Shortly after graduating from her studies in textile design at the Philadelphia College of Textiles & Science, Elizabeth Hewitt started dealing in antiques. She would bartend and wait tables to save money to travel, then explore flea markets in India, Pakistan and Morocco. Upon returning to Philly, she would sell her treasures — rugs, fabrics, vintage — to friends and collectors. “I was young and didn’t know what I was doing. I just knew what I liked,” she says.
Hewitt first visited Turkey (Türkiye) just as the Soviet Union was breaking up, and the markets of Istanbul were flooded with incredible finds from Central Asia that had been locked away for a century. She fell, promptly and deeply, for the “messy, crazy, fantastic” city.
“History here is lived in, and it is alive. You’ll be walking past terrible architecture from the ’70s, then suddenly there’s an Ottoman fountain or a relatively new mosque (from) the 18th century. You’re immediately transported to that time and place,” explains Hewitt. “I’d say to myself, my god, I have to live here someday.”
In 2003, Hewitt made Istanbul her home, setting up her business, Tulu Textiles. For more than a decade, she designed ikat fabrics for Oscar de la Renta’s runway shows, and her block-printed fabrics are sold in showrooms in the U.S. and Europe. (You can pick up printed bedding and housewares, as well as antiques at Hewitt’s Istanbul store, and the New York City boutique that Hewitt co-owns, Tamam.)
Here, the stylish Istanbul insider shares her favourite places in Turkey’s largest city, including spots off the tourist radar.
For lunch like a local: Aslan Lokanta (by Grand Bazaar Nuruosmaniye entrance)
This esnaf lokantasi (tradesmen restaurant) serving elegant, slow-cooked Turkish food is located steps from Hewitt’s business and overlooks the Grand Bazaar. “I lunch there two to three times a week,” Hewitt says. “Every dish is perfection, served in this classic interior by lovely waiters dressed in white shirts and black dress pants.” Don’t miss dessert: “The sekerpare with kaymak — semolina cakes with clotted cream of the water buffalo — is amazing and pairs perfectly with their excellent Turkish coffee.”
For authentic handicrafts: Cebeci Han and Astarci Han (Grand Bazaar)
“Head through the Grand Bazaar to these hans, which are little offshoots set around 15th-century courtyards, where you’ll find master coppersmiths hammering and finishing copper and brass pieces,” recommends Hewitt. In the same hans, on the second storey, are wonderful dealers of vintage and antique items. “You’ll find textiles, beadwork and all manner of things,” adds Hewitt, who is on the hunt here at least once a week.
For a sense of serenity: Sokollu Mehmed Pasha Mosque (Küçük Ayasofya, 34122)
Completed in 1571, this lesser-visited 16th-century mosque was designed by the great Ottoman architect Sinan and has an interior adorned with regal blue Iznik tiles. “Swoon. This building is a perfect beauty, and it’s incredibly peaceful,” Hewitt says. “Usually you’re the only tourist in there.”
For cocktails in a standout setting: Büyük Londra (Mesrutiyet Cd. No: 53)
Hewitt’s favourite spot for a gimlet is the lobby bar of the Büyük Londra, also known as the Grand Hotel de Londres. “It’s totally unfashionable, with a late 19th-century Istanbul/Wes Anderson vibe, complete with vintage motorcycles and caged parrots,” says Hewitt. Owned by the same family since it was built in 1892, “the hotel has been preserved in such a loving way.”
For a scenic day trip: Sadberk Hanim Museum (Piyasa Cd. No: 25 D: 29)
To reach this museum, take the ferry up the Bosphorus strait to the Sariyer district, admiring the grand Ottoman mansions and palaces along the way (the ride is about 90 minutes, but you can return to the city faster via taxi). Inside an old mansion, you’ll find Turkish artwork, textiles and ceramics spanning centuries. “If you’re lucky, you’ll see pods of dolphins swimming alongside the ferry,” Hewitt says, “which happens surprisingly often, considering this is such a busy body of water.”
For bargains and breakfast: Feriköy Antika Pazari (Semt Pazari No: 8)
This Sunday flea market offers antiques, junk and everything in between. “I always find at least one treasure, no matter what time I arrive at the market, and it is so much fun,” Hewitt says. “Plus, local women are there making Turkish crepes called gözleme, which you can have filled with potatoes, herbs, cheese or meat, and you can grab fresh juices. It’s a perfect way to spend a day.”
JOIN THE CONVERSATION