Let’s Talk Turkey

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The Hagia Sophia.
The Hagia Sophia.

Turkey’s handsome red booth stood front and center at the New York Times Travel Show in New York last weekend, in one of the privileged positions allotted to event sponsors. On view for the many attending admirers to learn about is a country that boasts more Greek ruins than Greece, and more Roman archaeological sites than Italy; magical Istanbul, the only city sited on two continents; breathtaking landscapes and cultural attractions—from great monuments to colorful bazaars and savory cuisine—all drawing Americans to Turkey in record numbers.

And host of this travel show domain was Murat Karakus, director of the Turkish Culture and Tourist Office in New York, who points out that Istanbul, the country’s leading destination, “is more easily accessed nowadays through increased airline services, and come 2017 will greet arriving visitors at its new, largest-in-Europe airport.” Additionally, he points out, with 56 domestic airports, Turkey makes it easy to visit all corners of the country, although “American visitors tend to concentrate their stays on the triangle of Istanbul, Ephesus (airport Kusadasi) and Cappadocia, although many now are enjoying our excellent resorts and seaside hideaways at Bodrum and Cesme on the Aegean Sea.”

The director and I talked about different ways that Turkey displays its special ability to marvelously mix old and new, East and West. According to Karakus, nowhere is this more visible than in the country’s hotel infrastructure. “So many of our boutique hotels have given new life to Ottoman houses and architecture, and in Cappadocia, our visitors can stay with all comforts and services in hotels built into caves.”

Istanbul has more than its share of east-meets-west hotels; in recent years sited along the Bosporus, a 14-mile strait whose one shore is in Europe and the other in Asia. Along the waterway you find the Ciragan Palace Kempinski, occupying the palatial residence of the last Ottoman sultans, and the newest Four Seasons Istanbul Bosphorus—a converted Ottoman palace—is water-side, with ultra-plush rooms featuring private hammans. Also on the strait is the new House Hotel Bosphorus, a stylish 26-room restored mansion, and the Shangri-la Bosphorus, the 186-room property, which opened in 1913 inside a 1930s former tobacco factory, next to the Dolmabahce Palace.

And according to Karakus, some fine new hotels opened last year in Istanbul, such as the 128-room Mondrian Istanbul, a Morgan’s Hotel Group property; the House Hotel Vault Karakoy in the up-and-coming Karakoy district, and the Radisson Blu Istanbul Tuzla, a conference and spa hotel, which debuted in the Tuzla district of Anatolian Istanbul.

Old friends on the Turkish hotel scene continue to up their investment: The Sheraton Samsun Hotel is the first international five-star hotel in the emerging business city of Samsun and Starwood’s 11th hotel in Turkey; additionally, Sheraton will open the 160-room Sheraton Atasehir in 2015. Hilton Worldwide (the first international chain in Turkey, more than 50 years ago), launched Istanbul’s largest hotel and conference center, the Hilton Istanbul Bomonti Hotel & Conference Center last year, and scheduled for this year is a new 200-room Hilton Antakya, and in 2016, the 170-room Hampton-by-Hilton Istanbul Dolapdere in central Istanbul. Meanwhile, after a $1 million refurbishment, the 115-room DoubleTree by Hilton is rebranding the existing Yidizhan Hotel in Izmir.

The glam hotel debut in 2016 will surely be the new Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts property, slated to open in Cesme. The picturesque Aegean town, located on the coast of Turkey’s Izmir province near Alacati, has long been a favorite of the Turkish elite who are drawn to the area’s rich culture, cuisine, vineyards and the therapeutic thermal springs. The resort will have 130 suites and 16 private villas offering extraordinary sea views, and future guests will find they are not far from the ancient city of Ephesus onshore, and some of the world’s top windsurfing and kitesurfing. Here comes another Turkish delight.

For more information, visit goturkey.com.