While air travel can take us almost anywhere, some cities can only be truly savoured when you approach them from the sea. New York, Sydney and Rio come to mind, yet in the ‘grand entrance' stakes, few can rival the sheer drama of the adrenaline fuelled approach to Istanbul.
This colossus of a city has had three different names, straddles two continents, and offers one of the most visually stunning and enthralling cruise destinations anywhere on earth. The approach is achieved through the Bosphorous and into the Golden Horn, the harbour of Istanbul. In the pale light of early morning, a series of slender minarets splinter the skyline, as the first calls to prayers of local muezzin drift out across the still waters. Local ferries bumble purposefully across the grey expanse of the Bosphorous. Traffic barrels across the mighty suspension bridge that links Europe with the Asian mainland. As the light clears, Istanbul's series of seven rolling hills gain clarity and definition, and the river banks become a jumble of teeming life on both sides.
Only an inbound cruise ship can really give you the scope and perspective to really savour this spectacular vista. Better still is the fact that you get to enjoy it all in reverse, when you sail back down stream.
Though no longer Turkey's capital, Istanbul is still the largest Turkish city. Established as the capital of the ancient Roman Empire as long ago as 330 ad, it has witnessed sieges, foreign occupation and numerous wars of conquest in its convoluted history.
In such a beguiling city, monuments abound. The Column of Constantine was erected at the time of the city's founding in 330. The magnificent Haghia Sofia dates back to the 6th century and is now a museum, but this amazing confection of elegant spires and blue domed buildings started life as a church. It is possibly the most compelling sight in Istanbul today. The almost as famous Topkapi Place was the work of Ottoman invaders arriving in the middle ages.
The feel of this amazing sea city is both indescribable and unforgettable. Meandering alleys zig zag at a crazy pace towards countless bazaars laden with almost anything a cruise ship passenger could want. Oriental rugs, spices and pewter vases, painted religious iconography and amazing local produce from the Bosphorous itself.
A surprising amount of graceful, slender art nouveau buildings line both banks of the river in places, many of these former embassies dating back to the nineteenth century that contrast sharply with the numerous mosques, castles and ancient towers that pepper the city like silent stone pointers to Istanbul's enigmatic past.
Also nicely decked out in art nouveau style is the famous Pera Palace hotel. This was originally built for passengers ready to embark on the then brand new Orient Express at the turn of the twentieth century, and it has been altered very little to this day.
Sailing back out at sunset, the sagging sun burnishes the mighty Bosphorous an amazing shade of flaming rust red. The farewell roar of the siren drowns out evening prayers just for a second. Minarets register black against the fading skyline and, like an actor bowing out gracefully, one of the greatest scenic treasures on earth fades quietly from view astern.
If you would like more information on cruises to Istanbul please call one of our Cruise Experts on 0800 008 6677.