The readers of the popular and influential Food and Travel Magazine have voted Istanbul top Destination of the Year at a glittering ceremony in London. This was to mark the occasion of the first Food and Travel Reader Awards and came as something of a surprise, as the traditional hot spots usually turn out to be the likes of Barcelona, Paris and New York. Also, Italian and Spanish food is used to having pride of place at most awards ceremonies involving food capitals of the world, with Spain’s and Italy’s San Sebastian and Sardinia regularly scooping the top accolades.
So the choice of Turkey’s largest city was somewhat refreshing and reflected a growing interest in the ancient metropolis which uniquely bestrides two continents. The advent of regular flights to all regions of Turkey, along with increasingly good and cheap car hire deals, mean that more and more visitors are sampling the great cultural, historic and natural delights of this magical destination and giving it their vote of confidence.
There were quite a few travel destinations on the final shortlist from farther away, such as Vietnam, Singapore and Hong Kong. All of these have experienced a recent surge in visitor numbers as word gets around that they offer the ideal introduction to SE Asia. But Istanbul raced ahead in the polls as the destination offering the richest experience in terms of natural beauties, great historical interest and value for money.
8 million tourists and independent travellers visit Istanbul each year and the old Byzantine capital regularly claims a spot in lists of the world’s Top 10 most visited cities. The world-class dining here is becoming a byword for excellence, and as well as traditional outlets there are numerous boutique restaurants frequented by the city’s affluent and mostly young professionals. The club scene too is more than a match for anything to be found in London or New York, and Istanbul in recent years has become a place to see and be seen for influential trendsetters and international celebrities. It is also a city of enormous contrasts, with ancient buildings rubbing shoulders with modern glass-encased skyscrapers and the Grand Bazaar, the biggest covered market in the world, just a stone’s throw away from the trendy shops of Taksim.
The awards ceremony was held at the Royal Automobile Club on London’s Pall Mall and attracted travel and food enthusiasts in droves, with a total of 20,000 votes being cast in categories such as Bar of the Year, Destination of the Year and Hotel of the Year. Will Holland, Alan Murchison and Wolfgang Puck were amongst the celebrity chefs in attendance, and the Breakthrough Chef of the Year award was given to Ollie Dabbous.
Istanbul has been the proud recipient of a clutch of other awards recently, including the 2012 European Capital of Sport, and it is also hoping to host the Olympic Games in 2020, one of three on the shortlist.
Istanbul, incidentally, has sensible parking laws which include traffic finding its own level rather than imposing counterproductive zones, and parking is allowed in most streets however central as long as access routes for the emergency services are not obstructed.