ISTANBUL - Many lovely little villages have sprouted along the Asian side of the Bosphorus and become sleepy hometowns for well-to-do Greeks, Jews and Armenians as well as Muslims over the centuries. From Kuzguncuk to Beylerbeyi to Çamlıca and all the way up to Beykoz, these modest hamlets developed depending on the interest of various Ottoman leaders.
Going to Kuzguncuk is very easy from Üsküdar or over the Bosphorus Bridge or by ferry. It’s a nice sleepy town on the Asian side of Istanbul that over the centuries has been home to well-to-do Greeks, Jews and Armenians as well as Muslims. The town was surrounded by lush vegetable and fruit gardens where one could go and pick out what you wanted that day. Yalıs or waterside mansions line the Bosphorus including the famous pink and white Mocan Yalı or as it was originally called, the Fethi Ahmet Paşa Yalısı, known for its tales of intrigue, elopement, jealousy and murder.On the waterfront of the Kuzguncuk village is Ismet Baba’s, a restaurant famous for its fish and rakı. Today the little town is spruced up and has become a favorite place for foreigners and intellectuals to live. Many Turks know it because a long-running TV show was filmed here. It also boasts one of the finest mostly untouched forests in Istanbul thanks to a tax settlement between the Mocan family and the Uskudar municipality.
From Kuzguncuk one can easily reach the next village of Beylerbeyi where the focal point is the small palace that was built in the 1860s by Sultan Abdulmecit. This charming 26-room miniature palace has six salons and is open to the public today as a museum.
We shouldn’t forget Greater Çamlıca, which is located above Beylerbeyi and has one of the most spectacular views of Istanbul and the Bosphorus. It is in fact the highest point in Istanbul. The Turkish Automobile and Touring Club built a coffeehouse with opportunities to take your afternoon tea outside a la Ottoman but it was subsequently taken over by the Greater Istanbul Municipality. You have to go by car or taxi because near the top the road becomes too narrow for buses. It’s a great place to relax and enjoy the surroundings.
As we go on along the waterfront, there is Kuleli at Çengelköy. Kuleli is the school in which the Turkish navy trains its officers. A 19th century building, it is one of the most striking structures on the Bosphorus. Nearby, on every day of the year unless the weather is totally disastrous, fishermen are found casting their lines in hopes of catching enough for dinner. One of the more intriguing buildings in Çengelkoy is Sumahan on the Water, a boutique hotel that once was a distillery that produced suma, a fig-syrup used to make raki. Built in the mid-19th century, the hotel exhibits a high standard in restoration architecture. The waterside location provides stunning views of the Bosphorus and for those guests who want to visit downtown Istanbul, there is a launch to transfer them across the Bosphorus.
Located in the same complex is the Kordon Restaurant. It shares the same spectacular views of the Bosphorus and is well-known for its seafood. The fish change according to the season and you’ll find only the best accompanied by cold and warm hors d’oeuvres and finished off with delicious desserts worthy of a sultan.
Vaniköy on the other side of Kuleli can boast some of the nicest of Yalıs that still remain on the Bosphorus. Most have been restored or replaced with modern buildings. Kanlıca is a whole different story. It has become famous for its yogurt, considered the best in Istanbul.
Continuing north along the shore, you come to Çubuklu, Paşabahçe and Beykoz. All are lovely little villages that developed depending on the interest of this or that sultan or Ottoman administration figure. Paşabahçe for many decades was the home of the Paşabahçe Glass Factory to which today we owe many beautiful pieces of glassware. One of the best-known restaurants is Çubuklu Hayal Kahvesi now celebrating its 15th anniversary. Who would have thought that a restaurant established in old depot buildings would take off so well! It offers a somewhat pricey international menu with lots of fish but also meat dishes and who can complain when you sit right at the water’s edge.
At last the coast brings us to Anadolu Kavağı, the "Kumkapı" of the Asian side of the Bosphorus. The choice of a restaurant is rather hit-and-miss because there are many in this tiny fishing village nestled below the ancient Yoros Castle. The main street along the waterfront has many shops selling fishy versions of fast food. A good restaurant with excellent food and service is Yosun on one side of the little town square. There one can spend happy hours as people and boats come and go in the little harbor and international ships pass by on their way to and from the Black Sea.