Unfolding the city: Lale Apa and her Istanbul
Since The Guide Istanbul was first published in 1991, the city has no more secrets, says Lale Apa, the magazine’s founder. Having guided others through Istanbul’s narrow streets and picturesque coasts for a quarter of a century, she paints her personal portrait of the city.

By Marzena Romanowska

No one appreciates the beauty of a beloved city more than a person who moved homes numerous times. Due to her parents’ diplomatic careers, Lale Apa spent her entire childhood abroad. It comes as no surprise that her earliest memory of the city is related to “coming back home.”

“My grandparents used to live in Üsküdar,” she says, recalling one of the summer vacations the family used to take. “When I was a little girl, I remember coming to Istanbul by boat. Entering the city from the sea and seeing the beauty of the Maiden’s Tower and the mosques was fairytale-ish, something I’d never forget.”

Üsküdar, one of the districts so closely tied with her childhood memories, is one of Apa’s favorite places which, with its tekke (dervish lodges), cemetery, and ancient fountains, reflects the classical character of the city. “There was the modern side of the family, but we also had a very traditional nanny who used to take us to Çamlıca to make wishes,” Apa recalls. Her early days in Istanbul were divided between the Anatolian side and her other grandparents’ house in Yeşilköy. “When I was in elementary school, both Üsküdar and Yeşilköy were very diverse, with Greek and Armenian minorities living there. All the love they added to the city, and the fact there are so few of them left, gives me great nostalgia (hüzün).”

Lale Apa’s Istanbul is not simply made of the places The Guide Istanbul writes about. Perhaps more importantly, it is created by the people who make the city a better place. “The most inspirational person at the moment is the founder of Oy ve Ötesi, Sercan Çelebi. He managed to get so many volunteers to oversee fair elections, and I’m one of them,” Apa says. “I also admire Rakel Dink, the wife of Hrant Dink. She never gave up on trying to get justice.”

Lale Apa

But her inspirational examples go beyond politics. For admirable characters in Istanbul’s rich cultural scene, Apa names Turkish art patrons, the Eczacıbaşi and Koç families, as well as Orhan Pamuk, who in his books “teaches us to look at Istanbul through the eyes of so many different people.”

On Apa’s list there is also the name behind one of Turkey’s biggest brands—Simit Sarayı’s Abdullah Kavukçu. “I heard that street vendors started to buy simit from his company since it’s less expensive. He supports the street vendors, so has my support,” Apa says. Last but not least, as a cookbook-writer and gastronomy enthusiast, Apa mentions Metin and Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu, the owners of Ulus 29. “Their restaurant has been like a school for Turkish chefs and restaurateurs. They have done a lot for the food scene in Istanbul.”

Defining herself as a family person, Lale Apa draws a map of Istanbul around the points her family frequents and lives in: Üsküdar, Caddebostan, Kemerburgaz, Etiler, and also Levent, where the company’s office is. “I also think of The Guide as my family,” she says of the project that directed her social life for so many years.

Birth of The Guide Istanbul

The idea of starting The Guide Istanbul was a natural consequence of years of traveling. “Wherever we went, my parents were always getting a guide magazine to see what’s going on,” Apa says. “They were always in-the-know. When I came back to Istanbul, I realized that the city didn’t have a guide.”

Looking at The Guide Istanbul today, it is hard to believe that in 1991 the exciting city life that we know from the pages of today’s magazine didn’t really exist—the first issue had a mere 32 pages. It didn’t change the fact that the city needed a magazine like The Guide. “Jeffi Medina was the head of [the agency] Manajans Thompson. After our meeting regarding advertising in the magazine, he called my husband and said, ‘let’s do it together.’ He introduced us to the designer Charles Karsenbarg and brought in our first editor, Tim Hindle.”

Although not actively involved in The Guide Istanbul operations anymore, Lale Apa stays on top of the city’s cultural happenings. “I think the most positive changes in Istanbul are related to culture; private museums, art exhibitions, festivals, new concert halls, Contemporary Istanbul.”

At The Guide Istanbul, thanks to Ms Apa’s legacy, we make sure you notice those developments, too.

Lale Apa’s picture-perfect tour of Istanbul

  • Morning walk by the Bosporus and breakfast at Mangerie in Bebek,
  • Tour of the Archeological Museum and its gardens,
  • Off-the-beaten-path historical sites—Chora church and Rüstem Paşa mosque,
  • Lunch at Karaköy Lokantası, and a coffee break at Karabatak in Karaköy,
  • Shopping spree in trusted places at the Grand Bazaar,
  • Boat tour with mandatory simit in hand,
  • Evening concert at Aya Irini church and dinner at Mikla.

Lale Apa’s top dining spots in Istanbul

  • Karaköy Lokantası: for someone new to Istanbul. “It’s Turkish and delicious.”
  • Kıyı: favorite fish place. “Greeks were the knowledgeable fishermen of the city.”
  • Mikla: great view of the city. “Never heard of anyone beıng unhappy after dining there.”
  • Yeni Lokanta: modern Turkish. “Civan Er is always in the kitchen.”

Dear Readers,

Our publication witnessed a lot of ups and downs in the last 29 years, but in 2020 we have faced truly unprecedented times.

Despite our best efforts, as of August 2020 we are pressing pause on our overall activity, thanking all of our readers, followers, and partners for their ongoing support and words of encouragement.

We will miss you, just like we miss the city’s uplifting energy that kept us motivated throughout the years.

Stay safe!