Those of you who see Istanbul in terms of curly toed slippers, Turkish delight, harems and glorious Ottoman architecture clearly haven’t crossed the Golden Horn to the heart of 21st century Istanbul.
For there in Nişantaşı and Beşiktaş are boutiques to rival any European capital and stylish hotels that would satisfy the most picky Condé Nast Traveller reader. I stayed at two of them, the glorious Park Hyatt, a beacon of luxe calm and immaculate service in a sea of Chanel, Prada et al, and at the cutting edge The W Istanbul, where 21st century design meets 19th century architecture in the most pleasing amalgam.
From hitchhiking around the entire country with my best friend at university in the mid 90s, to commuting over to visit an English journalist I was dating who lived in the city, I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Istanbul and have always felt a pull back since my last visit in 1999 to this extraordinary place.
But goodness things have changed. To walk around 1990s Istanbul I wore a fake wedding ring, tied my very blonde hair back, wore ankle length skirts and long sleeve Ts, and did my best to blend in. (Of all the countries in the world I have visited, I’ve had more hassle in Turkey than the others combined. For which I partly blame the booze culture and lairy behaviour of my fellow Englishwomen when on holiday.)
Ten years later I could be wearing city shorts, heels and wear my hair in a pompadour in the city’s regenerated areas and attract barely a second glance. (Although I’m not so naive as to suggest that trotting about dressed like that in a wholly Turkish residential area would go unnoticed.) This is a city that has embraced Westernisation with vigour, from its architecture and restaurants, to its fashion to hotels.
But in the same way that New Yorkers love to say do not mistake Manhattan for America, Istanbul should clearly not be taken as Turkey.
Photo: The W Istanbul
LLG was a guest of the Park Hyatt Istanbul and of The W Istanbul