Despite the pandemic, life goes on – especially for seasoned travellers like our LUXE resident editors. Making the most of what they could, find out how our LUXE Istanbul resident editor, Basak Gokkilic, found new ways to explore her city and her top-rated new haunts.
What was your travel highlight of 2021?
Since traveling abroad wasn’t as easy (thanks to Covid), I ended up going to a place in Turkey I hadn’t been before: Urla! Located on the Aegean coast near Izmir, Urla is considered to be “the wine country” of Turkey, due to the heavy concentration of Turkish wineries in the region.
Reminiscent of rustic Italy, it is a charming road trip filled with olive trees, friendly locals, restaurants like Od Urla and Urla Bag Evi (which was also the lovely hotel where we stayed) serving exclusive gastronomic delights and of course… plenty of wine-tastings.
I was lucky to take the trip with my dear friend Andrea Lemieux who is an expert on Turkish wine, which made the tastings all the more informative and fun! Our wine route included Urla Wines, Mozaik Winery, Hus Wines, Cakir Winery and Urlice Vineyards, but there are more to visit (the perfect excuse to go back)!
A new place you discovered during COVID?
Büyükada, or “The Big Island.” The largest of the Princes’ Islands (a cluster of nine islands southeast of Istanbul), this historic island was a haven to escape to during quarantine. I used to go in my childhood but hadn’t been there since. My friend Emma has a home and a bakery there, which gave me a yummy excuse to go (a lot)!
Only an hour’s ferry ride away from the heart of the city, the island dates back to 569 A.D. when Emperor Justinian II built a royal palace there. Since then, it’s been a home of monks and nuns, fishermen, Ottoman royalty, and foreign exiles like Leon Trotsky, whose home stands still to this day.
Passing the handsome wooden houses of Ottomans past, down streets overflowing with pink bougainvillea and yellow mimosas, walking around the car-free island is an intoxicating experience. Dotted by pine-filled woods and surrounded by the Marmara Sea, the ancient hilltops host both Ayios Nikolaos monastery and the Aya Yorgi monasteries, whose cobble-stone pathways are filled with napkins tied to tree branches, holding the prayers of their visitors.
Waking up to the sound of seagulls, indulging in my friend’s baked goods, drinking wine by the fireplace and watching the sun set over passing boats have been the highlight of my Covid years.
Your current fave hangouts in Istanbul?
Your lockdown essentials:
A full home bar and a healthy Wi-Fi.
Incognito: The Secret Lives of the Brain by neuroscientist David Eagleman has been an eye-opener in realising how unconscious we actually are of our decisions and actions.
Designing the book, The Essential Guide to Turkish Wine by Andrea Lemieux, taught me a lot about Turkish wine.
White Lotus on HBO was an entertaining yet challenging take on the dynamics of family, culture, class and gender roles.
A heavy one that questions sexual boundaries and identities, I May Destroy You on BBC was one of the best shows I’ve seen.
Tips for travelling during COVID?
Always carry an extra mask and a good hand lotion because those sanitisers dry them out so much.
Any travel plans for 2022?
Bodrum in the summer, for sure, while Scotland and Budapest have been on my to-go list for quite some time. And lastly, Munich to visit my uncle and his new rescue dog.
Follow Basak’s travels on Instagram @basak_empathia
Dreaming of a trip to Turkey? Pick up a copy of the LUXE Istanbul guide!
See also: 5 Travel Trends For The Post-Covid Era