Les Clefs D'Or
Les Clefs D'Or

Your Key To Istanbul Turkey 2024 Les Clefs d’Or Award Nominee

Fener & Balat – Midpoint of Civilizations

One of the most delightful aspects of being a Concierge is the ability to introduce Istanbul, a city that has hosted numerous civilizations throughout centuries, not only through its well-known tourist spots but also by revealing its preserved historical fabric and captivating points that locals also utilize as a getaway spots. At the forefront of these destinations are Fener and Balat, known for being home to individuals representing three major religions.

The neighborhood’s antique shops, boutique breakfast spots, traditional tea houses and third-generation coffee houses have increasingly grabbed interest in the area. Let me take you on a stroll through these expansive exploration spots.

We’re passing by one of Istanbul’s gates of conquest, the “Cibali Gate” towards our first stop and by the side of the former tobacco factory, now operating as a university, known as the “Cibali Tobacco Factory.” This factory holds a significant place in labor history, especially in showcasing the contribution and effort of women in the workforce.

As we ascend Balat’s famous slopes, we first encounter the Aya Theodosia Church, built in the 8th century during the Byzantine Empire, known today as the Gül Mosque. Then, to refill our energy for the rest of the day, we head to my favorite spot for the famous Turkish breakfast, “Perispiri.” Stepping into Perispiri feels like visiting your grandparents’ home, since it transformed from an antiques shop into a restaurant.

After breakfast, we are heading to Fener, formerly known as Phanari. The most significant structure here is the Fener Greek Patriarchate (The Patriarchal Church of St. George), the center of the Orthodox community.

Could our promenade be complete without a visit to the essential Sevda Gazozcusu (Traditional flavored Soda Shop)? We quickly grab our grape soda and start heading towards the Phanar Greek Orthodox College, iconic with its red brick structure located on the 5th hill of Istanbul. Also known as the “Red School,” this building has gained fame as one of Istanbul’s most picturesque spots. If we’ve absorbed enough of this historical atmosphere, we turn our path towards Yıldırım Avenue, adorned with colorful houses and stairs. Accompanied by Istanbul’s famous cat companions, we take a short tea break at Naftalin. Don’t forget to order tea for the cat that will jump next to you shortly! Now, let’s head towards Balat.

If Fener is known as the Greek neighborhood, Balat (Palation) is the Jewish district. In the 15th century, Sephardic Jews found refuge here from the Spanish Inquisition. Most of them moved to Istanbul, Balat and constructed their synagogues. You can visit famous structures like Ahrida Synagogue, Ferruh Kethuda Mosque, Aya Tekla Church (Hz. Cebir Mosque), and Surp Hreşdagabet Armenian Church here. Moreover, for vintage enthusiasts, Balat is renowned for its antiques shops, glassblowing workshops, and auction houses.

For the final stop of this marvelous tour, we place our dinner order at Agora Meyhanesi. Starting with our famous Turkish appetizers, followed by main courses and desserts, I reward myself with a delightful evening, concluding our remarkable journey.


Alper Günalp is a candidate for the 2024 Les Clefs d’Or Award. This article has been published in its original form.

Meet the Author
Alper Günalp

I was born in Baku, Azerbaijan, in 1995. My journey in hospitality began at home, surrounded by the vibrant ambiance of my father's restaurants. Those early years instilled in me a profound understanding of the art of service, igniting a passion that would shape my career. Eager to refine my skills, I pursued a degree in Tourism Management in Istanbul. This academic journey deepened my knowledge and fueled my enthusiasm for the industry. My professional career took flight at the Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul Hotel where I immersed myself in providing exceptional guest experiences from 2017 to 2022. This chapter marked a significant milestone when I joined the Concierge Team and became a member of Les Clefs d'Or. Joining Les Clefs d'Or in 2022 marked a pivotal moment, signifying my dedication to the concierge craft. Presently, I practice my craft at Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul located in Sultanahmet, where each day presents an opportunity to create unforgettable moments for guests. Dedicated to continuous self-improvement, I bring together our city's unique historical charm and distinctive hospitality, fostering profound connections with guests through a boundless passion for service.

Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet

Nestled in the heart of Istanbul's Old Town, Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet weaves together the city's rich history and contemporary luxury, offering a landmark experience within a century-old neoclassical masterpiece. Originally conceived as a French-style guesthouse, the building transformed into Istanbul's inaugural contemporary prison in 1918-1919, serving as a detention center for those awaiting trial or serving brief sentences. The 65-room hotel, surrounded by the Sea of Marmara and the Bosphorus, stands just steps away from iconic and captivating landmarks such as the Topkapı Palace, Blue Mosque and Hagia Sophia. The hotel has been chosen as the “Best Hotel in The World” by Travel+Leisure in 2023. Recently acclaimed in the MICHELIN Guide Istanbul 2024, the hotel's restaurant, Avlu, offers a delightful journey through modern Anatolian cuisine. During the meticulous renovation, the building's history was preserved, with original marble and stones retained in key areas, including the entrance of the elevators and the marble wall of Kurna Spa. Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet beckons travelers to immerse themselves in the allure of the Old Town, where the charm of a bygone era harmoniously meets the unmatched hospitality of the Four Seasons brand.


+90 212 402 30 00

Related Articles