Week in Las Vegas (which is coming up next month!). It was a such joy sitting next to him and talk story about our two biggest passions, food and travel. Recently he introduced to me to some really nice contacts in Istanbul, that would be touring me around a couple of AccorHotels luxury resorts, Swissotel and Raffles. Looking forward to working more with his team, and their portfolio of worldwide luxury properties.

Istanbul: A Traveler’s Guide

Turkish Airlines: San Francisco to Istanbul

Throughout my travels, I heard rave reviews about flying with Turkish Airlines and the world class amenities available in their Business Class Lounge—let me tell you, I was not disappointed! An airport lounge unlike anything I’ve seen, the massive facility was architecturally stunning, equipped with luxuries such as: pool table, theater, food stations, coffee bars, Turkish wine, beverage fridge, and more.

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Stepping onto the plane for my 13 hour journey from San Francisco to Istanbul, I knew it was going to be an unforgettable experience. Immediately greeted by the in-flight chef, outfitted with traditional coat and hat, and finishing with full service dessert cart, my dining experience felt more like haute cuisine than pre heated trays!  With two full meal services provided, as well as an overall first class experience from beginning to end, I would highly recommend Turkish Airlines for those who prefer to travel in ultimate comfort, grandeur and safety.

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Arrival at the Swissotel Istanbul

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Upon my arrival in Istanbul, I had arranged for a car to pick me up to go directly to my accommodation, the stunning 5-Star Swissotel The Bosphorus Istanbul. As soon as I got off the plane, two greeters were smiling at the gate – one to help with bags, the other to help arrange my visa upon arrival – and then patiently waited outside, along with the super friendly driver, in a sleek black E-Class Mercedes Benz, until I cleared customs.

Always one to request accommodation with a view, I was treated with a corner room directly overlooking the Bosphorus Bridge, connecting the old city of Sultanahmet to Galata/Taksim. Lucky to have arrived on a sunny, clear day, it was remarkable to look out and see the beautiful, glowing turquoise of the Bosphorus (a natural strait connecting the Black Sea to the Sea of Marmara and dividing Istanbul into the Asian and European sides). From the moment I entered the lounge in SFO, to the minute I arrived in my room, the trip was seamless—a near perfect tranist experience!

The Swissotel: Amenities & Tour

After an early night, I opened my eyes to a breathtaking sunrise over the Bosphorus, thankful for the peace and quiet and views of such an incredible city.

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Breakfast Buffet

After enjoying the early morning still and calm, I decided to make my way to the Swissotel’s renowned breakfast buffet at Cafe Swiss. Built with modern amenities, indoor and outdoor seating options, high ceilings, and graced by an ever happy staff, I was treated to an array of delicious breakfast options. The highlights included: fruits, yogurt, freshly baked pastries, veggies, omelettes, freshly squeezed orange juice, and Turkish tea.

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I was pleased to meet people from all over the world, amongsr a welcoming ambience and sophisticated setting… truly everything you’d need to start your day of adventurous travel on a good foot!

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Executive Floor, Suites & Lofts

After enjoying my lovely breakfast on the lanai, I met with the Director of Sales & Marketing, Ahmet Özkan, for a tour of the Swissotel property. With myriad room options for varying interests, lifestyles and budgets, I was excited for the opportunity to see more of their world class amenities. The Executive Floor was thoughtfully outfitted with a kitchen and business center, ideal for a serene work environment with phenomenal views.

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Moving on, we visited the Terrace Suite, with a spacious bedroom, living room and huge outdoor terrace, quite classy. Then we toured the unique loft designs, thoughtfully modelled after spaces in other famous metropolises featuring two stories, concrete floors, hanging lights, brick walls, an upstairs living area and bathtub, packaged together with impressive views. These were also phenomenal!

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Spa & Sport Club

With 14 treatment rooms, hamam, bio sauna, and workout facilities overlooking the pool, the Purovel Spa & Sport is surely one of the best health and fitness facilities in Istanbul. Locals are also welcome to join as club members, and many do once they step inside. From the surrounding landscaped gardens and beautiful views, service with a smile and beautiful food, I am thankful to have experienced such a world class facility!

In fact, after my tour, I booked a massage treatment at the Purovel Spa, taking my time to enjoy the incredible steam sauna—the perfect way to relax after the long transatlantic journey. The colors, scents and surroundings were all awe-inspiring, a few minutes and it’s easy to see why so many people enjoy coming to the facility to boost their overall sense of well-being. You could tell from their extensive treatment menu and amenities that health is becoming a high priority for travelers, and catering to that mindset was really where the Swissotel shined.

The Pool

After the tour, the outdoor pool was calling my name, so I went out and caught up on some more relaxation by enjoying a nice swim under the fountain. It was a joy to meet fellow travelers from all around the world, and see multiple generations enjoying the lovely weather on a particularly clear, hot day. Such an inviting setting to spend an afternoon!

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Rooftop Bar

Lastly, I decided to head to the rooftop bar for one last Swissotel hoorah. Located on the 16th floor overlooking the expansive waterway and bustling activity on the Bosphorus, this combination restaurant/bar is super hip, with a DJ spinning trendy music and mixologists crafting the perfect specialty cocktails to compliment the stunning surroundings.

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Snagging a seat on the rail, I sat for hours and enjoyed a glass of Moët & Chandon and red wine, enjoying the sunset views and eventually even one of my favorite Cuban cigars, a Cohiba Robusto. When it started getting colder outside, attentive staff members brought out comfy blankets—truly a memorable experience! Thank you to GM Uğur Talayhan, and the entire staff of the Swissotel for being such awesome hosts!

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Istanbul City Sites

Spice Market Tour

A must-do while traveling in Istanbul, my concierge arranged a tour of the famed Spice Market with a local tour guide for a very reasonable cost of 40 euros. Meant to be a group tour, I was lucky enough to go on a day when there weren’t any other members. Taking advantage of this accidental private tour, I grasped the opportunity to ask as many questions as I liked. In fact, since safety in Istanbul has recently been a concern for travelers, many of the most visited spots were noticeably less crowded than normal. However, I must stress that I never once felt afraid or unsafe, and mostly noticed the 15+ million population going about their daily business, functioning in a completely normal fashion. I would highly recommend Istanbul as an excellent travel destination for all genders, ages and interests.

The colorful spices at the market (also known as an Egyptian market) were fascinating and fragrant. Saffron, Turkish delights, made with honey instead of sugar, as well as Turkish coffee, were clearly the crowd favorites.

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Bosphorus Tour & Travel Opportunities

A popular tourist activity in Istanbul, cruising the Bosphorus by ferry was a wonderful experience. Lined with impressive real estate along the waterfront, our guide informed me that there’s a whopping 3,200 mosques in Istanbul alone! Continuing down, I learned the European side of the city is much more commercially active compared to the Asian side, which was visibly more residential and green, dotted with outrageous houses up on the hillside.

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While we were cruising around, I happened to spot a RE/MAX sign, reminding me of the synergy between RE/MAX Lifestyle and Book ’em Dano Travel. With RE/MAX located in more than 100 countries, it’s now easier than ever to contact local brokers to find out current market conditions. Because most properties are built with hotel components in them, renting luxury hotel rooms, and selling residential condos in “condotels” that offer similar types of hotel service, would be a win-win for clients interested in investing in some of the cities I am touring. I am excited by the opportunities that lie ahead for both travel and real estate.

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Grand Bazaar

Another must-see in Istanbul, the Grand Bazaar is said to be the largest covered bazaar in the world, with more than 5,500 small shops. One of the forerunners to modern shopping centers, it was originally built in the 1500’s and is home to just about anything and everything you could think of, including: purses, jewellery, food, clothing, art and much, much more. You could spend hours upon hours here and only experience a fraction of what it has to offer- it’s that huge!

Hagia Sophia

A truly unique worldly icon, the Hagia Sophia has an incredible structure and story. Originally built as a Greek Orthodox Christian patriarchal basilica, it then became an imperial mosque, before finally housing a museum since the 1930’s. Translated as ‘Shrine of The Holy of God,’ Hagia Sophia still has both Christian and Islamic influences today, and its grand dome and spires are seen from miles away thanks to their magnificent size.

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Hippodrome

Once an ancient circus used for chariot races, the Hippodrome was the social center of the capital of the Byzantine Empire, Constantinople. Originally built in 203 AD by Emperor Septimius Severus, before being expanded by Emperor Constantine the Great in 324 AD; today, only partial pieces of the original structure remain. Fascinating piece of history, and definitely worth a visit!

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Blue Mosque

After a visit to the Hippodrome, I was amazed with the construction and level of detail at the Blue Mosque. Still in use today, my local tour guide informed me that this mosque was built much quicker than some of the other structures of similar sizes around the world. Please remember to be respectful and dress appropriately for your visit.

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Turkish Rugs

No visit to Turkey is complete without visiting a Turkish Carpet and Rug Sales Showroom. I was lucky enough to get a demonstration by some of the best salesman in the world, who know exactly how to put on a show and talk to you to find out what you’re most interested in, from size to shape, color, materials, price range, you name it, and ask the right questions to get you emotionally invested in the item. Offering water, Turkish tea and wine, I would honestly say these are some of the best closers in the business, and that’s coming directly from a fellow salesman! Although I narrowed it down to a few I thought I might like to purchase, I ultimately walked away letting them know I needed to sleep on it. Either way, it was a great experience with lots of laughs and talented people, and I look forward to having one in my home someday.

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Turkish Bath

Ultimately, after a long day of sightseeing, I knew it was time to enjoy a Turkish bath, or hamam. A practice dating back hundreds of years, a hamam is the Islamic variant of the Roman bath, done with a steam bath, mud bath, massage with bubbles and finished off with a nice oil massage. What a relaxing experience, and highly recommended for travelers to Turkey after a day spent walking around the city.

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Other Luxury Hotel Properties

Four Seasons Hotel

Having previously stayed here in 2011, I returned to the beautiful Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul Sultanahmet to see how it looked. Unsurprisingly, it was as amazing as ever!

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Built from a converted prison, the detailing and finishes throughout the hotel are unique and sensational. The furnishings, service, colors and everything else are first class all the way—just as I remember—and I enjoyed a drink on the rooftop for old time’s sake.

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Raffles Hotel

Another 5-Star accommodation in Istanbul, the Raffles Istanbul Zorlu Center is a high end property set amongst four other buildings at the top of a luxury shopping complex. Home to the Raffles Hotel, residences, offices, and high end retail shops, the service and level of quality here is some of the best I’ve seen in the world.

Greeted by the Sales Manager, Can Yuluğ at the front desk, I was quickly fixated on the impeccable lobby accentuated with huge floral arrangements and floating petals, all highlighted by modern glass, stone and metal detailing.

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Escorted to my suite in 1503, I had never seen an entry to a hotel room so elaborate. There was even a nice gift basket waiting for me, and the room was plenty spacious with its own living room, a full office, beautifully appointed bedroom, bathroom with his and hers sinks, and private soaking tub. After getting cleaned up, I met the Sales Manager in the lobby, where he proceeded to take me on a tour of the 1 & 2 Bedroom Suites, as well as inform me of the residential component where people can live in the property for up to a year at a time, taking advantage of all the hotel amenities and their own luxury lounge. The rooms are by far the largest in Istanbul, and offer great views overlooking the Bosphorus.

After touring the spa area, a peaceful place to nourish body and mind, the concierge suggested I eat at the local restaurant in the hotel. Since my visit coincided with Ramadan, people could begin eating again at about 8:30pm, enjoying a huge feast prepared by the kitchen and beautifully displayed. There were live musicians playing, a woman making fresh bread, and a staff member dutifully pouring glasses of Turkish tea at the tables. People were dressed up for the occasion, and I was thankful to experience such a culinary delight and special evening. Though I was only at the Raffles for about 14 hours, I got to see what true luxury living was like and hope to return, as well as allow future clients the chance to experience it for themselves.

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Don’t Be Afraid To Get In Touch!

Mahalo for reading my latest travel tales and tips for Istanbul, and I look forward to helping you plan your next adventure in Turkey soon! Please call 808.870.4899 or email dano@danosayles.com for more information.