In the latest issue of BESPOKE Magazine, Martine Bury explores the hottest shopping districts around Istanbul. High and low, haute and hip, the ancient city on the shores of the Bosphorus is a shopper’s paradise.
A shopping spree in Istanbul takes time. Storeowners often offer chocolates, tea and Turkish delights, tell engaging stories and invite customers to participate in an ageold dance of buyer and seller. With a rich tradition as a center for trade and retail that dates back 2,000 years, Istanbul is the ideal destination for modern day hunters and gatherers up for adventure. First, visit the illustrious city’s greatest albeit essential hits legendary Topkapi Palace, Basilica Cistern, Hagia Sophia and Blue Mosque. Then experience Istanbul like a local, exploring the Old City’s labyrinthine Grand Bazaar and stylish neighborhoods, like the enchanting Nisantasi, with its luxury boutiques and sidewalk cafes.
The Grand Bazaar
Sixty city streets, 22 doors, four main gates and over 3,500 shops make up one of the world’s oldest and largest covered markets. Although the hordes of tourists, tacky souvenirs and endless invitations to bargain can be daunting, it would be a shame to disregard serious exploration of this massive monument to retail. Not only is it the headquarters for buying gold in Istanbul, it is also one of the few places on earth one can embark on a true treasure hunt for all types of luxurious bounty—from rare Byzantine antiques to exquisite, colorful Turkish textiles. Think of it this way, the Grand Bazaar is the perfect excuse to travel with an extra, empty suitcase.
Where to Shop:
Mourath Pasha – Stocked with a wide array of beach-ready pestemals—thin, often striped and versatile Turkish towels—at every price point, this tiny store also offers hand towels and pretty, patterned scarves in pure cotton and high quality organic linen.
Dervis – A dimly lit, exotic little outpost, Dervis boasts a tightly curated selection of home accessories from vintage textiles and cotton towels to jewel-toned mohair blankets and rich, ethnic handiworks from artisans all over Turkey.
Muhlis Gunbatti – Dreamy and intricate Suzani pillows, hand-woven tapestries, ornate vintage clothes and traditional Ottoman and Central Asian textiles fill this arch-ceilinged, generations-owned boutique, wall to wall.
Cashmere House by Ilyas Aksu – The cheerful and well-reputed boutique is neatly packed from floor to ceiling with a dizzying selection of sumptuous, authentic pashmina wraps, delicate silk scarves and handloomed cashmere items. The friendly owners proudly display a photo of Uma Thurman shopping there.
Lale Sterling – Hard to miss, legendary Lale Sterling sparkles with treasure made by Turkey’s master silversmiths. The family trade dates back to 1936, with the Grand Bazaar store open since 1959. From picture frames to opulent tea sets, Lale specializes in reproductions of 17th and 18th century silver arts designs.
Dhoku – For lovers of contemporary rug design inspired by the Anatolian heritage, dhoku appeals to modern tastes with handcrafted floor coverings in minimalist patterns and high quality wools worthy of chic design magazines.
Drop into Nisantasi’s bustling streets for high-end retail therapy, trendy restaurants and the city’s most fashionable people watching. As the affluent residential district and haute retail hub of Istanbul’s European side, it’s the place beautiful locals flock to for power lunches on weekdays and chic dining on weekends. In Turkish, the word Nisantasi means ‘marking stone’. Also, it is the place where celebrated Turkish journalist Abdi Ipekci was assassinated in 1979. Despite the grim history, today the area is home to Chanel, Jo Malone, Prada and scores of international luxury brands.
Where to Shop:
Beymen – Istanbul’s answer to Barneys New York, this luxury department store offers fine chocolate, homewares, bespoke fragrances, independent Turkish designers and trendsetting global brands such as Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, Paul Smith and Jimmy Choo.
Armaggan – Located on Abdi Ipekci Caddesi, Nisantasi’s most desirable address, the seven-story store stocks exclusive collections of to-die-for caftans, hand dyed textiles, jewelry and luxury leather goods. An onsite art and design gallery makes this a must-stop for discerning shoppers. www.armaggan.com/en
Gasia – A truly unique and decadent jewelry store from a designer worn by Sarah Jessica Parker in Sex and the City 2, the items here are true statement pieces featuring precious stones and 24-karat gold.
Arzu Kaprol – Fashion designer Arzu Kaprol has made a name for herself on the runways of the world, at renowned retail destinations such as Harrods of London, and on the muchphotographed bodies of celebrities such as model Gisele Bundchen and actress Meg Ryan. Her Nisantasi flagship speaks to her reputation for refinement and attention to detail.
Vakko 75 – Affluent locals with old school tastes for custom men’s suits, preppy women’s wear and more formal attire revere this fashion retailer. The interior’s sleek, customized seating offers welcome respite for weary shoppers.
Magic Carpets – Awe-inspiring craftsmanship sets Nakkas Fine Oriental Rugs & Textiles apart. With a breathtaking location in the Sultanahmet area near the Blue Mosque, this multi-storied rug emporium is run by three generations of Turkish rug purveyors. A stop here is as educational as it is one of the very best places to purchase the country’s most famous handicraft. From antique to contemporary, every piece tells a story. Visitors are even given a turn at the loom. For those who take the plunge, Nakkas offers world wide door-to-door delivery at a nice price. All of this sits atop a 16th Century Byzantine Cistern Nakkas has transformed into a gallery with seasonal exhibitions. www.nakkasrug.com
What to do with the rest of the day – The city offers many modern diversions to punctuate a day of shopping. Not to be missed, Istanbul Modern museum is a refreshing juxtaposition to ancient ruins, gilded mosques and mind-bending traffic. The tightly edited Past and Future permanent collection is a succinct journey through Turkey’s art history. Wide, crystal-clear windows boast stunning views of the Bosphorus.
For foodies, Istanbul serves up glamorous dining venues that often evolve into a sophisticated nightlife scene. Here’s a short list.
Tapasuma – Another great expression of the city’s tapas trend, this modern resto on the Bosphorus with crisp white walls and soaring ceilings is a feast for the eyes and the appetite. Seafood and traditional mezzes are served with a modern twist.
Mikla – One of Istanbul’s most exclusive restaurants and happening nightspots, Mikla is the brainchild of renowned Turco-Finnish Chef Mehmet Gürs. For a taste of his beautiful interpretations of seasonal fare, try the Tasting Menu with drink pairings from the ideal perch of this rooftop eatery.
Gile – An exclusive collection of carefully curated Turasan wines from Cappadocia is just a sampling of this hip venue’s culinary offerings. Opened in May, the hotspot is an ideal place to tuck into an inventive, elegant dinner or casual lunch, topped off with a sweet Turkish coffee.
Lokanta Maya – A clean, candlelit aesthetic and tapas style shared plates are perfection at this low-key venue off the beaten path. Kick things off with a dry Turkish rosé and the light zucchini-feta fritters.
Juno – Great any time of the day or night, Nisantasi’s upscale-casual café serves expertly crafted crowd pleasers such as thin crust pizza with locally made cheese curd and generous charcuterie as well as inspired, seasonal cocktails by the house mixologist.
Four Seasons Bosphorus – The perfect home base for exploring Istanbul, Four Season’s Bosphorus is luxury lodging at its finest. Awash in natural sunlight by day, the hotel is a calm, heavenly scented oasis in the storm of a vibrant city. From the lavish spread for breakfast each morning, decidedly Turkish style, at Aqua restaurant to what is reputed to be Istanbul’s best spa, the contemporary decor is visible throughout what was once a 19th Century Ottoman Palace. Gastronomic excellence, an elegant bar scene and flawless service and amenities are de rigueur, true to brand. Be sure to request a Bosphorus facing room in the Palace Building.