Life is Magnifique at Sofitel

World Class Hotels & French Elegance

Copyright Phototèque ACCOR.Photo Gilles TRILLARD.

Sofitel is the only French luxury hotel brand with a presence on five continents with 120 addresses, in almost 40 countries (more than 30 000 rooms). Sofitel offers contemporary hotels and resorts adapted to today’s more demanding and more versatile consumers who expect and appreciate beauty, quality and excellence. I enjoyed my one night stay at Sofitel Dubai so much that I wanted to try another Sofitel to see if all their properties are really as magnifique as my first experience

Whether situated in the heart of a major city like Paris, London, New York, Shanghai or Beijing, or nestled away in a country landscape in Morocco, Egypt, French Polynesia or Thailand, each Sofitel property offers a genuine experience of the French “ art de vivre”.

One thing I noticed in both the Dubai and Bahrain property is the biggest asset that makes Sofitel such a huge success in this region is that every staff member, right from the GM to the waiter have unbelievably vibrant, pleasant and helpful personalities.

In Dubai, it was awesome to look out the patio onto the ocean and the vibrant atmosphere of JBR where people went on from their coffee sessions to walks on the beach. I was so happy with the hotel’s recreation areas like the inviting pool area that going out of the hotel was not on. In the evening we enjoyed an amazing fine dining experience as well as a wonderful coffee session near garden area.

At The Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa, guests are greeted with the Kingdom’s legendary hospitality, enhanced by a touch of the French savoir-faire cherished by Sofitel hotels world-wide. Situated on the west coast of Bahrain, the hotel is located close to a nature reserve, in a protected area with crystal-clear turquoise waters. It truly is a luxurious establishment offering guests a paradise setting in which to enjoy an idyllic stay.

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The exclusive lounge area on the 6th Floor had the friendliest staff and my best experience was that no matter which part of the hotel I was in, there was Internet access. I strongly believe that in this day and age, hotels lose out with their exorbitant costs for internet excess and Sofitel scores full marks as I was able to relax and have peace of mind knowing that I could at a pinch attend to any urgent emails that came from home or office.

The Hotel is offering a wide variety of cuisines and delicious dishes from all over the world presented in the 5 restaurants and 4 bars. Guests may enjoy an authentic South East Asian fare, or dive into an overwhelming seafood collection. The Italian specialties are to die for and the Tapas bar offers a wide selection of unique mouth- watering bites.

The irresistible Lebanese Mezza and local delights in the Regional Specialty restaurant are warmed up with the most popular oriental tunes and belly dance beats in Pashawat. I was particularly overwhelmed by the Friday brunch, which I am told, is the best in Bahrain and it was certainly the best I have had in a long time.

Each restaurant in the hotel left me impressed and I believe that La Mer is by far the best seafood restaurant I have tried in Bahrain during my weekly visits. And getting to the hotel is so easy and once you get there, the tranquil environment sets the mood for an awesome time no matter what the reasons are for your visit.

Copyright Phototèque ACCOR.Photo Gilles TRILLARD.

One thing I was looking forward to most was the fact that The Sofitel Bahrain Zallaq Thalassa Sea & Spa is the first hotel within the GCC to offer thalasso-therapy and I couldn’t wait to try it. I was not disappointed as the extensive Thalassa sea & spa complex covers 2,000 square meters on 2 levels and is designed with the utmost care to ensure privacy and tranquility for every guest. The complex features 14 treatment rooms, utilizing sea products, massages and Wellness programs.

I was also impressed by the fact that The Thalassa Sea & Spa also features a seawater hydrotherapy pool, a freshwater pool, saunas, steam rooms, hairdresser for men and beauty salon for women, as well as a yoga studio and a meditation area. A specialized dietitian is dedicated to advise general body condition; body mass index, and tailor-made fitness programmes.

Then there is the La Plage Beach Club is an elegant and modern facility, where you may enjoy a relaxing day on the beach or by the pool, also, you can pick from a wide range of water sports to enhance you day on the beach.

The Beach Club’s 2 floodlit tennis courts promise enlivening play, while the 2 air-conditioned glass- backed squash courts offer a cooler choice. So FIT gym is part of La Plage Beach Club, it is the latest facility of its kind in Bahrain, and offers state-of-the-art equipment, certified trainers and fitness assessment counselors to help guests get the most out of their workout.

There is also a safe and nurturing environment, where children from all ages are provided with opportunities to develop their social, emotional and physical skills. The space is designed to suit different age groups with a wide range of indoor activities such as Play station3, WII, movies, events, library, board games, computers, and toys for all ages.

I certainly am looking forward to my next visit to the restaurants and the spa at Sofitel hotels now that I have had the taste of their Dubai and Bahrain properties.

Breathtaking Views: Hassler Roma

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One of the most insightful encounters I had recently was with the team from Hassler Roma. Set atop the Spanish Steps and featuring a panoramic view of the entire city, the Hassler Roma is owned by President and Managing Director Roberto E. Wirth, fifth generation of a famous Swiss hotelier dynasty.

Hospitality is in the DNA of the owners. For more than a century, the Hassler Roma continues its legacy as Rome’s five-star lodging of choice for the world’s elite and discerning travelers. Its rooms and suites, its terraces and its 1 starred Michelin panoramic restaurant offer the most breathtaking view over Rome’s city center skyline.

The hotel has 93 rooms, 13 of which are suites, individually designed with an elegant combination of classic and contemporary touches and with panoramic suites. Located on the Hassler’s 8th floor, the 400 sqm Hassler Penthouse Suite offers the most breathtaking view over Rome’s city center skyline, including the Spanish Steps and Piazza di Spagna with its Barcaccia fountain by Bernini and the famed Via Condotti, Rome’s most exclusive shopping street.

Speaking passionately of the contemporary elements that enhance the ambience of the property, the representatives from Hassler rave how the elegant, contemporary décor blends seamlessly with a state-of-the-art music and lighting system. The elevator provides direct access to the suite, which features two panoramic terraces in Travertine marble, a grand piano and fully-stocked cocktail bar area in the spacious and elegantly-decorated living room.

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The suites feature a dining area, two beautiful large King bedded rooms and a single room, Wi Fi, a kitchen with custom-designed fine bone china tableware, and of course the incomparable views of the city, which may be admired from every room, including the spacious bathrooms, complete with chromotherapy-enhanced rain showers.

Located on the 7th floor, the Penthouse Suite Villa Medici has a breathtaking view from its private 150 sq. mt. terrace. It is a magical space offering a unique location where to relax and enjoy the view of the city with a late afternoon cocktail, a private dinner or for private events. Upon entering the suite

Also on offer is the Presidential suite San Pietro, located on the 6th floor, is named to celebrate the view over St. Peter’s Basilica. The exclusive terrace running along the entire apartment is equipped with chaise-longues, tables and chairs ideal for an outdoor drink or simply to enjoy the spectacular view of the city and the Spanish Steps..

Located on the 5th floor, Presidential Suite Trinità dei Monti, overlooks the Spanish Steps. The bright, airy corner suite features large floor-to-ceiling windows with balconies which offer an unforgettable view of Rome The suite has black and white marble floors, as well as black/ white carpeting and the living room is decorated with original paintings and classically-styled furniture with a modern accent.

There are also the Grand Deluxe Suite Forum, the Grand Deluxe Suite Hassler and the Executive suites should you prefer even more options.

For dining and relaxation, visit the Michelin-starred panoramic restaurant, Imàgo, the Salone Eva and Palm Court restaurant and the Hassler Bar, as well as the neighboring, Hassler-owned Il Palazzetto: a hotel, wine bar and special event space.

Given its unique position, elegance, style, luxury, quality service and discretion, the Hassler Roma is the very symbol of international hospitality and the ideal location for an unforgettable and one-of-a kind stay in the Eternal City.

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Transforming Modern Indian Hospitality

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Amruda Nair, Joint Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer

AIANA Hotels and Resorts L.L.C

Recently I ventured into a trendy Cafe at Al Serkal Avenue to meet with the young and charismatic Amruda Nair, the Joint Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of AIANA Hotels & Resorts.

AIANA Hotels & Resorts is a global hotel management company with an Indian service ethos aiming to be a leading operator of hotels, resorts and serviced apartments in the Middle East, Indian Sub-Continent and South East Asia. It is a hospitality brand of upper upscale hotels that offers fresh and relevant product design, facilities customized for the new generation of savvy travellers with an innate service ethic based on traditional Indian hospitality values.

Amruda has hotels and hospitality in her DNA. From her grandfather, the late Captain C.P. Krishnan Nair, founder of The Leela Group, she inherited a maverick streak and an eye for trailblazing business opportunities. We speak to her about the brand awareness, new ventures and her connection to the Middle East.

What does AIANA mean?

AIANA means ‘eternal blossom’ in the ancient language of Sanskrit and offers a unique vision of contemporary living, modern design and immersive enriching experiences.

What does your role entail at AIANA?

I get involved in different areas but primarily I am responsible for designing the brand’s signature programming as well as spearheading the company’s overall business development to create a unique proposition that will define the next wave of smart hospitality.

How is AIANA connected to hospitality in Qatar?

AIANA Hotels and Resorts LLC is the result of a focused and proactive strategy, which combines the strength of its two principals – H.E. Sheikh Faisal Bin Qassim Al Thani and myself. We bring the best of business excellence and Indian service ethos and see Qatar as a base for our expansion in the region.

Which projects are you currently working on?

We have announced our flagship property called Aiana Residences and Suites in mid-2017 in Doha (180 rooms) along with Aiana Makkah (594 rooms). The other major deal-signing announcements include – a management agreement with Moonriver Resorts to operate Aiana Munnar – A Moonriver Resort in Munnar (33 villas), Kerala; an agreement with Ferns Estates and Developers to manage and operate four resorts in Karnataka over the next five years, with the first resort AIANA Hassan currently under development on 45 acres of verdant, hilly coffee plantation land in the district of Sakleshpur and scheduled to open in 2019 (75 villas) plus an agreement to build a 150 room AIANA Agra within walking distance of the historic monument Taj Mahal in India. And of course we would like to be in the UAE, and perhaps in Oman and Kuwait at a later stage.

Were you always keen to enter the hospitality industry and did you study accordingly?

Given my family background Hospitality was always around me but I am an Economics graduate with a degree in Hospitality Management from CHN University in The Netherlands and a master’s from Cornell’s School of Hotel Administration, New York.

Tell us a bit about your journey since you began working?

After working briefly with Mandarin Oriental New York, I moved to Jones Lang LaSalle Hotels (JLLH) in Singapore as a full-time analyst on the hospitality brokerage team and was involved in investment sales mandates across the region including Indonesia, Japan, China, India and Thailand. Afterwards, I joined the corporate advisory division of JLLH where my role involved pre-opening budget reviews, management contract negotiations and mystery guest audits for properties. Then I moved to India.

Have you worked in India and is that where the passion for Indian hospitality comes from?

After moving to India, I was the Head of Asset Management for The Leela Palaces, Hotels and Resorts during a period of major growth. In this role, conducted financial reviews for the group’s eight operating properties, reviewing pre-opening budgets for upcoming projects and annual business plans.

When I book a hotel, I check if there is a spa first before making a decision and often reject hotels without spas. Would wellness be a strong component in your projects?

 Our spas operate on basic fundamentals based on five elements and sense and include mapping of the guests needs and matching the services accordingly. Hence every treatment is custom made.

You recently introduced the concept of fractional ownership in hospitality – can you elaborate on this?

We tested this for Aiana Munnar, a villa resort in Kerala and it received a positive response. With fractional ownership, multiple people can own a single asset. An investor can either own an entire villa as a holiday home or a fraction of it to earn earn revenue.

We understand you are also involved in CSR programmes with AIANA – can you elaborate on that?

I am an associate committee member of Sahachari Foundation, an NGO which stands for ‘women who walk together’ in support of societal responsibility and empowerment and the Vice President of Apne Aap Women’s Collective, an anti-trafficking organisation that serves women and children in Mumbai’s red light district. We hope our involvement helps make a change in these communities.

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Mystical Himalayas

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Nepal is a country that offers a lifetime experience for everyone from around the globe. My adventure in Nepal began with my honeymoon in Kathmandu and Pokhara as a holiday in Nepal offers romance and adventure from the spectacular Himalayas to exotic wildlife safari, exhilarating white water rafting, mystifying variety of flora and fauna, charismatic arts and cultures and some of the best walking trails on earth.

A Himalayan Kingdom, precisely known as the “Land of Mount Everest” and the “Land of Living Goddess-Kumari”, Nepal is dignified by the heroism of its brave warrior ancestors-the “Gorkhas”. As there are so many things one can do in Nepal, it is best to have a guide. Recently our friends have found Himalayan Holidays Nepal to have some of the best itineraries that can be tailored to your holiday needs.

Most visitors like to start their Nepal journey as soon as they arrive in Kathmandu. It is best to stay a night there and arrange a sightseeing tour of Kathmandu City with a visit to the Hanuman Dhoka (Kathmandu Durbar Square) – an ancient durbar (palace) with its numerous old palaces, temples and pagodas, the Temple of Living Goddess “Kumari”, and the Kasthamandap Temple, which is believed to be constructed from the wood of a single tree from which Kathmandu derives its name.

In addition also a must visit is the Boudhanath Stupa – an ancient colossal stupa and the center of Tibetan Buddhism in the world and the Pashupatinath Temple – the Temple of Lord Shiva situated on the bank of the holy Bagmati River.

If you want good views, head to Swayambhunath Stupa, which is situated atop a hill from where you can get a bird’s, eye view of Kathmandu Valley. If you love water sports, get a dose of white water rafting in the Trishuli River. Or enjoy a unique Cable Car ride to the famous Manakamana Temple situated on the Top of Hill “Goddess of wish fulfilling” before heading to Pokhara.

Pokhara was my favourite place when I visited Nepal, especially the mornings having breakfast by the lake, listening to classical Nepali music. Getting to Pokhara is near 4 hours scenic drive passing through the beautiful agricultural Countryside. Pokhara is nestled in a tranquil valley (827m) on the laps of the mighty Annapurna Himalaya Range and is also known as vacationer’s paradise.

Unwind with sunset boat rides at Phewa Lake and get ready for hiking adventures to points like the World Peace Stupa (1,100 meters), which is a recently built stupa on the perfect forested hilltop of Andu Danda. The walking trail is utterly steep but well defined surrounded with lush green bushes and trees on both sides.

With Himalayan Holidays, you can explore exquisite surrounding scenery, row to the Barahi Temple, which is situated on a small island of Phewa Lake from where visitors can witness the magnificent views of Mt. Fish Tail including the Annapurna Range or enjoy the colorful Lake Side Bazaar.

More adventurous visitors can opt for the Everest Base Camp Trek, which takes one to the foothills of the mightiest of the mountains in the world. En route, climbers traverse through rhododendron and pine forests, rivers, Sherpa villages and Buddhist Monasteries from temperate to snow line regions.

If you intend to drive to the Chitwan (The Royal Chitwan National Park), which is 186 kilometers from Kathmandu and is connected by the Prithwi Highway, start the journey early. Upon arrival you are met by naturalists and representatives from the jungle lodge followed by the tour briefing on what activities appeal to you.

Guests can opt for an elephant ride or a jungle walk to view the wildlife in their early repose. See the animals as you silently brush through dewy tall elephant grass (18-20 ft. tall), a habitat for rhinos, tigers and other wild animals.

It is difficult to leave Nepal and you can either drive back to Kathmandu or board a 25 minutes flight. It certainly helps to have a guide from the Himalayan Holidays Nepal, which has a reputation as one of the ‘better established Adventure Travel and Tour outfitters in Nepal’.

The organisation also has a CSR initiative called Mission Himalaya which focuses in providing free Education, free Healthcare and Poverty relief aid to the needy people from the remote and under-developed regions of Nepal.

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India Palace announces its Ramadan offerings

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Celebrating the heritage and the richness throughout the holy month of Ramadan

India Palace, the award winning fine dining restaurant with outlets across the UAE, announces its special Ramadan offerings for this holy month. With most of its outlet open for delivery throughout the day, India Place also has an exceptional Iftar Buffet, across selected outlets. The Salam outlet will see a special ‘Chef’s Selected Tasting Menu’, which is an unlimited menu served on the Table with the dishes changing weekly.

Apart from these delicious offerings, complimentary dates, fresh fruits and drinks would be available across all India Palace outlets during Iftar to help patrons break their fast.

The special Iftar Buffet priced at 75 AED for adults and 45 AED for kids will be available from sunset to 12 pm every day throughout the holy month of Ramadan and will be available at the below outlets

  • Abu Dhabi: Dalma, Mazyad, Mushrif, Deerfields
  • Dubai: Ibn Battuta, Garhoud
  • RAK: RAK Mall
  • Sharjah: Safeer Mall (Special Price Adult69)

The Iftar Buffet will see an array of delicious eats from Salads, Soups and Starters to Kebabs, Biryanis, Dessert and Drinks. Signature dishes to be anticipated would be the succulent Muglai Seekh Kebab, the rich Butter Chicken, the spice packed Sag Gosht and the classic Chicken Biryani accompanied by Rooh Afza, Mint Cooler and Lassi. End the fare with yummy treats for desserts such as Mal Puva, Double Ka Meeta and the Mini Gulab Jamun.

On India Palace’s offerings for Ramadan, Mr. K. Muraleedharan, Chairman& Managing Director said, “India Palace as a brand echoes the tradition and cultural heritage of India adorned by the royalty, richness and diversity of flavors found across the country. Being in the UAE for the last 20 years, its cultural and religious reverence has become an extension of our identity. The people of the UAE truly enjoy our offerings and have been supporting us as loyal patrons. We understand the importance of the holy month of Ramadan and strive to abide by its decree. Following in line with our vision, we want to provide only the most authentic and royal spread for our customers to break their fast during Iftar, and hence we have come up with these special offerings.”

These special Ramadan offerings will be available throughout the Holy Month of Ramadan.

 

MALAYSIA – TRULY ASIA

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One of the many reasons why I keep going back to Malaysia after living there for nearly ten years is for the mouth-watering food, diverse cultures, the lush green nature, enchanting islands, the beaches and the retail therapy.

It is now an accepted fact that if you want to visit Asia, all you have to do is visit Malaysia. Apart from its geographical location, right smack in the centre of Asia, strong economic base and stable political situation, Malaysia is an attraction for the tourist who wants to taste Asia but do not have the luxury of time and money.

Below are the top 10 reasons why Malaysia is truly Asia.

  1. THE PEOPLE:

Asian people or the term Asiatic people has multiple meanings that refers to people who descend from a portion of Asia’s population. And quite a number of them are found in Malaysia. The most common are the Malays, Chinese, Indians, Punjabis and the Dayak tribes or the aboriginals.

  1. THE CULTURE:

Having a multiple mixed races in Malaysia makes for an interesting potpourri of culture. The Malays will have their colourful weddings and celebrations full of refinement, the Chinese have exciting festivals that are steeped in tradition, the Indians have classical presentations that are as colourful as their sarees, while the aboroginal tribes will have their natural heritage largely encircling their practice of paying tribute to nature. These are all endemic to most Asian countries, with just some slight variations.

  1. THE MANY RELIGIONS:

I learnt more about religious practices in Malaysia in 9 yeras than in my entire lifetime. The main religions in Asia, ie Islam, Christianity, Buddhism, Hinduism and Taoism play a major part in shaping the beliefs of Asians and are found in Malaysia as well.

  1. THE FOOD:

Food is what makes Asia, and definitely Malaysia, so delectable. Once you have tasted the food of Malaysia, you have tasted most Asian cuisine. There is something to suit all tastes and for the Muslims, halal cuisine available everywhere.

  1. THE CLOTHES:

The standard traditional garb among the main cultures is the Malay baju, Chinese cheongsam and Indian saree. Occasionally you see the Vietnamese ao dai or the Korean hanbok as Malaysians do wear similar outfits during special events.

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  1. THE LANGUAGE:

Malay is the most common of all languages in Asia as it is spoken in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Brunei, the Philippines and even Cambodia while Chinese and Tamil are equally well-spoken in certain Asian countries. In Malaysia, English is spoken vastly and I never had any problems in even the remote destinations in the country.

  1. THE CLIMATE:

Like most countries in Asia, there are only two seasons in Malaysia: rainy and sunny. You either carry an umbrella or wear your sun-shades, depending on the weather.

  1. THE HISTORY:

The history of the Asian countries is intertwined with Malaysia’s history, thanks in great part to the traders of days of yore. As such you can read about Asian history in the annals of Malaysian history.

  1. THE FESTIVALS:

There are lots of common festivals between most Asian countries and those found in Malaysia and makes for an interesting feast for the senses. It was a delight to sometimes have up to three festivals for different cultures in one week.

  1. THE TRADITIONAL PASTIMES:

The best things in life are free, like sunshine, fresh air and love, and these are prevalent in the hobbies of Malaysians, as it is with Asians. People enjoy going to the parks, movies, exploring shopping malls, indulging in sporting activities and in my case, I just enjoyed people watching in the local teahouses and coffee shops.

With such common denominators, Malaysia can rightfully claim to be truly Asia and a good reason to visit the country.

 

 

Enjoy Istanbul during a stopover

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With more and more travellers flying with Turkish Airlines these day, Istanbul is often a stopover but instead of staying at the airport, I suggest taking some time out to enjoy this vibrant city where the East meets the West and every street corner is a delight to the senses. If Turkey is your destination, then you are in for a treat.

From mouth-watering delicacies, historic monuments and traditional bazaars, Istanbul has something to offer to travellers of all ages. I go to Istanbul regularly, often a few times a year and often start my excursion from the historic Sultanahmet area where in close proximity you find the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar, the Spice Bazaar, the Fatih District and the Topkapi Palace.

If Istanbul is my destination, I tend to stay in the Taksim and Pera neighbourhoods, that has a big choice of restaurants, cafés and retail options at the doorstop. I love the traditional markets in the area and often find the more exquisite pieces of jewellery from street vendors.

 If you love being on boats like I do, then the best way to take in the sights of the city is to hop on a Bosphorus boat tour along the Bosphorus Strait. No matter how many times I take this tour from different tour operator, its always a pleasure. I often start my journey with a simit (local pastry with sesame seed) and a Turkish coffee along the port.

Most of the tours go through the heart of the city, past the Istanbul Modern Art Museum, several Ottoman palaces, fortresses, waterside villages with Ottoman architecture and often have views of the nearby polulated hills, the Galata Tower, the Blue Mosque and other iconic buildings.

For retail therapy, enjoy the Grand Bazaar and shopping malls but the vendors along the Bosphorus shores and stores run by designers are the best places to pick up items that make you stand apart. Give yourself a few hours in the bazaars that sell anything from souvenirs, spices, jewellery, clothes, carpets etc.

Istanbul is a place for culture and history and hence has numerous visitor attractions like the Topkapi Palace and the Istanbul Museum Pass allows free entrance to a dozen of the city’s best paces like the Hagia Sophia and the well-known Istanbul Mosaic Museum.

If adventure tourism is your thing, check out the possibility of scuba diving in the Mediterranean, helicopter tours (One of my best experiences in seeing the whole of Istanbul from the sky), trekking, mountain biking, kayaking, cycling and paragliding.

No visit to Istanbul is complete without visiting the historical hamams. Getting scribed and cleaned in the steamy Turkish baths with relaxing massages is one thing everyone should do when in Turkey. While I enjoy my Turkish hamams in the hotels I stay in, visiting the seventeenth-century Çinili hamam in the Asian suburb of Üsküdar is possibly one of the most traditional experiences.

Turkey is one of the few countries I go to where I don’t drive as the city is big, you need to know roads off the beaten track to see the best sights and the best way is to get a driver and enjoy the city relaxed and comfortable. If your stopover is short and you can only do one or two things, my favourite choices would be to either take a Bosphorus tour or visit the Sultanahmet area.