The Romans, Byzantines and the Ottomans all recognised the importance of Istanbul as a strategic gateway between the West and the East. Oddly occidental and strikingly Asian, the city is surprising its visitors with a new open-mindedness and an attractive neighbourhood at the heart of its revival.
During the reign of Murad IV (1612-1640), Hezarfen Ahmet Çelebi is reputed to have flown 6km across the Bosphorus from the top of the Galata Tower to land on the slopes of Üsküdar on the Anatolian side. There is something very Turkish about this story – the bravado, the optimism, the spanning of two continents – so much so that in the end no one really cares about its accuracy. It is this sense of “can do” that is currently defining Istanbul and the Turkish mindset in general. Walk anywhere in the city and there is that intangible buzz of a nation on the cusp of success after years spent in the shadows. There is no better time to buy a home in Turkey.
Until now, investing in property in Turkey’s largest city was perforated with pitfalls. Bureaucracy and corruption would sometimes make the process unbearable, but the country’s eagerness to join the EU and assert itself as an international player has forced it to sweeten the deal. Come January 2008 the government will implement legislation that will ease the investment process for foreigners, taking some of the burden out of property acquisition for non-nationals with a change in the mortgage laws.
We have fallen for Cihangir, a neighbourhood where the creative industries are taking root, the fabric remains intact and, most importantly, property prices are still reasonable. With three-bedroom apartments overlooking the Bosphorus going for as little as €50,000, we packed our overnighters and spent a few raki-fuelled days in the company of some accommodating residents.
Begin your day’s househunting on Cihangir Caddesi in the heart of the Cihangir district. Many of the streets that run off this residential stretch have spectacular views of the Bosphorus and there is a surfeit of properties with signs to rent or buy in their windows. From here traverse the scenic streets and head for Café Leyla on Akarsu Caddesi where you can grab a coffee and sample one of their foreign-nation themed breakfasts – the Norwegian brunch is particularly good. Deli Autre a few doors down is a good place to stock up on snacks for later in the day. Cross busy Siraselviler onto Palaska which will bring you to Cukurcuma Caddesi. The surrounding lanes are home to some of the city’s best antiques and furniture shops, such as Antikhane, selling everything from mid-century pieces to Ottoman objets d’art. Walk down to Bogazkesen Caddesi and cross on to, and then climb, Tomtom Kaptan in the embassy district. Once you reach Istiklal Caddesi, stop in at Cremeria Milano for an apricot ice cream. The rest of the street is populated by similar ice-cream parlours but this is the best. Continue south on Istiklal until it becomes Galipdede Caddesi, home to the Galata Dervish Lodge (if you’re lucky you’ll spot some whirlers). The street also serves as the city’s musical instrument district. At the end of Galipdede you’ll reach the Galata Tower which is well worth the climb offering panoramic views of the whole of Istanbul. At this point you’ll be ready for a long lunch, so make your way back to Cihangir for a glass of raki in the company of well-to-do Istanbullies at Smyrna on Akarsu Caddesi.
British Airways, Turkish Airlines – up to three times daily each
Swiss, Turkish Airlines – up to twice daily each
JAL – once daily, four times a week
1 Tatarbey Sokak; + 90 212 243 8642
Seyhan Ozdemir and Sefer Cagler’s furniture line is fresh, functional and only available online or from its flagship store on Tatarbey.
311 Istiklal Caddesi; + 90 212 251 2026
Subdued palettes and angular silhouettes reminiscent of early APC make this new Turkish designer a must watch for future seasons.
Asmalimescit Mahallesi; 3 Ensiz Sokak; + 90 212 245 7886
Unal has won several young designer awards and has shown off-schedule in both Paris and Milan. His studio in Beyoglu’s Asmalimescit doubles as a creative hub where he produces costumes for theatre and film productions.
Cross the Bogazici Koprusu bridge on to the Anatolian side and into Asia and head for Bagdat Avenue for some high-end shopping and rubber-necking. Istanbul’s wealthy residents enjoy the pavement cafés and spend hours buying and browsing in the boutiques – expect the usual suspects – Giorgio Armani, Burberry and D&G.
At the end of Galipdede; + 90 212 293 8180
Initially built of wood in 527AD by the Byzantines, the Genoese renovated it by rendering it in stone in 1348. At 67 metres, it offers a 360-degree vantage point, and also houses a restaurant and nightclub.
This idyllic car-free archipelago lies a few kilometres southwest of the city in the Marmara sea. Büyükada is the largest and most populated of the nine islands, but also offers more opportunity for exploration. IDO ferries operate regular crossings from the Kabatas pier close to Cihangir.
While the Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia take top billing, the Ortaköy mosque ranks first in the scenic sweepstakes. Its position at the Ortaköy pier offers incredible views of the Bosphorus and the helicopters navigating it.
Salhane Sokak, Ortaköy; + 90 212 227 2699
Just steps from the Ortaköy mosque, The House serves up an unpretentious international menu despite chef Coskun Uysal’s tutelage under Gordon Ramsay in London.
46 Akarsu Caddesi; + 90 212 244 5350
Whether it’s a cappuccino and panini at breakfast or full-blown dinner, the food and atmosphere in this well-decorated restaurant is consistently good.
22 Sofyali Sokak; + 90 212 245 9622
Gedikli is an Istanbul insider’s spot. Every night they serve a different Turkish meze consisting of fresh seafood. A favourite with locals are marinated anchovies and raki.
Tahmis Caddesi, 17 Kalçin Sokak, Eminönü; + 90 212 528 0390
For the best kebabs in Istanbul head for Hamdi, a bustling in-and-out lokanta, ideal for a quick bite before heading out on the tiles.
Cicek Pasaji, Taksim
Its name translates as secret garden and this hidden watering hole packs to the rafters with good-looking young Turks.
3 Seyhbender Sokak; + 90 212 292 7368
Live music, impromptu sound sets and very late closing has ensured this nightclub’s loyal patronage and nightly throng.
1 Tevkifhane Sokak; Sultanahmet-Eminönü; + 90 212 638 8200
Once a prison in the Sultanahmet district, this distinguished property is one of Monocle’s favourite international stopovers. Impeccable service, views of the Blue Mosque and rooftop drinks keep us coming back time and again.
51 Kuleli Caddesi; Çengelköy; + 90 216 422 8000
If you’d prefer a temporary Anatolian address, check in to the new Sumahan. Its rooms overlook the Bosphorus and they have their own launch to taxi you over to Cihangir.
Europe prices – based on premier cities
UK €18,108 per sq m
France €10,014 per sq m
Netherlands €6,667 per sq m
Italy €6,083 per sq m
Switzerland €5,418 per sq m
Spain €5,160 per sq m
Norway €5,117 per sq m
Denmark €3,784 per sq m
Sweden €3,167 per sq m
Turkey €2,467 per sq m
Source: GPG (Global Property Guide), globalpropertyguide.com
Büyükdere Caddesi, 3a Yapi Kredi Plaza; + 90 212 284 7273
Having chosen your property, you must first enter into a reservation contract. For between €3,000 and €6,000 the property is removed from the market while an appointed legal advisor carries out searches and submits their report. Subject to the results, you then sign a preliminary contract and pay the deposit – 10 per cent on resale property and up to 30 per cent on new build. You must then pay government property taxes before the final deed of sale (tapu) is signed, at which point the tapu is submitted to the land registry and the process is completed.
Currently foreign buyers can only apply for short-term mortgages but from January 2008 investors will be able to enter into long-term contracts (up to 30 years) as the Turkish government passes new legislation in a bid to encourage overseas investment. Turkish vendors welcome foreign currency transactions, in particular US dollars, euros and British pounds.
28, graphic designer
“I recently returned to Istanbul having lived all over Europe for five years. Istanbul is the only city I have ever considered home. I also saw the potential this city has to grow economically and socially and I’m excited to help modernise and improve the quality of its creative offering – design in particular. There’s an awful lot to be done over the next few years. Turkish people are very warm, open and helpful – like one big family. I once went for dinner and forgot my purse but the owner of the restaurant was very understanding and actually gave me money to get home. Now that feels like family. Besides the people, the food and its creative potential, one of my favourite things about Istanbul is the delivery culture. You can phone grocers at any time of the day and they’ll deliver produce to the door, even cigarettes. A great website is yemeksepeti.com, which will deliver dishes from a huge selection of restaurants. Enjoy!”
29, fashion stylist
“I used to live in Brighton and work in London which are worlds away from Istanbul, so I find it difficult to compare and contrast the experiences. However, Istanbul is a true melting pot of cultures. I love Cihangir and Beyoglu. Combined, they are such lively places to live. We have seen an awful lot of regeneration in the area, particularly culturally and socially. A swathe of creative folk have moved into the area and thankfully the gentrification hasn’t affected the look and feel of the neighbourhood. Property is still relatively affordable and I’m very happy to stay. A tip: head for the Princes’ Islands at the weekend.”
“Ever since Andrew, Ertan and I opened our photographic studio and creative agency a few years ago, we have seen a great change in Cihangir and Beyoglu. Friends have moved to the area, as well as foreign creatives who have recognised the promise that the city and country holds, all backed up by the capabilities to fulfil that promise. There is an encouraging sense of optimism everywhere you go. International companies continue to move here and this investment is bound to benefit everyone. Apartments are also cheap, spacious and readily available.”