The Bosphorus Strait was the preferred location for royal palaces and villas of Sultans and Pashas; it also boasts dozens of fine restaurants along its embankment in Istanbul.
A sense of place
Two connected Turkish Straits separate the continents of Europe and Asia, and the narrowest point is in the Bosphorus Strait in Istanbul. Looking more like a wide river than an epic sea-lane, the Bosphorus plays an important role in the link that connects the Black Sea with the Aegean Sea – and the Mediterranean beyond.
Getting around on the water in Istanbul
There are scores of boats for hire along the busy Bosphorus. Visitors can select from tour boats, conventional passenger ferries, ships that carry passengers and vehicles, hydrofoils, express ferries, sea taxis, sea buses, and motor boats.
We joined a group on a private excursion boat provided by the Dentur Ayarasya Group that specializes in cruise tours along the Bosphorus. They provided us with an extraordinary tour of both the European and Asian side of the strait – and our several stops enabled us to partake in some excellent waterside dining.
Eating on the Bosphorus
Our first stop was for lunch at the Mavi Balik restaurant. A superb choice with extensive water views, top- notch service, and delicious seafood.
At the Mavi, we spent a pleasant repast chatting with our fellow travelers and enjoying pleasantries and the fine wines furnished from the restaurant’s vast cellar.
The afternoon was spent viewing the numerous historic and cultural sites on both sides of the Bosphorus.
Mid-afternoon we stopped again, this time for assorted desserts served with a choice of Turkish coffee or tea at the Waterfront Historical Homes at Ortakoy, a trendy neighborhood in the most artsy part of Istanbul. Newly remodeled, some of these waterfront homes are three centuries old.
When it came time for dinner, our guide had arranged a special treat in the elegant dining room of the Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus.
Our visit to the Four Seasons Bosphorus came complete with hors d’ oeuvres and cocktails on the Atik Pasha terrace that overlooks the sea and the Fatih Sultan Mehment Bridge.
A view with spacious rooms
We toured the impressive 19th century Ottoman palace – now converted into a luxurious hotel. The renovation judiciously defers to the building’s history, but while it deferentially salutes the past, it also resolutely embraces contemporary Turkey.
The tour was immediately followed with a delectable dinner at the hotel’s renowned Aqua Restaurant. Our meal was a symphony of flavors that was as fresh as it was unique.
Our waiter suggested we start our epicurean journey with Izmir Regional Artichoke “Dolma,” Fresh Herbs, and Olive Oil Emulsion. That was followed by a Scallop Casserole with Seasonal Mushroom and Sun Dried Tomato Ragout. Our main course consisted of Ottoman Spring Lamb Shank, Prune Puree, and Smoked Eggplant Cream. Absolutely – marvelous.
The above was topped with a fantastic dessert, the presentation of which evoked stirring applause from the entire table. (See it in the slideshow that accompanies this story)
Many restaurants along the water boast excellent menus and service. Wish we had the time to sample them all, but we did not. We heard about special delicacies at the Sade Kahve, and Café Nar, but we must leave it up to you to sample their delights during your visit to the Bosphorus.
The Dolmabahçe Palace
For centuries, the Sultans and Pashas built palaces, villas, and mansions that captured the on-shore breezes from the Bosphorus.
The Dolmabahçe Palace with its indelible vistas was built between 1843 and1856 for the Sultan Abdulmecid. It boasts three stories with 285 rooms and 43 halls. It is surrounded by beautiful gardens and the interior retains much of its original gold decorations and furnishings. The Dolmabahçe has six Turkish baths and a large harem area. It is said to be one of the greatest examples of Ottoman wealth and abundance.
The Palace is open to the public. If you go, be sure to check out the 4.6-ton crystal chandelier above the main staircase. There is a picture of it in the short video about the Dolmabahçe Palace at the end of this article.
The Çıragan Palace
Much of this beautiful 19th century palace burned down in 1910 and remained a ruin for many years. Today it is an unforgettable five-star hotel owned by Kempinski Hotels. See our story about another Kempinski Hotel in Turkey here.
Modern life along the Bosphorus
If you like scenic waterfront living – welcome to fantastic. The Bosphorus shores provide a wide array of homes to suit every taste.
Imagine sharing your favorite beverage with family and friends on the patio of your waterfront home in Asia as you watch the setting sun in Europe – just across on the opposite shore.
The Bosphorus has been of strategic importance to many nations for over 2500 years. The Roman Emperor Constantine recognized its significance when he created Constantinople (now Istanbul) along its shores in 330 AD.
This famous fortress was built in 1452, along the narrowest part of the Bosphorus with the intention to control the sea traffic and stop ships trying to reach Constantinople from the Black Sea during the Turkish siege of the city in 1453.
The fortress is quite large, yet its construction was completed in an amazingly short four and one-half months.
The effort was a success and Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in May 1453, effectively ending the Byzantine Empire and 1100 years of Roman domination in the area.
Today the fortress is a museum and amphitheatre open to the public for concerts, plays, and cultural events.
A place of deliverance
We also visited the area where Sultan Beyazid Ham welcomed 14th century Jewish immigrants. Thousands of Jews were expelled from Spain and found shelter and a new life in Turkey. Today, there are approximately 17,000 Jews living in the country, many are in Istanbul.
Turkey is an exotic and fascinating country. We recommend it as a worthy destination for your next holiday abroad.
We flew to Istanbul on Turkish Airlines. See our review below.
Click on any of the following titles to read more of our stories about this interesting part of the world.
Turkish Airlines and its new International Club
Bodrum, a vacation paradise in Turkey
The Kempinski Resort and Spa in Bodrum
© Travels with Wayne and Judy Bayliff
Photos © Wayne and Judy Bayliff
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Postscript: We live in dynamic times. After publication of this story, there were incidents of civil unrest in usually peaceful Istanbul. Most public displays of animus last only a short time and involve limited geography, but it is always advisable to safeguard your holiday plans by checking with the Department of State for travel warnings and alerts.