May 14, 2011

Byzantine Encounters: Fener in Istanbul

Istanbul is one of those destinations that guarantees a shock to the system, a seething metropolis that is a chaotic meeting place of east and west, ancient and modern. But when it comes to choosing where to stay, there is a surprising return to normality, with most visitors choosing between reliable budget accommodation concentrated around the tourist golden triangle of the Topkapi Palace, Blue Mosque and Sultanahmet, or the funkier neighbourhoods of Beyoglu, Taksim and Ortakoy, where there are a host of famous-name luxury hotels.

On my last trip, though, I booked a brilliant new holiday rental that offers a completely different way to discover this fascinating city, the chance to experience a genuine slice-of-local-life where there isn't another tourist in sight. Verystanbul is hidden away on the shores of the Golden Horn, in the district of Fener, the historic home of a large Greek and Jewish population, just by the original city walls that date back to Istanbul's origins as Byzantium and Constantinople.

This charming two-room self-catering holiday home – you can rent one room or both – spreads over a three-storey traditional Greek house, newly renovated with a colourful bow-windowed facade and cool designer interiors, where guests have the run of the whole place, including a fully equipped kitchen, comfortable lounge and a sunny terrace on the top floor. The French owners, Pascal and Béatrice, are rarely around, and the place is efficiently overseen by a local Turk, Rahmi, and his friendly wife, Gulumser. But relaxing in this comfortable house is just half the story, as to stay in Fener is to immerse yourself in an Istanbul that bears little resemblance to guidebook descriptions.

Read more on the Guardian: Byzantine Encounters: Fener in Istanbul

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