musings on travel, international living, development aid, politics, turkey (the country more than the meat) and anything else that comes to mind...

Thursday, May 3, 2012

From Turkey: Istanbul's Best Kept Secret

Without a doubt, Istanbul's best kept secret is the Hotel Sumahan. Tucked away in the sleepy neighborhood of Cengelkoy on the Asian side, Sumahan is away from (but just a short complementary boat ride away from) all the hustle and bustle of 20M people in what was once considered not just a suburb of the great city but a separate village altogether.

Fortuitously, my family has maintained an apartment overlooking the Bosphorus in Cengelkoy since well before I was thought of. And no, you may not stay there (unless by some miracle my father allows you to) so don't even ask! This is fortuitous mainly because we can simply enjoy Sumahan and Cengelkoy's other many offerings for a fraction of the cost while still pretending that we, too, are of the Turkish intelligentsia/elite and that one of the several BMW 7 Series (outnumbered in today's Istanbul only by brand new black Range Rovers) valet parked outside is ours.

We love Cengelkoy for it's beautiful location right on the water, the views of both bridges crossing from Europe to Asia and back (including views of the Haghia Sofia, Topkapi and Sultan Ahmet/Blue Mosque on a clear day), the unmistakable charm of Turkish village life in the middle of the city, and the fact that running into a foreigner (i.e. non Turk) is the exception rather than the norm. Of course, we also now love Cengelkoy for bringing us Sumahan.
Champagne, meze and Nook reading on the Bosphorus at Hotel Sumahan

Lauren and I were pleasantly surprised to find that Sumahan offers full hamam (Turkish bath) facilities and other lovely bits of decadence. Although a tad bit pricey (one must entertain indulgences periodically to preserve sanity in our cruel world... or at least that's what I tell myself when the bill comes...), the hamam was well worth it. Top it all off with champagne and delicious meze (appetizers) on Sumahan's private terrace on the water (see picture) and... well... 'wow' is all that comes to mind.

Moral of the story: when in Istanbul definitely check out everything you see in your guidebook about Sultan Ahmet, Topkapi, Kapali Carsi, Beyoglu, etc. But if you're interested in stepping off the beaten path (and if your budget can handle it), definitely treat yourself to Hotel Sumahan. You won't be sorry.