Wednesday, August 16, 2017

ALAÇATI 2017- Where I Stayed: The S Alaçatı & Evliyagil Hotel by Katre

Dear readers,

After a whirlwind 8 nights and 9 days in Alaçatı, a district in Çeşme along the Aegean coast and 45 minutes drive from the "Pearl of the Aegean" Izmir, I returned to Istanbul exactly a week ago today!

Since I have the habit of burning the candle on both ends during a vacation, I'm just getting my legs back and finding time to write about my wonderful vacation! Of course, it has taken me days to organize all my photographs and I'm not done yet. But, since I will divide my posts into 3 parts (where I stayed, where I ate and beach clubs)... at least I can start!

Up until 2014, I used to go to Alaçatı every summer since 1999! But I gave a break in 2015 and went to Lisbon instead and last summer I didn't go on vacation because I had started a diet which I was serious about (and lost 17 kg), so a summer vacation was a no-no.

Alaçatı has changed in the past 3 years: mainly, new hotels have opened - big and small; some restaurants & bars have closed while others have taken their place (maybe just for the season) and new beach clubs said hello to Alaçatı.

During this trip, for the first time I stayed at two totally different hotels. This was totally by choice because I wanted to "experience" Alaçatı at a "deluxe" property and then a "typical" boutique hotel.

Arriving in Alaçatı on August 1st... my first hotel was the "spanking new" The S Alaçatı overlooking the pristine Aegean Sea, Windsurfers Schools and about 1 km from the Port Alaçatı Marina.
The S Alaçatı Hotel - Alaçatı/Çeşme
A member of the Ascend Hotel Collection and Choice Hotels, The S Alaçatı opened in June 2017 and it's still a "work in progress". Upon completion, there will be a total of 132 rooms (128 standard rooms of which 112 with sea views, 3 suites and 1 room for the physically disabled). While I was there 70 rooms were complete and my room was on the 3rd floor.
The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı/Çeşme
All the minimalist decorated standard rooms are approximately 20 square meters with a super comfortable queen sized bed; satellite TV; shower stall; coffee/tea set-up; minibar with soft drinks only (currently complimentary); name brand toiletries; digital safety deposit box; and free WI-FI (throughout entire hotel). What I really also loved was the floor to ceiling sound-proof windows that can be electronically opened half-way down. 

The lobby area is also very elegant and includes the reception desk and right next to it is a bar and indoor & outdoor seating areas for breakfast, lunch, snacks, etc.
The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı/Çeşme

The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı/Çeşme

The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı/Çeşme
On the subject of breakfast... I was famished the next morning although I had a wonderful seafood dinner the night before (info will be included in "Where I Ate" blog post)...

Breakfast is available daily between 8:00am and 1:00pm and includes a very wide selection of hot and cold breakfast treats... Since "breakfast" is my personal favorite meal of the day, I did go to town a bit more than when I'm home.  

The following is just a sample of the open buffet selections and doesn't include the cheeses, deli meats, etc. because I couldn't get a "good" picture.
The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı, Çeşme
Besides what's on display, you can also order all sorts of eggs cooked to order; and fresh fruit juices,coffee & tea are all included in the BB price of your room. 
The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı, Çeşme
After a wonderful breakfast, I decided to hang out at the hotel because I was invited to a friend's house for wine & cheese at 5:00pm and it didn't make sense to go a beach club. 

So, I changed and headed to the hotel's swimming pool to get some "rays" for the first time this season! My sister, brother-in-law and nephew came over afterwards too and we had a wonderful few hours overlooking the Aegean Sea in the tranquility of the hotel's pool area which is accessed from the 3rd floor.
The S Alaçatı Swimming Pool

View from The S Alaçatı swimming pool area
While sunning, we also decided to try a few snacks and obviously my 16 year-old nephew ordered a grilled tenderloin of beef sandwich with a side of fries while my brother-in-law opted for the hotel's version of a Greek Salad... both were very delicious and reasonably priced for a hotel.
poolside snack @ The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı/Çeşme

Poolside snack @ The S Alaçatı - Alaçatı/Çeşme
I stayed at The S Alaçatı Hotel for 5 nights and totally enjoyed my stay. Like I said, it is a brand new hotel and from time to time there were some hiccups, but nothing major and easily solved. Since the hotel is still a "babe in the woods", by next year the sprawling landscape around the hotel will be totally verdant;all the guest rooms will be completed; a fine dining restaurant overlooking the Aegean Sea on the upper level terrace will open; and the posh spa will be totally operational. 

Some additional general info: Besides the pool on the 3rd floor, there is also an 115 square meter "Infinity" pool; the Lobby Bar & Lounge is open 24 hours; Room Service is available 24/7; at the spa & wellness center there is a sauna, Turkish Bath and indoor swimming pool; there is a fitness center and Yoga & Pilates Studio; and 3 meeting rooms.  

I must add that I was "comped" for my stay because the hotel is owned and managed by my brother-in-law's childhood friend. I had the opportunity to meet Nuri and his lovely wife Özlem a few years ago and we became good friends. I would like to thank Nuri for his hospitality and wish him lots of success as The S Alaçatı adds a new prospective to the Alaçatı hotels in the area... it is upscale, contemporary with a minimalist airy and fresh decor, excellent friendly & knowledgeable staff and caters only to guests over the age of 15! Can't wait to visit again next year!



The S Alaçatı Hotel
Yeni Liman Mevkii, Alaçatı Mahallesi
18000 Sokak No. 13 Alaçatı, Çeşme - Izmir
Tel: +90 232 750 52 00

On Sunday, I moved from The S Alaçatı to my second and final hotel: Evliyagil Hotel by Katre which is located in the outer rim of Alaçatı where numerous boutique hotels are lined up side by side and in walking distance to the Hacımemiş area which is chock full of trendy & chic restaurants, bars, etc. The hotel is also steps from Alaçatı's Open-Air Market set up on Saturdays with vendors selling all sorts of vegetables, fruits, foodstuffs and casual apparel.  

Why did I select this hotel? Many years ago I had stayed at the Katre Hotel, which was then located across the street from the Port Alaçatı Marina and had become friends with the hotel's owner Figen Mertol and we've always casually kept in touch via social media (thank you Instagram!) 

After closing Katre Hotel, Figen took over the management of the Evliyagil Hotel this year and thus the hotel's new name.
Evliyagil Hotel by Katre - Alaçatı/Çeşme
This 2-story hotel is a typical Alaçatı B&B boutique hotel with it's architecture and decor and has a total of 10 guest rooms.

My room was on the 1st floor and overlooked the pool and dining area. My room was about 20 square meters with high ceilings, a small TV, minibar, A/C, name brand toiletries, safety deposit box and free WIFI. 
Evliyagil Hotel by Katre - Alaçatı/Çeşme
and this is the opposite view of my room from the dining area...
Evliyagil Hotel by Katre  - Alaçatı/Çeşme
After a lovely welcome by Figen, my sis and I settled in the chaise lounges in front of my room to just relax on a lazy Sunday and catch up with Figen! I knew I was going to enjoy my time here too because personally I do prefer boutique hotels from time to time because they are cozy and feel more like a "home". For example, on the afternoon I arrived, I just wanted a light snack and asked Figen if they could make me a white cheese and tomato grilled sandwich and voila! She added fresh basil and olive oil which was a nice extra touch!
Grilled cheese sandwich @ Evliyagil Hotel by Katre - Alaçatı/Çeşme
Also, this hotel allows pets so I can come another time with my Luka, just like I did the first time I stayed at Katre Hotel years ago.

Katre Hotel has always been known for its excellent breakfast spread and I couldn't wait for the morning to sample the delectable delights I had missed! Their breakfast spread is so popular that non-guests often come just to sample the breakfast!

Up bright and early... I sat down and waited for my breakfast to be served!
Breakfast @ Evliyagil Hotel by Katre - Alaçatı/Çeşme
First and foremost, everything is fresh and homemade. Just to give you an idea, the breakfast includes 3 cheeses, green and black olives, homemade jams (no sugar added), 2 types of tomato dishes, cucumbers, peppers, honey, clotted cream, fresh herbs salad with olive oil and crushed chestnuts, lor cheese with black currant sauce, butter, simit (Turkish style bagels with sesame seeds), breads and my favorite pişi! All are served with unlimited Turkish brewed tea. 
"pişi" @ Evliyagil Hotel by Katre - Alaçatı/Çeşme
I've eaten pişi at other places in Alaçatı but the ones that Figen prepares are worth every decadent calorie! Simply, this delectable delight is deep-fried dough! That's it... but it tastes so so good! 

If you feel that this is not enough food for you, they also offer a la carte selections such as omelets, pancakes, gluten-free granola, and much more. Also, all sorts of fresh fruit juices, detox juices, coffees are also served.  

Furthermore, all day dining is available at Katre and the menu includes salads, burgers, mantı (Turkish style ravioli with meat and yogurt dressing), köfte (Turkish style meatballs), etc. plus around dinner time, you can also expect to find some typical Turkish home-style dishes prepared by the kitchen according to fresh vegetables purchased. The bar menu includes cocktails, beers, scotch, etc. 

I stayed at Evliyagil Hotel by Katre for 3 nights and enjoyed every moment. Figen has a small staff of wonderful women working for her and her husband is her 2nd hand and is in charge of the front desk, music and pretty much anywhere else he is needed! Since we go back a few years, Figen did give me a discount off her normal prices, which I thank her very much for!

Evliyagil Hotel by Katre
Alaçatı Mahallesi, Inönü Caddesi No. 77 
Alaçatı, Çeşme
Tel: +90 232 716 76 72

So... my Alaçatı summer vacation 2017 included stays at two totally different hotels in different parts of town! I'm glad I did something like this because each one was a different experience and attitude! Since I'm a Leo and celebrated my birthday in Alaçatı, it suited my personality to a tee!  

Stay well,

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Uskumru Fish Restaurant: Fish Lovers Delight on the Bosphorus!

Dear readers,

Summer has been a little late in coming to Istanbul, but two weekends ago for the first time in a long time, the weather was gorgeous! On June 3rd, a Saturday, the sun was shining brightly and there was a light breeze with temps in the mid 20's (centigrade).

The day before it was my brother-in-law's birthday and we decided to go to lunch at one of our favorite fish restaurants to celebrate... long gone are the days that we are "night owls" and prefer calm, quiet lunches with family or friends where we can hear each other talk and actually have long conversations! 

So, our fish restaurant of choice was Uskumru Balık (quite apropos as it means mackerel and balık means fish) along the Bosphorus shoreline on the Asian side of Istanbul in Anadoluhisarı (Anatolian Fortress). 

The great thing is you don't need a car to go to Uskumru (or some of the other fish restaurants in the vicinity) because "smart" restaurateurs that they are, Uskumru offers a complimentary round-trip boat shuttle picking up diners from Rumelihisarı (Rumeli Fortress) on the European side of the city... 
Uskumru Fish Restaurant Complimentary Boat Shuttle
The boat ride is only about 5 minutes but once on the Bosphorus, you almost wish it was longer! On this particular day, I have never ever seen the Bosphorus so aqua blue that I felt like I was on the Aegean or Mediterranean Sea! Apparently, according to the news, there is some scientific reason for this which I can't quite remember, but lately the Bosphorus has definitely changed "color"!

Uskumru Fish Restaurant opened in 2008 with indoor and outdoor seating for a total of 300 diners...
Uskumru Fish Restaurant/Anadoluhisarı, Istanbul
I "discovered" this wonderful fish restaurant in 2014 when I was invited to a "ladies lunch" by one of my dear friends on another gorgeous sunny day in May and was very impressed with the location, food and service.

Since then - this is my 3rd visit although I would like to go more often, but alas finding the time or budget to keep up with all the fine restaurants in the city is not possible.

We opted to sit indoors as it was too sunny to sit outdoors. The restaurant does not prefer to use umbrellas because the Bosphorus can be windy and it could be hazardous if an umbrella topples over.
Uskumru Fish Restaurant/Anadoluhisarı, Istanbul
As before, we stuck to the "classics" served and started our meal with a very simple, yet incredibly delicious and super fresh (no need to add any additional dressing) finely chopped lettuce salad and tomato salad served in boat shaped plates to share.
Tomato Salad, Chopped Lettuce Salad @ Uskumru Fish Restaurant
To accompany our salads, we only ordered 3 cold appetizers so that we didn't make the mistake we normally make and that is to fill up so much on appetizers, that we don't have room for a main course of fish!
Eggplant Salad, Sea Bean with Yogurt , Sea bass w/pesto sauce @ Uskumru Fish Restaurant
I'm always impressed that Uskumru's appetizers or meze are always so good - that they are properly seasoned and fresh! In other words, they are consistent. The eggplant salad (patlıcan salatası)just melts in your mouth... the sea bass with pesto sauce (pesto soslu levrek) has a "nice bite" and tingles your taste buds. And... for the first time we tried the sea bean (called ada fasulyesi in turkish and a bean I've tasted for the first time and it's very similar to glasswort) with yogurt, a very refreshing and light appetizer!

After we combined all these delectable delights on our plate, it was time to chow down!
Appetizers, meze @ Uskumru Fish Restaurant
I was patient and waited for the heated whole wheat rolls to arrive, but feel free to try the excellent, but fattening corn bread!
Cornbread @ Uskumru Fish Restaurant
What we ate doesn't look like much, but take my word for, by the time we scraped all the plates and ate the bread, it is very filling! But, we did leave some room for fish and totally skipped ordering hot appetizers (like grilled calamari, shrimp casserole, etc.) Although, the summer is not really "fish season", you can still find certain types of fresh fish. My brother-in-law opted for the "Fried Red Mullet" (tekir tava) served with a side of oven-baked potatoes & onions and steamed vegetables...
Fried red mulled @ Uskumru Fish Restaurant
While my sister and I opted to share a half portion of grilled sea bass (which was quite large)...
Grilled Sea bass @ Uskumru Fish Restaurant
What can I say? We were in food heaven! The sun was shining brightly, the Bosphorus was mesmerizing & glistening and several glasses of of ice cold white wine definitely lifted our spirits! 
Uskumru Fish Restaurant/Anadoluhisari & (FSM Bridge)
We capped off our delightful birthday celebration with Turkish coffee and 1 slice of Havuç Baklava (havuç means carrot and so called because it's sliced to look like a carrot).
Havuç baklava & Turkish coffee @ Uskumru Fish Restaurant
Last but not least... most fish restaurant are not cheap! There is no menu to look at so basically, you don't know what the cost of the dishes are (unless you ask) until you get the bill, but if you are a "local", you have a "ballpark" idea on how much it will cost. Almost all have a per person coverage charge (called küver in Turkish) which includes unlimited bread and water (10 TL/pp at Uskumru). Most do not include the tip (called servis bedeli) in the check, but definitely look at the details if you don't want to double tip because some do (Uskumru does not). Since "rakı" (similar to arak or ouzo) is the typical "drink of choice" at fish restaurants, most wine lists are usually inadequate, price for quality high and most fish restaurants only carry one Turkish vineyards wines. 

But, all in all... find the fish restaurant(s) and there are plenty in Istanbul and experience eating fish "Turkish style".

Afiyet olsun! Bon Appétit! 

Stay well,

me, sis Meltem & brother-in-law Ibrahim

Uskumru Fish Restaurant
Körfez Caddesi No. 55 Anadoluhisarı, Istanbul
Tel: (0216) 460 10 00
Open daily until 1:00am

Call the restaurant when you arrive in Rumelihisarı so that they can send their complimentary boat shuttle (pick-up next to Iskele Fish Restaurant)

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Levent Çarşı: My "Routine" Food Shopping Neighborhood

Dear readers,

We all have our routines and habits (good and bad) right? Now, since I'm a food, travel & lifestyle blogger - I want share one of my routines: I go to Levent Çarşı on a weekly basis to do food shopping ...
Levent Çarşı, Istanbul
Of course, I could go to a supermarket and pick up everything I want, but when it comes to certain foodstuffs, I'm picky! 

Çarşı means "market", "bazaar", "shopping center" in Turkish so Levent Çarşı is an "open market" of sorts...

Why Levent Çarşı? Well... in the years I lived in Istanbul (over 20 years now), I've always lived in the area. My deceased parents owned an apartment in Levent since the late 1960s, so during our visits to Istanbul as a family and after moving back to Istanbul in 1995, I lived at home. I moved to Levazım in 2010 and for the past 2,5 years I have been living in Ulus (about 1,5km from Levent) ... so, Levent is my neighborhood.

Although about only 3-4 blocks in radius, Levent Çarşı is packed with banks, fastfood eateries, pharmacies, stationery stores, pastry shops, butchers, bakeries, fishmonger, delicatessens, florists, herb shop, dry fruits & nuts shops, watch repair shop etc.. It is also a hop, skip and jump from the Levent Metro station, and Metrocity Shopping Mall. 

So, I routinely go to Levent Çarşı once a week to make my "picky" purchases! In this post, I will only mention my "routine" stops, but feel free to visit for yourself - I'm sure you will find a shop to your liking too!

My first stop is Işıklar Et ve Gıda or Şarküteri (delicatessen), where I have been purchasing beyaz peyniri (white or feta cheese) for over 20 years! I've tried buying white cheese at other stores, but for some reason, none of them live up to the cheese I buy at Işıklar. 
Işıklar Et ve Gıda, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
In the "old days" before health regulations were put in place, white cheese was sold directly out of tin cans that the deli purchased from different purveyors throughout the country. Today, the same white cheese is packaged. I like the quality of the "cow's milk" white cheese which is not too salty, soft or hard and the price is comparable to "supermarket" cheeses. 

Like most present day "deli's" in Istanbul, besides a wide selection of local cheeses, Işıklar also carries a nice selection of deli meats, olives, homemade hot & cold Turkish meze, limited amount of "supermarket"  local & international products and is also a butcher. So, they can be a "one stop" shopping haven too!

My next stop (but not every week as I have to watch my waistline), is the simit stand a few steps from Işıklar Şarküteri.
Simit stand, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Although there are now many shops where you can purchase simit at Levent Çarşı, I prefer buying mine from this stand. I'm sure it has changed hands,but this simit stand has been on this corner for the past 20+ years! I don't know where they purchase the simit they sell, but it's always delicious & crunchy - just the way I like it!  

Merkez Şarküteri is also another longstanding deli in the neighborhood. 
Merkez Şarküteri, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Merkez has been around since 1966... it's a little pricier than Işıklar, but their array of goods also include international cheeses, pork products (deli meats only), dried fruits & nuts and alcohol. Their hot & cold meze are absolutely delicious and top-notch, but since I'm always trying to watch my weight... I only routinely stop by to purchase black olives. Although the price is higher, the quality is very good and definitely worth it.

For the past year, I added a new store to my "routine": 
Onur Et Galerisi, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Onur Et, or butcher is not a newcomer to the neighborhood but it is now on my "path". Previously, they used to be at another location at Levent Çarşı and not really on my radar. But, I'm happy I discovered this butcher. I'm a big fan of tenderloin of beef (which I purchase in Ulus at Gourmet Garage), but I do stop by Onur Et to pick up other cuts of more modestly priced quality meat such as schnitzel, sirloin steak and ground meat (but not prepackaged).

I love bread! Although I have gone through periods where I haven't put a morsel in my mouth - I can't (and won't) do it forever! So, Komşufırın is an excellent bakery for bread lovers!
Komşufırın, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Komşufırın has branches all over the city and in fact, opened a 2nd branch in Levent. My favorites are Komşufırın's rye bread (they slice too), buckwheat bread and whole wheat or sour dough sandwich breads which are all baked on premises daily, and run out quickly. Other goodies which I purchase from time to time is their homemade pound cakes (apple, chocolate, etc.) and savory pastries - but only when I have company coming over! 

Last, but definitely not least I stop by New Pet Market to pick up goodies for my honey Luka before heading to the local major supermarket to pick up other basic goods before returning home. 
New Pet Market, Levent Çarşı - Istanbul
Luka, a Maltese, will be 7 years old in October and he is super spoiled! He came into my life when he was 7 months old on May 10, 2011 and is the best thing that happened to me! He lives on treats and "people" food (rarely eats his dog food unfortunately), so I stop by New Pet Market every week to replenish his supply. However, this shop also has a very good selection of other doggie products like clothing, collars, leashes, shampoos etc and the prices are not very very expensive. I also like the fact that they deliver and the guys that run the shop have met Luka and are major animal lovers. For example, they sell lower priced dried cat & dog food which you can purchase to feed strays and dogs and most importantly - they do not sell pets! I've been a customer since they opened over 8 years ago and will continue to be one! 

I hope you liked my mini "routine" tour of Levent Çarşı... but once again, I say visit for yourself and make your "own routines"! Feel free to share your experiences with me!

Happy shopping!

Stay well,

Levent Çarşı - Istanbul



Monday, May 22, 2017

Emaar Square Mall opens on Asian Side of the city in Istanbul

Dear readers,

Since no one really talks anymore, I received a WhatsApp message from my sis on the morning the day before Mother's Day to say she received an email that Galeries Lafayatte had opened on said day at newcomer Emaar Square Mall & should we go to check it out. Since GL (as I call it for short) is my favorite department store on this side of the Atlantic (Bloomies on the other side), I said definitely!

She came to pick me up a couple of hours after our 'conversation' and we turned on google maps to show us how to get to this new shopping mall on the Asian side of the city.

Now... let's hit the pause button for a moment! Living on the European side of the city with shopping malls galore, a shopping mall on the Asian side of the city has to really tempt me to cross a bridge and deal with traffic when I have about 5 shopping malls within a 1-mile radius to my house!

Of course, the "trigger" for me was Galeries Lafayatte!
@ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Now, let me remind you... the department store had just opened on the morning of our visit. So, you can imagine that it was not "fully-stocked" yet, but at least we had a preview of what to expect. The 4-story 9,500 square meter department store is airy and very inviting that's for sure!  
@ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
I was happy to see that a couple of retail brands I personally like and not before sold in Istanbul were on display, but of course, this branch cannot compare to their flagship shop in Paris, but will definitely help to appease my shopping needs in between visits to Paris! So, welcome to Istanbul Galeries Lafayatte!

Just a general comment about shopping malls in Istanbul before I share some more info about Emaar Square.

A "shopping mall" in Istanbul is not a shopping mall if the complex doesn't include million-dollar luxurious residences, state-of-the-art "smart" office building(s) and a five-star hotel thrown in for good measure!

Emaar Square fits and exceeds these expectations! First, the shopping mall has 150,000 square meters of rentable space, a family entertainment center, ice rink, aquarium & underwater zoo, 2,400 seat 4D movie-theater and a 4,500 vehicle parking lot! 

Surrounding the complex are 1,000 homes, 180-room Address Hotel and 40,000 square meters of rentable office space! 

Open since April 28, 2017 and owned by Dubai-based Emaar Properties (The Dubai Mall, Burj Khalifa, etc), some of the other attractions at Emaar Square that impressed me were:

Although, I cannot afford it... but, I still like to look... Harry Winston is opening its first shop in Istanbul...
@ Emaar Square, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Cartier has a few branches in Istanbul and is opening at Emaar Square too...
Cartier @ Emaar Square, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Vakko Patisserie Petit Four, a newcomer at Akmerkez Shopping Mall on the European side of the city is also opening a branch here! You can read all about this heavenly pastry shop in my blog. 
Vakko Patisserie Petit Four @ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
Since Emaar Square is so new, except for the "classic" shopping mall retailers, the majority of the major players have not opened yet. This also includes the more upscale eateries that I'm sure will open soon so I don't have information to share with you about them. Currently, the Food Court is open with many fast food eateries, some with private seating areas, where you can grab a quick bite. While most are inexpensive, some are a little pricier.

From the indoor Food Court area, you can go outside to the terrace which is surrounded by several coffee houses and a nicely sized stage in the center where there will be live performances on weekends...

Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
One final area I would like to mention and had time to visit is the Turkish Village located on Level 3 of the mall.
Turkish Village @ Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul
There are two Turkish food restaurants in the village, but more importantly and more interesting are the stands that will be open only on weekends where you can taste or buy and take home a variety of regional Turkish delights from around the country. 

Finally, Emaar Square Mall will be organizing Atelier Workshops on Tuesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays and will also host Art Exhibitions.

So, welcome to Istanbul Emaar Square! It will take a while for you to "settle in" but the major portion of your journey is complete and now it's time to dot the "i"s and cross the "t"s!

Stay well,

Emaar Square Mall, Çamlıca - Istanbul

Emaar Square Mall
Ünalan Mahallesi, Ayazma Caddesi No. 78
Çamlıca, Istanbul
Open daily from 10:00am to 10:00pm

Monday, May 15, 2017

Chamlija & Arcadia: Vineyards in Kırklareli in the Thrace Region

Dear readers,

The weather was absolutely gorgeous the weekend of April 29th so I'm so happy that I had signed up to attend an event on this weekend organized by the Chaine des Rotisseurs. I have been a member of the France based International Association of Gastronomy's Turkey chapter since 2009. Basically, the purpose of the association is to organize dinners at fine dining restaurants where members can get together to socialize and enjoy good food & wine. As members, we are invited to functions & events not only in our own country, but we can also attend events in other countries (80) with Chaine des Rotisseurs chapters. 

This time, the Chaine des Rotisseurs in Istanbul organized a weekend getaway to the Thrace or Trakya region where we would visit two vineyards to develop our knowledge of viniculture and taste some great wines & local delights in the process!

Our group was about 30 people and we hopped on our private bus at 8:45am in Levent and arrived at our first stop - the Chamlija Vineyards in the Kırklareli province at around 11:15am to begin our tour.
Chamlija Vineyards @Kırklareli, Thrace Region - Turkey
We were greeted by Mustafa Çamlıca (the Turkish spelling of the brand), the 3rd generation of the family that has been farming in the region since 1936 after immigrating here from the town of Kubadin, Razgrad in northeastern Bulgaria. 
Mustafa Çamlıca, owner of Chamlija Vineyards
Chamlija has a total of 85 hectares of vineyards throughout the Kırklareli province and their plantings range from 5,000 to 6,666 vines per hectare. In fact, some vineyards have around 10,000 vines and are some of the most dense vineyards in the Balkans and Turkey.Mr. Çamlıca explained that the reason for the high-density plantings was to enhance the quality of the wines and to encourage deep root systems to define the full potential of the terroir. We only had a chance to visit 3 of Chamlija's vineyards, but this was more than sufficient to give us an idea of the land, soil, etc. 

We had built up quite an appetite at this point, so we headed to our next stop: lunch at Çamlıca Restaurant (not owned by the vineyard) in Büyükkarıştıran, Lüleburgaz.
Çamlıca Restaurant during @Chamlija Vineyards tour 
As we ate our modest lunch consisting of salad, absolutely delicious buffalo milk yogurt and grilled köfte, Mr. Çamlıca and his staff gave us more information about the wines produced at Chamlija Vineyards.
Chamlija Wines
Chamlija Vineyards produces 7 white wines: Narince (Turkish), Chardonnay, Sauvignon Blanc, Riesling, Viognier, Albarino and Narince-Chardonnay grapes. We had an opportunity to taste a few of the choices available and although not a major white wine lover, I was very impressed!

Red wine lovers are familiar with the majority of the common grapes used like Merlot, Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc and Pinot Noir but I had never before heard of or tasted Caladoc (French grape) or Papazkarası (indigenous to the region). While some of the reds were blends, more than a few were not. Once again, the wines we tasted were more than impressive! Not surprisingly, Chamlija Vineyards has won many local and international awards for their wines! Moreover, I love the labels which were designed by Mr. Çamlıca's daughter Irem.

Fully fed in more ways than one, we took a group photo and departed the restaurant to head to our next stop...
Chaine des Rottiseurs Chamlija Vineyards tour
Also in the Kırklareli province, our next and final stop was Arcadia Vineyard & Bakucha Hotel & Spa around 25 km from where we were, but because of the final dirt road we had to pass to reach the vineyards, it took us over an hour to get there, but it was definitely worth it!
Bakucha Hotel & Spa @Arcadia Vineyards 
We arrived in time to check into our rooms and relax for an hour or so before the fine dining dinner that awaited us with a view of a portion of the sprawling vineyards from our rooms & hotel restaurant!

Overlooking the Istranca mountains, Arcadia with its vineyards, production facility and hotel (26 junior suites with balcony or terrace) is a total of 200 hectares and so so inviting!  

Like I said earlier, a lovely dinner awaited us with a full moon and a crackling fire in the garden as the nights are definitely chilly here although it was in the high 20's (centigrade) during the day.
Bakucha Hotel & Spa Restaurant @Arcadia Vineyards
The food was definitely topnotch! We started with chicken liver paté; "loznik" caramelized leek slices in cornbread wrapped in vine leaf; deep fried grated squash patties with strained yogurt. Then, we were served handmade spaghetti with porcini mushrooms. Our main course was "Lamb Mutancana" Edirne Palace style with a side of arugula salad with roasted pine nuts and dried blueberry & honey dressing. Dessert was baba au rhum (small yeast cake saturated with syrup) and flaked pastry with Anatolian blue cheese cream. All our our meals were paired with the appropriate Arcadia wine. So, we definitely ended our day on a high note!

I woke up early Sunday morning to a sunny day with the "silence" of chirping birds and crystal clear skies! I had a light breakfast (ate too much the night before) although the open buffet selections were very tempting and included a variety of Turkish cheeses, homemade jams, mini pancakes, grain breads, savory and sweet pastries, greens from their garden, cereals, eggs, etc.! 

After breakfast and some time for soaking up some rays, we were given a presentation about Arcadia Vineyards by owner Zeynep Arca...
Zeynep Arca, owner Arcadia Vineyards 
Arcadia Vineyards was established 10 years ago by father-daughter team Özcan and Zeynep Arca. They were both amateurs to viticulture and viniculture but knew they wanted to get into the wine-making business and did their homework: from deciding where to buy land to the wine specialists they worked with! They wanted to produce wines that were natural and unique with a minimum amount of intervention to reflect the unique terroir of the region. 

I must admit I was not familiar with Arcadia wines. but I'm so happy I had the chance to meet Ms. Arca and listen to her story while tasting her wines. 

Afterwards, we were taken for a tour of Arcadia's production facilities, cellar and surroundings. 
Arcadia Vineyards, Lüleburgaz - Turkey
Arcadia Vineyards, Lüleburgaz - Turkey
Arcadia's vineyards are a total of 35 hectares and produce approximately 100,000 bottle of wine annually. The grapes harvested are Cabernet Sauvignon, Cabernet Franc, Merlot, Sauvignon Blanc, Sauvignon Gris, Sangiovese, Pinot Gris and Turkish grapes Öküzgözü (red) and Narince (white). Arcadia's wines are very good - especially their white selections.

So, why the name Arcadia? Simply, Ms. Arca told us that Lüleburgaz used to be called Arcadapolis which means "heaven on earth", so it made perfect sense!

It was an absolutely wonderful action packed two days! We visited a couple of the Kırklareli province's vineyards, had fantastic wines and food and I made some new friends!

Our bus trip back home took about 3,5 hours due to heavy traffic, but every minute was worth it and I would like to thank the Chaine des Rotisseurs team for organizing this trip!

If you too would like to visit the vineyards in this region, I suggest you contact them directly and they can assist you with individual or group visits. 

Cheers... şefere... a votre santé

Stay well,

Bakucha Hotel & Spa, Lüleburgaz -Turkey