A Locals' Guide To Istanbul, By The Sisters Behind This Season's It Bag

You may have noticed that Instagram's most influential have been seen with a rather colourful plus-one of late. Whether it's Blanca Miró and her semolina yellow square leather bag, or Marta a.k.a. The Style Thesaurus, with her tomato red mini suede backpack, the playful pieces from Istanbul design duo Manu Atelier are the accessory du jour. First spotted in editors' hands on the streets of fashion month last September, the brand's artisanal skill and eye for colour-clashing have seen it grow from a local secret to industry must-have since its launch in 2014.
Merve and Beste Manastir, the sisters and creative force behind Manu Atelier, are no strangers to the craftsmanship needed to create a cult bag brand. "Our father is one of Turkey's oldest artisans, and he's been making leather goods by hand at his atelier in Istanbul since he was 11 years old," Merve and Beste explain.
Having grown up seeing their father at work, the idea for Manu Atelier had been germinating for some time, but it wasn't until Merve's graduation that the business plan kicked into action. Wanting to fill a gap in the market for exclusive accessories at more inclusive prices (compared to It bags that can cost thousands), the brand launched 18 months later.
Now, Merve and Beste's joyous designs have been seen on everyone from Eva Chen, Instagram's head of fashion partnerships, to Sarah Jessica Parker, and were included in Net-A-Porter's 10 best performing bag brands for SS18. Bold, offbeat footwear is next on the agenda, along with a presentation slot at Paris Fashion Week in October.
With international success – particularly in London – meaning more eyes on Manu Atelier's eye-catching designs, the brand continues to represent Istanbul's fashion scene. We caught up with Merve and Beste to see what the Turkish city has to offer, from Grand Bazaar trinkets to the best vintage stores.
Where should we stay?
The George Hotel and The Pera Palace are in Beyoğlu area, which is right at the heart of Istanbul. The Four Seasons is in the old city, surrounded by historical monuments and authentic shops and restaurants.
Where should we head for a nightcap?
When you want to go out, no matter what your mood, you can find a spot in the Arnavutköy and Karaköy areas. They both have so many cool bars and clubs that you can dance to good music in, from pop and jazz to R&B and house. Lucca (a secret spot not known by many people) and Back Bar both play nu-jazz and lounge, and have delicious food and fresh cocktails. If you are not in the mood to dance, head to Rakı&Fish – they have a rooftop bar and fresh seafood.
Where is the best place to enjoy the sunshine?
In any of the neighbourhoods on the Bosphorus strait. On the European side, Beşiktaş, Ortaköy, Kuruçeşme, and on the Asia side, Moda, Kanlıca, and Çengelköy. You should take a walk and eat fresh corn from a street vendor while you watch the sea. If you love green spaces, Maçka Demokrasi Parkı is ideal for sunbathing, stroking a dog and reading your book in peace. If you have time to escape from the city for a day, you can go to Prince Islands. They are all nice old-timey places an hour away from the city by ferry. Büyükada is our favourite.

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Is there a tourist trap that's actually worth the queues?
Sultanahmet is walking distance to all of Istanbul's historical sights – Hagia Sophia and Basilica Cistern are a must. To beat the crowd, you should visit them in the morning before taking a break in Gülhane Park (House of Roses Park), which is close by. It has colourful flowers with incredible scents.
Where can we find the best interiors for Instagram?
You can find really cool and authentic interiors in the Çukurcuma area. As well as the antique shops themselves, there are places with fabulous interiors such as those at the Corinne Hotel, Cafe Cuma, and Clock Cafe (decorated with antique clocks gathered from all around the world from different centuries).
Where can we pick up some vintage treasures?
You should definitely check out Pied de Poule. The owner, Selale is a very cool woman. She has a great knowhow about vintage clothing, so while you are shopping you can learn more about every decade's fashion. The second largest vintage store in Istanbul, in a passage called Suriye Pasajı, is Retro.
We want to get back to nature – where should we visit?
We'd say the Black Sea beaches, such as Riva or Agva. You can take a picnic to the Polonezköy neighbourhood, then head to the hiking trails nearby, and then Belgrad Forest. It's famous for its spring-water reservoirs that you can still drink from.
The city's best cup of coffee?
You can go to Bebek Kahve which is an amazing spot on the Bosphorus and a very local oldie. Or, after some antique shopping, you can go to the Cafe Faik Paşa in Çukurcuma for a delicious Turkish coffee.
What is Istanbul's best-kept secret?
The Asitane restaurant, and the Çınaraltı Tea Place. Also, Agatha Christie wrote her novel Murder on the Orient Express in room 411 of the Pera Palace Hotel – a must-visit.
What should we bring back in our suitcase?
Turkish delight! Small finds from the Grand Bazaar too. It has such cool things like colourful peştamel (bath towel), herbal soaps, porcelain teapots, silk scarfs… remember, you have to haggle!

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