Shopping in Turkey: a world of choice

You'll have to travel to the bazaars of Turkey if you want to buy authentic Iznik tiles, says Claire Wrathall. And it's not the only place worth visiting to make a special purchase

Even if you can no longer flash wads of 20million lira notes, Istanbul remains one of the world's great shopping cities. Until last year, when Turkey revalued its currency, 36p was all that was needed to make you a millionaire. (With six noughts lopped off the lira to create the yeni Turk lirasi or "new Turkish lira", there are now about 2.7 to the pound.)

But competitive prices mean that it is still possible to feel rich here. And the launch of easyJet's route from Luton to Sabiha Gokcen, the city's second airport, about 50km out of town on the Asian side of the Bosporus, makes it inexpensive to reach. Last time I looked, you could fly in early December for just £58.98 return, making it just the place to pick up some authentic stocking-fillers for Christmas. For it is worth noting that, although the majority of Turks are Muslims, St Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, came from Patara on the Turkish coast.

The obvious and potentially most rewarding place to start is in the sprawling, gaudily painted Grand Bazaar, just west of the historic centre, Sultanahmet. It is a vast vaulted complex of 61 covered streets embracing 4,400 shops, as well as cafés, banks, hammams, mosques, marble fountains and even a police station.

People have been trading here since 1461, and though its vendors have a reputation for tenacity, the reality is less daunting than it was. Stallholders do not hassle as much as they used to, reflecting a realisation that this was more likely to drive Westerners away than secure a sale. And though bargaining is still expected (aim for a discount of about 30 per cent), it is invariably good-humoured.

The range of goods on sale is immense: Ataturk tat, bejewelled belly-dancing outfits, ceramics, embroidered boots and slippers (be warned that Turks have tiny feet), cobalt glass evil eyes, desirable leatherware, woven silver jewellery, soap, silken towels, extravagant textiles and all the perfumes of Arabia. If you are here on a Wednesday, the kilim auction at the Sandal Bedestan (warehouse), one of the oldest parts of the complex, is a spectacle, though you need nerve to bid and cannot be certain what you are getting.

For antiques you can trust, try A la Turca at Faikpasa 4, a labyrinthine four-floored Ottoman house filled with furniture, carpets and exotic objets d'art, all of which are for sale, in the Cukurcuma district, an area of atmospheric winding streets and bric-a-brac emporia north of the Golden Horn.

Back across the Galata Bridge, on the south side of the Horn, the Egyptian Spice Bazaar has a calmer air, not least because, says my Istanbul friend, Rabiye, it is bad form to haggle for food. This is the place where locals come for everyday groceries as well as rose-petal jam, fragrant dried mulberries, earthy coffee, pistachios and, of course, Turkish delight, lokum, which comes in myriad flavours. The best (or so I was assured) and most handsomely packaged comes from Ali Muhiddin Haci Bekir, near the entrance at Hamidiye Caddesi 81, a confectioner established in 1777.

If all this potential for gluttony has put you in mind of something more spiritual, then tucked away up a flight of steps behind the Egyptian Bazaar, above a row of shops on Hasircilar Caddesi, stands the unmissable Rustem Pasha mosque. Though the six-minareted Blue Mosque, the great church-then-mosque-then-museum of Haghia Sofia, and the soaring Suleymaniye mosque should be on any itinerary, Rustem Pasha has a transcendent beauty and an extraordinary bluish light, reflected by the tens of thousands of exquisite Iznik tiles.

There are laws to prevent you exporting antique Iznik, but this distinctive kind of ceramic is still produced using a process that remains bewilderingly labour-intensive. The quartz that gives the glaze its depth and translucence may no longer be ground by hand, but even so, it takes 72 days from the hand- mixing of the jewel-coloured pigments to the final firing. So they told me at Iznik Classics at Arasta Carsisi 67-73, Sultanahmet (also in the Grand Bazaar), which sells bowls, plates and jugs. At $280 (£148) for a single tile, nothing comes cheap - but the bazaar is full of decent mass-produced imitations at a fraction of the price, even if they pale beside the real thing.

If the bazaars feel like heritage shopping, however, there is a more modern mercantile edge to Istanbul, not least in the futuristic Kanyon mall in the upmarket north-lying Levent district, where you will find the latest in Turkish designer homeware, jewellery and fashion. Harvey Nichols opened there last week, and its food hall in particular should be worth checking out, especially for Turkish wines. Buzbag might be the best-known (you can drink it at the Buz Bar on the ground floor), but producers such as Kavaklidere and Sarafin make some unexpectedly delicious "primeurs".

The place to learn about primeurs is Tugra, the restaurant at the Ciragan Palace, one of the city's most opulent hotels, converted from a palace on the banks of the Bosporus. You can bring two litres back tax- free. Just keep in mind that Turkey is not in the EU, and if you are carrying more than £145 worth of goods you must come through the red channel on your return.

THE COMPACT GUIDE

HOW TO GET THERE

EasyJet (0905 821 0905; easyjet.com) offers returns from Luton to Istanbul from £50. Doubles at the Ciragan Palace (00 90 212 326 4646; ciraganpalace. com.tr) start at US$480 (£266).

FURTHER INFORMATION

Turkish Tourist Office

(020-7839 7778; gototurkey.co.uk).

Other shopping hot spots

Cuba

CIGARS

Cuban cigars are among the best - Cubans have been perfecting the art of cigar-making for decades. Real Fábrica de Tabacos Partagás (00 53 7 8624 604) is the country's largest cigar factory. You can go and watch workers rolling the cigars by hand or visit the adjacent store, where cigars can be bought and sampled.

Isle sur la Sorgue

ANTIQUES

If you yearn to emulate the shabby chic French look at home, this charming Provençal town, a short drive from Avignon, is a good place to start. It is home to nearly 300 antiques dealers and second-hand shops. The number of dealers swells to 500 during fairs at Easter and in mid-August.

Venice

GLASS

The tradition of glass-making in Venice dates back to the 10th century. In 1291, the factories - considered a fire risk - were moved to Murano, one of the other islands in the lagoon. Venini (00 34 041 2737 204; venini.it) is one of the most prestigious producers, and its Fondamenta dei Vetrai showroom is open to visitors.

Shanghai

SILK

Get yourself a silk duvet. The Shanghai Silk Museum (00 86 21 6266 0378) is also a shop. You can buy everything that is silk, from bedding to clothes. A king-size duvet that would cost you £250 in the UK costs just £40 here, and they'll vacuum-pack it for easy transportation.

Jaipur

GEMS

The Indian city has become a centre for cutting and polishing precious stones, mainly due to The Gem Palace (00 91 141 237 4175; gempalacejaipur.com). It's the place to go for emeralds, topaz and amethysts as well as rare pieces from maharajas to the work of local jewellery designers and goldsmiths.

Dubai

GOLD

Dubai's booming trade in gold is just one more aspect of its growing status as a consumer capital. In the "City of Gold", actually part of the souk in the Deria district of the city, pieces are sold by weight. Its numerous stalls display row upon row of dazzling high-carat jewellery, gold bars and bullion coins (godubai.ae).

Istanbul

TILES

Istanbul's Grand Bazaar is one of the greatest shopping experiences to be had. One souvenir worth seeking out is the Iznik tile. There are hundreds of imitations available in the Sultanahment district, but seek out the real thing at Iznik Classics, Arasta Carsisi 67-73. Prices start at around £148 for a single tile.

Florence

FASHION

Head to the factory outlets outside Florence. The Mall (00 39 055 865 7775) in Leccio has the likes of Gucci, Armani, Valentino, Ferragamo and Alexander McQueen - all with heavily marked-down prices. The Prada (00 39 055 919111) outlet in Montevarchi sells clothes with reductions of over 30 per cent.

Marrakech

RUGS

Each souk is grouped by what it sells - pick up distinctive rugs, carpets and kilims at La Criée Berbère. Ben Rahal (00 212 24 433273), on Rue de la Liberté, offers a calmer retail experience, with rugs and kilims from the Berber tribes of the Atlas mountains and surrounding areas.

Buenos Aires

LEATHER

Buenos Aires's elegant shopping streets have shop after shop selling leather goods. You can pick up a pair of handmade shoes at De Maria (00 54 11 4815 5001) in Recolata or, for bags and belts, head to one of several branches of Prune (00 54 11 5555 5237; prune.com.ar).

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