Turkey’s Minnesota Connections: Great Places to Visit

Ever fly Turkish Air? Even in coach it’s dreamy. Real food and two of the planes we flew on were amazingly clean. I’ve never seen such great service either, so my travel to Istanbul was a delight.

There are two reasons my husband and I decided to venture into Turkey. One was the recommendation from two friends I work with that also do photography for Minnnesota Monthly and Midwest Home magazines. Photographers Jeff Johnson and Erika Ludwig had taken their family to Turkey last year and found a little inn down in the countryside that we had to visit. In fact, they fell in love with the owners and the Turkish surrounds, food, and lifestyle.

The second reason we wanted to go to Turkey was to see the UMN-taught architects Negrit and Mark Butler’s hotel project Sumahan on the Water. I was intrigued by the back story–an old family distillery needed desperate rehab right on the Bosphorus Strait. And I mean about 20 feet or so from the water’s edge.

After reading the story of the 2006 renovation and all the great reviews, including the 2012 Trip Advisor Award and Tablet Hotels’ review, I was in.

Turkish Architects: With Minnesota History

SumahanWe landed in Istanbul and spent two nights at Sumahan on the Water. Our first sight was of the hand-laid river rock courtyard as we entered the front door–a mark that they hired artisans to help build the property.

Next, we were offered chilled lemonade with fresh mint and a stunning view of the waters running up to the old city of Istanbul. As if that wasn’t impressive enough, the structure of the property includes original stonewalls that juxtapose beautifully with modern glass elevators and casement windows. It’s that perfect mix of new and old.

Lucky for us, we were upgraded to a waterfront loft. Full disclosure–I don’t know the owner and I didn’t tell them I was writing a blog. They upgraded us because we had asked for a water view and they had room. Other rooms on the property have water views and I highly recommend booking those for total relaxation and the ultimate experience of Turkey.

The food on the property was very, very good. I had fresh Sea Bream, which they happily deboned for me at the restaurant Tapa Suma just steps from our loft. Mr. Michael, my husband, had Lamb Shank that was served pulled and spiced. We also had fresh squash blossoms filled with spiced cheese and lamb neck rolled in pistachios.

Sumahan is a small resort just outside Istanbul but well within a cab ride to visit the environs in and around Istanbul. Another option is to take a complimentary private boat ride across the strait. It leaves and returns on the hour throughout the day and early evening.

Shopping the Spice Bazaar: Bringing It Home

There was one thing my chef husband wanted to do in Istanbul and that was to shop the spice market. I warned him that when I was there a couple of decades ago it was crazy–like Mall of America and Justin Bieber crazy. Sure enough, it was very crowded with tourists window-shopping and locals pushing to get through to some other destination.

We’d read that we should go through the spice market to the street beyond which turned out to be the “Street of the Coffee Roasters.” There are some great resources beyond the spice market and we chose to shop from the outer edge, just down from Kurukaveci Mehmet Efendi coffee roasters.

These roasters have been in business in the exact same storefront for over a century. The place was so popular, we had to wait in line with all the locals to purchase our two 250 grams of ground Turkish coffee. It didn’t take long, this assembly line has been operating for over 150 years exactly the way they do today. The coffee was fantastic, even after crossing the Atlantic and going through customs back to our kitchen.

We brought home ground coffee for our dear friends the Lewises and we also brought home whole black and red pepper. The black pepper is sweeter with high notes and low notes of nuts and fruit. The red pepper is more like paprika with tobacco overtones. I wish we could run back and buy more.

Turkish Countryside: It’s a Small World

Does word of mouth work in the world of marketing hospitality? Absolutely, and that is why Tripadvisor exists today. When we read the reviews and considered our friends’ recommendations, we had to visit Bakkhos Guesthouse just minutes outside Kusadasi, Turkey.

Bakkhos is a country inn with rustic details and imperfect décor–charming and relaxing with families and couples from all over the world. It’s like visiting your friend’s garden with varietal flora and fauna throughout the grounds or a small town bed and breakfast set amongst Greek and Roman ruins. The vineyards for the property are just beyond the pool area and the local Turkish wines that we tasted were remarkable.

The best part about Bakkhos is the owner that lives there. Manuela Ozbas-Engels and her husband share all their local stories and help guide you to the Turkish experience you are looking for. We wanted to see ruins, but ones that are off the beaten path, so we visited Priene and strolled down Roman streets in the afternoon. We also ate freshly-caught fish on a secluded beach with locals. 

Priced right, Bakkhos sees tourists from all over year after year. We were fortunate to share dinner with a three-generation German family that had spent a week every year at Bakkhos for about a decade. Family-style meals in the evenings were the perfect opportunity to share and listen to stories about everyone’s daily travels (with children and dogs under foot)—it felt like a fantastic family reunion.

Turkish Riviera: The New Ibiza But Better

Splurge I must! So we were off to see where the rock stars still hang out decades after Macakizi became popular in the 1970s. The reviews for Macakizi today are glowing, even from its most strident critics. In my opinion, they were not glowing enough.

Macakizi is a must-visit, and worth the long travel to get there. This is a true five-star experience without the stuffy, big hotel chain vibe.

The property is designed to be what everyone imagines the Mediterranean will be. The Bougainvillea and gardens, the harbor views, the open plan dining and lounge areas, the yachts and the people watching–it’s phenomenal. Two Australian film directors? Check. Two U.K. architectural magazine editors? Check. A Turkish 40-year-old birthday party with models from all over the world? Check.

Luckily, it wasn’t crowded when we were there, because it was shoulder season and they were still renovating some of the rooms. The new room design is Architectural Digest-worthy with limestone floors and bathrooms that are simple and modern with Italian Aqua Di Parma bath products. One of my favorite spots in the world is the Macakizi floating deck where you can swim, sun, and snack on lounge chairs at the water’s edge.

The food is exquisite and the wine list is curated for amazing meals so that you never have to leave the property if you don’t want to. We ate fresh fish, lamb, and all sorts of regional cuisine. There are two restaurants with various dining areas, all designed with open-air views of the harbor and the small town of Türkbükü, Turkey. We did take day trips around the Bodrum peninsula, but nothing compared to spending time in true paradise. I am inspired to once again start designing and dreaming and planning our next adventure.

—Barbara Schmidt is principal and lead designer of bstyle inc, a nationally recognized design firm creating and building spaces for homeowners, retailers, and manufacturers for over twenty years.

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