At the crossroads of East and West, Istanbul remains one of the most intriguing and magical of ancient cities.
Four hours from Abu Dhabi: Istanbul, Ottoman adventures
Istanbul is a fun-loving, cosmopolitan city with a grand and serious past. For centuries the centre of both the Byzantine and Ottoman empires, it spans two continents and is bursting with spectacular mosques, churches, palaces and markets. It is also enviably modern, with a huge array of chic bars and nightclubs, cafés, art galleries and a fast, efficient tram system. Turkish Airlines (www.turkishairlines.com, 02 626 1010) flies four times a week from Abu Dhabi to Istanbul, from Dh 1,430 return including taxes.
The Empress Zoe in Sultanahmet, the old centre of Istanbul, consists of several original Ottoman townhouses joined together. The 25-room hotel is surrounded by a private garden bordering the ruins of a Turkish bathhouse built in 1483. All rooms feature sumptuous Turkish textiles, antique beds and Islamic folk art. Rooms on the top floor have terraces with views over the gardens and old city walls to the Sea of Marmara. Doubles from Dh 525 per night including breakfast (0090 212 518 2504; www.emzoe.com).
The new Sofa hotel is located in the fashionable shopping district of Ni¸santas, where luxury clothing brands sit alongside independent art galleries, local bookshops and music studios. The hotel sponsors the Contemporary Istanbul art fair, and its public spaces double as a showcase for new works. There are 62 bedrooms and 12 suites, in four styles. All are spacious and plush, with textured fabrics and signature sofas in each. Doubles from Dh 1,100, only through Great Hotels of the World (001 972 894 1182, www.ghotw.com/sofa-hotel).
The çiragan Palace Kempinski is the grandest address in town — a magnificent Ottoman palace on the Bosphorus, it is a sumptuous affair. The building dates from the 17th century, and underwent an internal restoration last year. There are over 300 rooms and suites, all with a pleasing arrangement of comfortable furniture, plasma TVs and rainbath showers. There is a fine selection of restaurants, bars and a Sanitas spa. Rooms from Dh 2,300 per night (0090 212 326 4500, www.kempinski.com).
Mikla on the rooftop of the Marmara Pera Hotel (167-185 Mesrutiyet Caddesi, 0090 212 293 5656) has a lovely terrace with views across the Golden Horn. Chef Mehmet Gurs presents a Turkish-Nordic menu, with dishes such as cherry-wood smoked lamb loin and white bean purée with walnut and kasar cheese. Main courses from Dh 90. The rooftop bar and restaurant 360 in Beyoglu (Misr Apt 311, Istiklal Caddesi, 0090 212 251 1042; www.360istanbul.com) is a terribly hip amalgam of brick, steel, glass and velvet, with a wrap-around terrace and high floor-to-ceiling windows giving sweeping views over the whole city and the Bosphorus. The extensive tapas menu ranges from rice paper shrimp spring rolls and Vietnamese beef tartar to sardines in vine leaves. Main courses from Dh 200.