A holiday in The Hague

Hague, Netherlands. (Shutterstock)
Updated 04 February 2019
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A holiday in The Hague

  • The Hague has been the seat of power in the country for centuries
  • It has some of Holland’s finest buildings, museums and art galleries

DUBAI: While it’s not the official capital of the Netherlands, The Hague has been the seat of power in the country for centuries — home to the royal family and to the Dutch parliament. That means it has some of Holland’s finest buildings, museums and art galleries, but doesn’t have Amsterdam’s full-time, full-on energy. Which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
There’s certainly plenty to keep visitors occupied on the culture front. For grand architecture, we’d recommend a visit to the parliament building Het Binnenhof, the beams of which are decorated with the famous ‘luistervinken’ (eavesdroppers) — wooden faces with a single huge ear on the side, meant to represent the higher power listening in when the hall was used as a courtroom in centuries past.

Equally impressive is the Peace Palace, home to the International Court of Justice. Opened in 1913, the Palace is the result of international cooperation and houses doors from Belgium, marble from Italy, wall carpets from Japan, rugs from Iran and so on.

Many of the city’s finest buildings are also museums and galleries. The excellent Mauritshuis is dedicated to 17th and 18th century art, particularly that of the Dutch masters including Vermeer, Rembrandt and Rubens. The gorgeous art-deco Gemeentemuseum, meanwhile, has a wide range of modern art classics as well as older pieces. A trip to those two venues alone could eat up an entire day.
Another big draw for art fans is the permanent exhibition “Escher in the Palace,” an exhaustive, mind-bending collection of works from the celebrated Dutch graphic artist at Lange Voorhout Palace.
If you need a break from the highbrow, and some retail therapy, The Hague has plenty to offer there too. If it’s raining (always a strong possibility in Holland), head to The Passage — the country’s oldest shopping center. It opened in 1885 and has since been expanded considerably, but still remains covered.

For those seeking more unusual trinkets, there’s a large, and very popular, art, antiques and book market that runs on Thursday and Sundays in Korte Voorhout in the summer, and at the Plein on Thursdays in the winter.
And if you want to shop like a local, get down to The Hague Market, which sits between the city two most multi-cultural districts: Transvaal and the Schilderswijk. It’s Europe’s biggest outdoor market and welcomes an estimated 25,000 visitors a day, in all weathers, to its 500-plus stalls.
Foodies won’t be disappointed by the range of options The Hague provides. Italian restaurant The Court; Tommy’s & Zuurveen, which offers international cuisine; and French eaterie Cottontree City by Dimitri are all highly recommended.
If you want to take in a great view while you eat, head for The Penthouse on the top floors of The Hague Tower, which promises views of “up to 45 kilometers” from its windows, 135 meters above street level.
To get a taste of the regal life, you could book a stay at the luxurious — and ideally situated — Hotel des Indes in the heart of the city. The hotel used to be a city palace and that royal grandeur is still apparent in its 92 rooms. If extravagant splendor isn’t your thing, then the romantic sophistication of the boutique Paleis Hotel might be a better bet. This central, 20-room gem is just a short walk from the Mauritshuis, and is a work of art in itself.

We opted for one of the numerous Airbnb properties on offer throughout the Netherlands, and stayed in the city’s seaside district of Scheveningen, well worth a visit if you’re on a summer trip. Just 15 minutes by tram from the city center, Scheveningen has something of a timeless ambience, like a postcard brought to life, particularly the old-school pier. It’s a charming and peaceful neighborhood, and its long, sandy beach is the most popular in Holland. It’s easy to see why. Be warned, though. This is the North Sea, and that water gets cold.
Possibly the Hague’s most-famous tourist attraction, though, isn’t its market, museums or seaside, but the peculiar miniature city of Madurodam — a combination of amusement park, scenic beauty (including more than 5,000 miniature trees) and ‘edutainment.’ Scale models of typically Dutch canal houses, cheese markets, windmills, flower-bulb fields and more combine with multimedia presentations to give a short history of this fascinating and beautiful country.

If you’re planning a trip to the Netherlands, but don’t want to be based in the hustle of Amsterdam (which is less than an hour away by train, so you can still visit easily), we’d highly recommend The Hague.


Irresistible Istanbul: Turkey’s cultural capital

Updated 22 April 2019
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Irresistible Istanbul: Turkey’s cultural capital

  • The historic city — part European, part Asian — still has the power to capture hearts

DUBAI: Although the bulk of Istanbul’s historic sites lie across the Golden Horn in Sultanahmet, there’s something magnetic about Beyoğlu. It personifies Istanbul’s confidence and economic energy, is at the heart of the city’s most exciting nightlife, and has acted as a battleground for Istanbul’s modern cultural identity.

It is also home to the city’s main commercial artery — Istiklal Avenue, a wide pedestrianized thoroughfare that stretches from the steep cobbled gradients of Galata to the vast open space of Taksim Square. For most of the year it is populated by an endless sea of people either wrapped up against the onset of winter or basking in the glory of spring and summer.

Beyoğlu is where you’ll find much that relates to the world of art and culture. Orhan Pamuk, the Turkish Nobel laureate and author of novels including “My Name Is Red” and “Snow,” lives and breathes the district’s neighborhoods. You can follow in his footsteps if you like, tracing your way from Sahaflar Carsisi, the used-book bazaar that he used to frequent as a child, to the The Museum of Innocence and its quirky minutiae of 20th-century Istanbul life. The latter was created by the author as a companion to his novel of the same name and is located in a 19th-century timber house in Cukurcuma.

Then there’s the food. Take Ficcin as an example. Spread across a number of venues on either side of Kallavi Street, this wonderful restaurant serves both classic Turkish cuisine and Circassian specialties. That means kofta, artichokes, grilled chicken and an aubergine salad with yoghurt and garlic, and specials such as manti (Turkish dumplings) and the dish that the restaurant is named after — a meat-filled savory pastry baked like a pizza.

If you’re looking to stay in the Beyoğlu area, not far from Ficcin is the Pera Palace Hotel, a late 19th-century masterpiece designed by the French-Ottoman architect Alexandre Vallaury. Renovated and refurbished just under a decade ago, its grand, high-ceilinged interiors are awash with dark reds, velvet and gold, while the colors of the lobby, tea lounge and library are deeper and richer than when Agatha Christie and a cavalcade of early 20th-century celebrities made it their hotel of choice.

A short stroll from the Pera Palace is the former medieval Genoese citadel of Galata, now known as Karaköy and lying at the southern end of Istiklal. Its central, striking feature is the Galata Tower, built by the Genoese in 1348 and a reminder of the wonder of Istanbul’s pre-Ottoman past. Karaköy’s steep cobblestone streets are sprinkled generously with cafés and boutiques selling everything from Orientalist soap tins to Turkish towels and there’s a relaxed, laid-back kind of vibe.

From Galata you can walk down to the shores of the Golden Horn, crossing the Galata Bridge towards Sultanahmet and the district of Fatih (once the Byzantine city of Constantinople). It is here that you’ll realize the full impact of Istanbul’s allure. In peak holiday seasons it will be almost impossible to move within the maze of alleys that make up the Grand Bazaar, a colossal covered market that covers 64 streets and has 22 separate entrances. It’s easy to get lost, which is part of the appeal, but with up to half a million people visiting every day it can get extremely claustrophobic.

For a more sedate experience (although expect queues), Sultanahmet is a UNESCO world heritage site and home to both the Hagia Sophia and The Blue Mosque. At the latter you can sit beneath the continuous vaulted arcade that surrounds the mosque’s great courtyard, or marvel at the grandeur of its interiors, while the former’s magnificent giant dome and stunning mosaics remind you of Istanbul’s Byzantine past.

All of Sultanahmet’s main historic attractions are within easy walking distance of each other, including the Topkapi Palace, with its lavish courts and holy relics, and the underground delights of the Basilica Cistern. The sites are also within 10 minutes’ walk or so of the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, a fully halal luxury boutique hotel that first opened just under two years ago.

If you find the time, head to Pandeli. First opened in 1901, the restaurant is reached via a steep set of stairs near the entrance to the Spice Bazaar and is defined as much by its shimmering blue iznik tiles as it is by its traditional Turkish food. Expect views of Eminonu Square and delights such as lamb stew served on a bed of mashed roasted aubergine.

One thing’s for sure, visitors to Istanbul will not be bored. The many delights of this city straddling two continents could keep anyone busy for months. As the French poet and politician Alphonse de Lamartine wrote in the 19th Century, “If one had but a single glance to give the world, one should gaze on Istanbul.”