by Rachel Felder
Just a short taxi ride from the Blue Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, Istanbul's new Akaretler Row Houses feel a million miles away from the grimy, congested frenzy of the city's touristy landmarks. Originally built as housing for palace workers in the nineteenth century, the set of buildings have been transformed into an understated and elegant development that's as modern as it is historic—kind of like Istanbul itself.
The anchor of the Houses is the newly opened W Hotel, the chain's first European venture. With its Turkish flourished decor and dark lighting, it feels more like a local boutique hotel than part of an international chain. (See images below.) Though there is a branch of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's Spice Market inside as an upscale alternative to the city's ubiquitous kebabs and baklava. The restaurant and some of its rooms have views of the Bosphorus straight, which is a short stroll away.
In contrast to the city's typically ornate architecture, the Akaretler Row Houses are sparse and neo-classical. It's easy to imagine this sophisticated, spotless development on a quiet street in London or Paris—particularly since its row of boutiques includes Marni, Lanvin, Marc Jacobs, and Jimmy Choo.
But since it's in the heart of a busy (and quite trendy) area of locals called the Besiktas district, Akaretler feels like you're in the real Istanbul instead of a tour guide's version. Within a few minutes walk from the Houses is a bustling community of local stores that are decidedly not fancy but a great source for little souvenirs that are inexpensive and unique.
The Akaretler Row Houses also include an smart Turkish restaurant, 1897 Konyali, that offers beautifully presented takes on local classics like dolmas, made here with cherries instead of meat. It's a place where you'll typically find no tourists and no English spoken. The best way to end a meal there? With Turkish coffee and Turkish delight of course, which are both predictably delicious.