While a visit to Istanbul must include a peek at grand sites such as the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia, there are many other sites “off the beaten path” that you should take the time to see. One such site is the Pierre Loti Café. This place can be rather idyllic, especially after the crowds of Sultanahmet. Sure there still will be people around but somehow, being up above the city, all that becomes rather inconsequential.
Pierre Loti was a real person but his actual name was Julien Viaud. Being a novelist, Loti was Viaud’s nom du plume. Viaud was a naval officer who loved nothing more than writing with a Turkish setting. His most famous book is called Aziyadé – it is believed that when he was in Istanbul in 1876, it was at this particular café (named Rabia Kadın Café back then) with its views that helped inspire him to write this book. Semi-autobiographical, it is about his love affair with Aziyadé, an 18 year old harem girl, when he was a 27-year old naval officer posted in the city. Scandalous?
If you’re not a bibliophile or French, you should still visit Pierre Loti Café. The views over the Golden Horn are fantastic and are worth a visit. After you’ve gotten your fill of panoramas from the viewing platform, wander over to the teahouse for a drink of tea, coffee, water, soda, Ayran…just not anything alcoholic. It’s a cute place with a number of tables set out under the leafy trees, many of which have a pretty view of the Golden Horn. It is a wonderful location to rest and escape the direct Turkish summer sun. The setting, combined with the historical uniforms of the waiters, it all feels like you’d see the ghosts of turn-of-the-century French and Turkish intelligentsia and artists holding lively discussions about this and that. Unfortunately, unless you’re a time traveller, there isn’t any hope of seeing those long ago days, much less Pierre Loti himself. But you can certainly pretend, if you want!
The best way to get up the hill to the café is via cable car (Teleferik). You either buy a jeton or you can use your Istanbulkart (recommended). The cable car takes you up the hill, over the cemetery of Eyup and deposits you right at the viewing platform and Pierre Loti Café. It’s all very organized but I still had mixed feelings about it – nothing to do with the car itself but being trapped on there with 5-8 other tourists meant I had to be more creative than usual in preventing others from sneaking a clear photo of my sister and me (for some reason, our natural hair is quite the phenomenon in Turkey). As for getting back down to the main road after your cay or kola, I suggest a meander through the quiet cemetery (lots of Ottoman style tombstones) down the hill.
The Eyup Cemetery is one of the oldest and largest Muslim cemeteries in Istanbul. It hosts a wide variety of people ranging from Ottoman sultans to artists and poets. The popularity of this cemetery as a final resting place has to do with the nearby Eyup Mosque which has the tomb of Abu Ayyub al-Ansari, a close companion of the prophet, Muhammad. There are many windy paths off the main cemetery path and I do suggest checking out a couple only if historical tombstones are of interest. Some may find it strange but I love old cemeteries. Especially if you have a nice camera clicking away at the stones, I don’t suggest straying too far from the main path for safety’s sake. Nothing happened on my visit but the offshoots are rather isolated and shielded.
- How to get to the cable car: taxi to Eyup Mosque, ferry from Eminonu to Eyup, local bus to Eyup Mosque area. I do not recommend the hop-on-hop off bus as a method of getting here (in fact, I don’t recommend the hop-on-hop off bus at all).
- Open daily 8am to late evening
- Cash only
- When you arrive, just seat yourself anywhere and wait for a waiter to notice you. You can wave him down if you feel he didn’t notice you but be patient – things move a little slowly here.
What do you think of Pierre Loti Café? Tourist trap or bona fide part of Istanbul’s charm?