A bridge between the East and the West, Istanbul gives you a unique combination of the two worlds with its magnificent mosques, atmospheric churches, intriguing museums, Ottoman Sultan palaces, and of course, its landmark, the Bosphorus. All in one fascinating melting pot of a great 21st-century city, Istanbul, home to three empires, the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman, and its unique blend of Christian and Islamic sites.
Turkish Airlines invited BQ Plus to Istanbul, Turkey to celebrate the 12th edition of the Istanbul Tulip Festival. A group of more than 250 travel agents, media representatives, and social media influencers from the MENA region including Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Qatar, Palestine, Bahrain, Iraq, UAE, Tunisia, Oman, Jordan, Lebanon, and Morocco were invited to participate in the promotional tour. The event was organized from 29 March to 1 April, 2017 to reinforce Istanbul’s tourism sector.
The team from Qatar took a four-hour trip on Turkish Airlines from Hamad International Airport to Istanbul Atatürk Airport. Once we arrived, we were then taken to our hotel, Conrad Istanbul Boshphorus, which is located in the lively Besiktas area, the hotel is a 5-minute walk from the Bosphorus. Ortakoy, Dolmabahce Palace and Vodafone Stadium are nearby while Zorlu, Kanyon, Metrocity, Özdilek, shopping malls and Nişantaşı district are a short drive away. Conrad Istanbul Boshphorus has spectacular views of the city skyline, which are exceptional at its new Manzara Restaurant where we enjoyed breakfast with breathtaking views of the Bosphorus and Historical Peninsula, kicking off our two-day tour on a very high note.
Not many know that tulips originate from Turkey, not the Netherlands. Turkey hosted the world’s first Tulip Festival more than 400 years ago. Tulips originally grew wild on the Asian steppes and the tulip commercial cultivation actually began in the Ottoman Empire. Tulips were brought to Holland by the Ottoman Empire in the 16th century. Throughout history, tulip has been one of Istanbul’s traditional symbols, having a major role in Turkish arts and culture. Called lale in Turkish, tulips even gave its name to the wealthiest period of Ottoman Empire (Lale Devri, the Tulip Era).
The love for the tulip and the tradition is still strong today. The year 2005 marked the launch of the first international Istanbul Tulip Festival. In its 12th edition this year, we had the chance to view millions of tulips – in over 120 varieties – across parks, plazas and gardens. The Istanbul Tulip Festival aims to let the world know that the tulip is native to Istanbul, Turkey – and not Europe.
March, the beginning of spring, marks the commencement of the tulip festival, making April the perfect time to witness the colorful and vibrant blooms of tulips in Istanbul. Whether you’re walking, driving or taking the metro, tulips can be seen everywhere – on pavements, parks, gardens, etc. Millions are planted in the city in various colors and types. But, if what you want to a witness a real tulip fest, visit Emirgan Korusu or Emirgan Park, which was the first stop of our media tour in Istanbul. The Park is home to over three million tulips of 190 variants. No picking is allowed. However, there are several flower shops you can purchase tulips from. It’s a beautiful place to take pictures so have your selfie stick ready. We’ve spotted many brides and grooms having their wedding photo-shoot in the midst of blossoming tulips. One of the largest and most historical parks in Istanbul, Emirgan Korusu is a common tourist destination. It is also popular among locals and is bursting with natural charms, arts, kids play areas, coffee shops and restaurants.
After a breathtaking walk around Emirgan Korusu, we were invited to dine at one of the most luxurious hotels in Istanbul, The Ritz-Carlton, which is perfectly situated in the heart of Istanbul in the upscale Dolmabahçe district. We lunched at the Atelier Real Food restaurant, where all dishes use fresh local seasonal ingredients and culinary excellence is celebrated by delicious ‘farm-to-table’ flavors created uniquely in the chefs’ ‘atelier’. The restaurant overlooks the Bosphorus, an exceptionally stunning view The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul is known for. The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul consists of 243 guest rooms. The Ritz-Carlton Spa, features eight treatment rooms, a 17-meter indoor pool, a traditional authentic Turkish Hammam, a Couples-Hammam Suite, a fitness center and the city’s first open-air spa.
From The Ritz-Carlton, Istanbul, we were off to a one-hour sightseeing boat tour of the Bosphorus, a must-do when visiting Istanbul. One of Turkey’s most significant landmarks, the Bosphorus or Bosporus is a narrow, natural strait and an internationally significant waterway that forms part of the continental boundary between Europe and Asia, and separates Asian Turkey from European Turkey. The relaxing city boat tour takes you down the Bosphorus Strait, which separates the city in half and connects the Black Sea to the Marmara Sea. While on the cruise, you’ll see the Bosphorus Bridge, Galata Tower, Dolmabahce Palace, Rumeli Fortress (Rumeli Hisari) and more. There are also complimentary snacks and beverages on the board. There are various Bosphorus Tour packages, which include day and night trips that can go all the way to the Black Sea. Of all the activities you can do while staying in Istanbul, you can’t miss to take a boat trip on the Bosphorus.
The cruise dropped us off on the rarely seen Asian side of Istanbul. Most tourists only see the European side of Turkey. However, the Asian side of Istanbul is in fact rich with a large number of attractions such as our next stop, Çamlica Hill, also known as Arayis or ‘newly-weds’, as it’s a common romance destination for couples. One of the highest hills of Istanbul (268 meters high), Çamlica Hill has the most stunning view of Istanbul and the Boshoprus. In addition, due to its altitude, almost all major broadcasting antennas are located on this hill. On the top of the hill is a public park with cafes and architecture, which reminds visitors of the Ottoman era. Like Emirgan Park, Çamlica Hill is home to a variety of tulips, though not as many, making it another great destination for pictures – and romance.
After sipping tea while watching the sunset at Çamlica Hill, we took a two-hour drive back to the European side of Turkey for dinner at Sazeli in Florya, one of the most beautiful districts in Istanbul. The world-famous Turkish restaurant has recently opened its first branch in Qatar at the Mall of Qatar. Known for its delicious variety of meat, freshly made food and organic breads, the Shazili deli and butcher shop is where you can taste the finest of Turkish food with a wonderful sea view and garden.
After another fulfilling breakfast at Manzara, we took off to the Old City of Istanbul, which is the oldest part of Istanbul, and home to most of its historical sites.
Our first stop at the Old City is the Topkapı Palace, an imperial enclave of the Ottoman emperors for four centuries. It’s lavishly decorated, with four courts of increasing grandeur. In the second court is the Harem and the State Treasury, housing a weaponry display. The third court has the Imperial Treasury with both Islamic and Christian relics, rugs and porcelain. You can see what are believed to be the belongings of Prophet Mohammed and Moses. Then move on to the Fourth Court, from where you can enjoy spectacular views of the Bosphorus.
After a walk around Topkapi Palace, we had a quick look at the must-see Hagia Sophia. Dating from the sixth century, it was originally a basilica constructed for the Eastern Roman Emperor Justinian I. A masterwork of Roman engineering, the huge 30 m diameter dome covers what was for over 1,000 years the largest enclosed space in the world. The church was looted by the fourth Crusaders in 1204, and became a mosque in the 15th century when The Ottomans conquered the city. It was converted into a museum in 1935. Don’t miss the mesmerizing mosaics, including those in the gallery, reached by a stone ramp to the left of the entrance.
While some of us had a look inside Hagia Sophia, others went to perform their Friday prayers at Sultan Ahmed Mosque. With its six minarets and sweeping architecture, the Sultan Ahmed Mosque or ‘Blue’ Mosque impresses from the outside. Unlike Hagia Sophia, this is still a working mosque. The mosque is closed during ritual prayer but mosque volunteers provide you with a free presentation on the Mosque and also about Islam during that period. Women need to wear head scarves, which can be bought in nearby shops or borrowed at the mosque for free. Everyone needs to cover their legs (no shorts or short skirts).
After a long day at the Old City, we moved back to the hotel to get ready for the gala dinner – the closing ceremony of the trip. Organized by Turkish Airlines and Adonis, the gala dinner at Pullman Istanbul Airport Hotel & Convention Center hosted over 250 guests for an evening with trip organizers, Turkish Airlines and Adonis, and hotel sponsors, Pullman, the Hilton, Conrad and Fairmont.
GCC tourists in Turkey
- Turkey receives more than 600,000 visitors annually from Gulf countries, with Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE accounting for the highest number of visitors.
- Nearly half a million tourists from Saudi Arabia visit Turkey annually. Saudi dominates the Turkish land buyers list in terms of total area purchased, whereas Kuwait leads in the number of plots purchased.
- More than 30,000 tourists from Qatar visit Turkey annually.
- Tourists from the GCC mostly prefer Turkey for summer vacations, mostly for medical treatments, and shopping. They spend more than double the average spent by foreign visitors in Turkey.
This article is from BQ Plus’s Issue 10 – April-May 2017.
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