Beauty Travelogue: Istanbul
In a city that (literally) bridges Europe and Asia, beauty rites run the gamut from hammams to healing teas. Ying Chu hunts for true Turkish delights.
By Ying Chu
FROM THE MOMENT MY 11-hour flight from JFK touches down at Atatürk International Airport, I realize that things in Istanbul are changingand fast. Modern Turkey (formed in 1923) is a stark contrast from its Byzantine roots, and it's obvious as I approach the city: Ornate mosques juxtapose sleek skyscrapers (many of which house luxury malls like The Kanyon), bustling women in hijabs (headscarves) shop alongside others in jeans and flirty blouses. I blend in the best I can with flowy dresses and scarves, ready to explore the eclectic culture, old and new. One thing's for surethe steely blue Bosphorus Sea, which acts as a physical divide between Turkey's European and Asian sides, is the pride of Istanbul. The water is credited with the city's vibrant energy (and serves as a picturesque backdrop for the upcoming Bond flick, Skyfall). A trip by ferry is also a dream because, like in NYC, traffic here is a mess. I feel instantly at home.
COMING UP ROSES
"We are brought up living and breathing the rosesit's in our skin tonics, shampoos, perfumes. We drink it in teas, eat it in lokum [Turkish Delight]," says Seren Yücel, a 24-year-old reservation coordinator at The Edition Hotel in the Levent, Istanbul's financial mecca. Tall, thin, with rolling chestnut waves and honey-complected skin, Yücel is a poster child for Turkish gorgeousness and my first anthropological source for this story. Needless to say, I'll have what she's having.
I learn that these magical Turkish roses are grown in Isparta, a town in the Anatolian countryside, where they're hand-harvested once a year in June. Cosmetics companies from far and wide flock here for the divinely fragrant petals and oilsthe latest being DKNY (which has forged a sustainable-sourcing pact with the farmers) and Jo Malone. Closer to home, rose teas, scented soaps, and skin tonics are found in abundance in The Spice Bazaar.
THE GREAT ESCAPE
Back in the day, hammamspublic bathhouseswere social hubs, where women could congregate sans husbands in tow. Today, many historic spotslike the Ayasofya, established in 1556still operate. But instead of gossiping locals, tourists top the client pool. The treatments, though, remain authentic: the mélange of steaming and head-to-toe scrubbing and sudsing by besmocked therapists all happens in a bright marble room full of strangers in the buff.
For contrast, I also splurge on a private session at The Edition with Lale (her name charmingly means "tulip"). An hour of serious exfoliation in her capable hands (she's a seventh-generation therapist) and my skin is buttery, purged of city grime. As Yücel notes, young Istanbullus don't have time for a weekly hammam, but preholiday sessions are a must.