Wherever you look these days, Istanbul is being lauded as the coolest/hippest/most exciting/diverse/trendiest/upcoming (select as appropriate) destination; most recently voted Best City by British Airways’ 2011 Travel Awards.
Personally, I couldn’t agree more, it’s an amazing metropolis combining fabulous food (try the terrace at Ajia), hip hotels (like the super sexy, Autoban designed House Hotel Bosphorus – pictured below), sensational spas (Ian Schrager & Bill Marriott’s recent Istanbul EDITION‘s spa is fabulous!) and great sightseeing (the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet is your ideal base).
If there is a flaw to Istanbul it’s probably the traffic, which is a bit of a nightmare but speaking with locals they assure you you get used to it. You just have to.
A trip to Istanbul should however always be complemented by exploring the country and the options are plentiful. Most people would venture to one of the many beach destinations like Antalya, Belek or Bodrum. If that’s your thing, try Casa dell’Arte in Bodrum for a discreet alternative to the classic resorts.
However, I would highly recommend a trip to Cappadocia in Central Anatolia, the geographic heart of Turkey. The unique landscape with its fairy chimney rock formations, a UNESCO World Heritage site, combined with the region’s cultural and historical heritage is an experience that is one of a kind.
Creative hoteliers have turned some of the distinctive caves that are unique to the region into stunning hotels and since I have to date slept in water towers, gun powder factories and tree houses I was very much looking forward to the experience of staying in a cave.
Your best bet is argos in Cappadocia, a spectacular yet discreet cave hotel, extended carefully over the last 7 years to blend into the hillside architecture of the little village Uchisar while offering stunning views over the picturesque valley. Interiors are courtesy of Istanbul based interior designer Oytun Berktan (whose showroom is a must visit when in the capital!) and some suites come with their own in-cave pools.
The region is fabulous for hiking and trekking, however, a must do activity while in Cappadocia is hot air ballooning!
Royal Balloon provides one of the best experiences, combining altitude with low level hovering through the valleys, at times only meters above ground. Experienced pilots, like 17 year veteran and Royal Balloon Chief Pilot Suat Ulusoy can steer the balloon so close to the trees you can actually pick apples from the branches.
Be prepared to get up early as balloons take off around sunrise. The magic of the sun appearing behind the uniquely shaped mountains however is definitely worth crawling out of bed early.
Similar to Istanbul, there is quite a lot of traffic with at times nearly 100 balloons in the air, but here it’s a beautiful sight! As a bit of an adrenaline junkie I would have never thought a slow moving balloon would leave me so stoked but it is this very slow paced life in Cappadocia that is such a wonderful contrast to Istanbul’s urban dynamics.
If I could have, I would have taken Suat’s balloon back to Istanbul.
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