“The world is complicated, not just Lebanon,” a journalist told our Insider Journey group in Beirut this spring. “But when you understand the big picture, you understand that what we share is so much more than what divides us.” The very same could be said about Turkey, a country whose story has always been determined by its location: the heady meeting place of East and West.
Now is a unique time in Istanbul , Turkey’s largest city and cultural and economic center. Many tourists are still staying away because of ongoing political and economic turmoil and past terrorist attacks, which peaked in 2016. But the city abounds with new energy and hope, thanks in part to its recently elected mayor, and many of the top monuments and sites have been newly renovated. To experience this fascinating destination during a pivotal time in its history, as it revives with new momentum, the time to visit is now.
Join Our Trip: Learn more about our October Insider Journey to Istanbul, a special trip hosted by Architectural Digest contributing editor Gay Gassmann and Indagare founder Melissa Biggs Bradley.
Did you feel safe as a visitor in Turkey?
I never take this question lightly, as it really depends on personal comfort levels, and I always encourage our members to review the latest information on the State Department website. That said, Turkey has rebounded since the terror attacks in 2016 and other political events, and it is starting to see a rise in tourism again. I found it extremely welcoming to visitors, especially in Istanbul and Bodrum, with their European feel. There was a wonderful energy everywhere I went, and my thoughtful guides kept checking to make sure I was content and comfortable. Overall, there was a feeling of hope and a real energy.
What stood out to you the most?
One thing I noticed throughout my travels was that nearly ever site we visited was undergoing renovations or had recently completed them. Turkey took its dip in tourism in the past years as an opportunity to refresh its sites. For example, the Blue Mosque had not been touched in some thirty years, and now a major restoration project is underway to bring it back to its original glory (it is set to be completed in 2020). Additionally, 350-million Turkish Lira have been spent on the Topkapi Palace, which was the home of the Ottoman sultans for hundreds of years; this will be the most extensive update the building has received in its history. The legendary Hagia Sophia is also undergoing renovations—and even with its current scaffolding, the cathedral remains one of the world’s most impressive.
Related: Istanbul: Lay of the Land
What else were people buzzing about?
Istanbul’s new airport, which will be fully finished in 2020 and is slated to become the largest airport in the world, with the capacity to handle approximately 90 million travelers a year. Even now, the structure is already striking: its “Phase 1” terminal is the largest in the world contained under one roof, covering 11 million square feet. But beyond these grand statistics—the project signifies the newfound hope the country has for bringing Turkey back on the map for travelers.
A lot of action is also underway in the hotel scene, particularly in Istanbul, where a Mandarin Oriental and the Peninsula are slated to open next year. In Bodrum, too, newcomers are shaking up the scene. The Edition is now the top place to stay, and in 2020, the Four Seasons will make an anticipated debut, which is bound to elevate this seaside escape to rival Mykonos or Amalfi.
What were some of your personal favorite finds?
Istanbul is one of Europe’s largest urban areas and there is so much to explore. No matter how many times you have visited, the city’s beauty—the mosque-studded skyline, the Grand Bazaar, the Bosphorus—is always remarkable. I loved exploring lesser-known neighborhoods. Karakoy, for example, was not one known to visitors even a few years ago—but now it is filled with local specialty shops, galleries and cafes with fun outdoor areas. Intertwined, you can still experience local life, which only adds to the charm.
Related: The Shopping Guide: Istanbul
What about the Insider Journey that Indagare is co-hosting with Architectural Digest this October?
The lineup of local hosts, insiders and experts on this trip is incredible. Over the years, Indagare has arranged hundreds of trips to Istanbul, but the itinerary for this trip with AD is the most impressive one ever. The itinerary includes private receptions and art collection viewings with Istanbul’s elite in their stunning mansions along the Bosphorus; expert guides for historical and art- and architecture-focused touring; and behind-the-scenes access at the Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and the Topkapi Palace. Of course, there will also be lots of time for shopping in the bazaars, and the group will be invited for private visits to Istanbul’s cutting-edge ateliers and boutiques. Plus, cooking classes and cruising along the Bosphorus! It will be an incredible trip.