Istanbul: Where to rest your head

Now that Backpacker Concierge offers a host of travel solutions in Turkey, we often get the question – where should we stay in Istanbul? Believe it or not, the metropolis has over 1,500 places to get a decent night’s sleep. Use our primer to navigate the crowded landscape!

Cihangir
Not far from Taksim Square is the Sıraselviler Street, German Hospital and Changa restaurant (with an outlet at the Istanbul Modern on the water’s edge), leading down into the Cihangir area. Up until a few years ago, the area was quite dodgy, but thanks to gentrification the area is Istanbul’s Williamsburg. Try one of the understated, neighborhood bars like Smyrna or White House and be sure to have breakfast at one of a dozen cafes offering up traditional Turkish fare.

Pros: Hip area, Quiet, Great restaurants, Outdoor dining culture
Cons: Hills, Expensive hotels, too hip that it hurts?

Hotel Recommendations
Witt
Private flat (our home away from home when in Istanbul)
There’s even a decent hostel here
|

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Press: CNN + Departures

Departures Press

Uber-luxe publication Departures (go-to travel magazine for black Amex holders) featured Backpacker Concierge in their culinary tour round-up. Check out the coverage here, which was later picked up by CNN.

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Customized: A Photographer’s Dream

Daraw Camel Market and Karnak Temple

Our Los Angeles-based clients embarked on a two-week expedition through Egypt with Backpacker Concierge. They traveled thousands of kilometers by jeep, sailboat, bicycle and camel and left with this impression of the country:

“Our trip was truly something I will never forget. I cannot thank you enough for putting together such a wonderful experience for us. When you travel to another country it is so hard to feel like you are connected with it. Many times you bounce from one tourist site to another and when you leave it feels like you somehow missed the whole thing.

Egypt has so many beautiful temples and we certainty did see a lot of them, but what your company is truly exceptional at doing is getting us in contact with real Egyptians who were so incredibly hospitable and eager to share their home with us. The things that you were able to set us up with (such as having a dinner in an Egyptian home, riding bikes through sugarcane fields) are only things that someone who has lived in Egypt and knows people can connect you with. We did all the must-see tourist stuff, but I also left Egypt feeling like I had really met people & learned something new about the world.” |

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Cairo Restaurant: Zooba

Zooba
26th of July Street, Zamalek
M-W and Sat-Sun: 07:00 – 01:00
Th-F: 07:00 – 03:00

Reminiscent of Istanbul’s Beyoğlu eateries, Zooba has managed to combine authentic Egyptian cuisine and modern design. It offers the perfect solution for those that don’t want to ‘hug the bowl’ after a dodgy streetmeat experience nor pay a fortune at Abu Sid down the street. That’s not to say you are going to find a bargain at Zooba. Koshary (12-17LE), falafel sandwiches (5LE), and the hawawshi (14LE) are all significantly more expensive than you would find at the average hole in the wall, but it’s the selection, ambience, and inventiveness you are paying for.

For lunch we recommend the lentil salad with arugula and mild feta cheese (13LE), coriander and parsley hummus (18LE), and a surprisingly delicious strawberry/basil juice (12LE). Be forewarned that many of the items will simply be collected from the display refrigerator rather than served properly on a dish…with cutlery. We understand the grab-and-go concept, but sitting inside Zooba and eating a salad out of a plastic cup is no fun. Don’t be shy to ask the refreshingly attentive staff to bring you a place setting. The communal table, which dominates the calming space, is a relatively new idea in Egypt and will take some getting used to for Zoobies. Get ready to ask everyone to slide down a space or awkwardly squeeze in between the local schoolgirls.

Be sure to pick out a selection of beautifully wrapped molasses sticks on your way out. Original flavor, sesame, and peanut are all on offer between 2.5-3LE. Or pick up a box for 45LE.

All in all, we give Zooba two thumbs up and would like to see more of them around town!

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Condé Nast Traveler . . . again!

Exciting news! We are featured in Condé Nast Traveler yet again. Backpacker Concierge is in their March 2012 issue. Thank you Zora O’Neill.

Stayed tuned for more details on our 2012 culinary tour to Siwa and the wineries of the Delta. For now, click here for the online version of the article.

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New Museum: Crocodiles in Kom Ombo

Adjacent to Kom Ombo Temple
Best visited after viewing the temple grounds
08:00 – 20:00, depending upon cruise days

It could be that we are drunk off of ‘Nile loveliness’ having spent three days on a private Dahabiya with a group of intrepid Americans, but we found the new Crocodile Museum in Kom Ombo to be a worthwhile visit.

The concise exhibition opened just three weeks ago after years in the making and is currently included on the Kom Ombo Temple entrance ticket (30LE/$5USD). Upon entering the small building, you are greeted by 20 expertly mummified crocodiles and an array of eggs and crocodile-related artifacts.

The ancient Egyptians believed that gods sent physical manifestations of themselves to earth in the form of their totemic animals. Thus, at the Temple of Kom Ombo a live crocodile was thought to contain a spark of the god within and was worshipped and cared for by the priests during its lifetime. After its death, the spirit of the god would move to another crocodile’s body, while the dead crocodile would be mummified and ceremoniously buried in a special cemetery. Pilgrims who came to pray to Sobek (the crocodile headed god, of which half of the Temple of Kom Ombo is devoted to) would also give votive offerings in the form of small mummified crocodiles (on display) or statues to the god and these would also be buried in the cemeteries.

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Feature in Food + Wine Magazine

After a year in the making, iconic American magazine Food & Wine featured Backpacker Concierge in their February 2012 issue. Writer Salma Abdelnour traveled with us in Cairo, Alexandria, Dahab, and the St. Katherine Protectorate before writing this amazing 5-page article.

View the vivid .pdf version here or the text here.

Stayed tuned for more details on our 2012 culinary tour to Siwa and the wineries of the Delta.

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Customized: A Fortnight in Egypt

Felucca Sailtrek

After many long hours of travel from Australia, Tracey and her husband arrived in Egypt just before the Christmas holidays. They visited the capital’s main sites with one of our favorite female guides before traveling to Upper Egypt where they took their time exploring St. Simeon’s Monastery by camel, Abu Simbel by car, and Kom Ombo by private felucca. After two days in Luxor, they returned to Cairo via the Western Desert. This 1000km journey took two nights and included an amazing camping experience in the stunning White Desert.

A few words from the clients:
“We initially decided to tour Egypt with Backpacker Concierge as we had previously done small group tours with larger companies that had us go to selected and pre-arranged shops and restaurants rather than have time to visit towns and historical sites (thus wasting time and money on things we didn’t want to do and where tour guides got kickbacks if we brought something). The guides we had were wonderful with a sound knowledge background. It was great to have them all to ourselves so all our questions were answered and we could build a rapport with them. We felt as though we got to experience some of the real Egypt with lunches in family homes and were able to talk to people about marriage, politics, education, living conditions, history and art. Also it was great to stay in places a little off the normal tourist track.” |

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Cairo Restaurant: Left Bank


*image courtesy of The Daily News Egypt

Left Bank
53 Abu El Feda Street, Zamalek – 022 735 0014
(Use Sequoia’s street entrance)

Described as a ‘café with soul’, ‘a cultural salon’, and ‘an ode to old Cairo’. Whatever the classification, Left Bank is a stunning, new edition to Cairo’s eclectic culinary scene. The setting is utterly refreshing thanks to local design outlet Eklego, who managed to transform an empty Nile-side plot of land into a multi-purpose dining space. The subtle tones, clean lines, and communal dining table are new concepts for the country and we applaud the design team for their light-handed approach.

Given the amount of love that went into the space, we can only assume that Chef Benoit Laboureux had good intentions when he designed the concise menu of pastries, sandwiches, salads, pizzas, and pastas. We wanted to love Left Bank, but what appears from the kitchen does not match the thoughtful surrounds. We advise sticking to the near-perfect pastries and divine desserts, taking advantage of the Wi-Fi and the view, and treating Left Bank like the coffee shop it is. For more serious dishes, Sequoia is 50 meters to the right.

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Customized: Escaping the Snow

Conquering the Dune

Four teachers from Sulaymaniyah, Iraq decided to forego the cold winter holidays and spend their time in Egypt with Backpacker Concierge. They first ventured to Siwa where they stayed in a private villa and took part in jeep safaris and historical walks through the date palmeries. In Upper Egypt, they boarded a traditional cruise ship and sailed north to Luxor where they flew high above the West Bank. Backpacker Concierge met up with the travelers in Dahab, where they spent a few days by the sea before ascending Mt. Sinai.

A few words from the client:

“We will definitely send people your way when considering Egypt for a future holiday!” |

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Customized: Michelle + Family Do The Desert

On the way to the White Desert
White Desert

Michelle, her husband, and daughter traveled from the States for a once-in-a-lifetime trip to Egypt. Like many of our clients, Michelle just wanted a jeep safari and some expert sightseeing in Cairo and that is exactly what we did for her!

A few words from the client:

“We had a great time and the trip definitely surpassed our expectations. We had hired another driver and guide on our own while we were there through our hotel in Aswan. The guide didn’t come close to the quality of Backpacker Concierge. I would recommend Backpacker Concierge to all of our friends without hesitation.” |

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Customized: Robyn Has a Crush on the Nile

Excitement takes over the group

Robyn invited her friends and family on a 5-night private sailing from Esna to Aswan. The three room sandal, equipped with hot showers and a private chef was just what everyone needed after a busy work year.

A few words from the client:

“We all had a fantastic time. Mahmoud and the crew on our boat were lovely. They kept an eye on us in a very unobtrusive way and yet I always felt looked after. The food was great and I’m still trying to work some of that off. I came away feeling that I had truly been on a vacation and I think that is true for everyone. If it is possible to fall in love with a river than I have a crush on the Nile. And what a lovely, peaceful way to experience it.” |

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Customized: Thyl + Family Do Egypt Right

Lunch near Mt. Sinai’s summit

After months of planning, the family decided on the perfect 10 day trip of Egypt. They experienced Cairo, cruised the Nile in utmost style, and then headed over to the Sinai Peninsula for some of the most amazing trekking (and food!) in the country.

A few words from the client:

“My wife Nikki and I wish to thank you for our extraordinary trip in Egypt. I have lived all over the world (moved 19 times in 25 years) and travelled all over the world and can knowingly say that our Egypt trip, as organised by Backpacker Concierge, was just exceptional and very good value for money.” |

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Customized: David + Robyn Immerse Themselves

A birds-eye view of Cairo

David and Robyn brought their good vibes to Egypt, by way of the UK. Backpacker Concierge loved having this duo on board and we know they loved their time with us, too! The couple traversed the country, immersing themselves as much as possible, while still indulging in a few moments of luxury here and there.

A few words from the clients:

“We loved Egypt – the tour was great! Thanks to you for all the organising and for being patient while I changed my mind so many times while trying to sort out the itinerary. Highlights for us were the camel trek at sunset, the private overnight felucca, and the bike tour in Luxor.” |

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Backpacker Concierge Founder Acknowledged by New York Times

Cairo’s Insider

The Insider profiles emerging tastemakers in the fields of fashion, design, food, travel and the arts.

Though he started out in advertising in Manhattan, Eric Monkaba has always had a bit of wanderlust. While vacationing in Morocco a few years back, Monkaba shared a taxi in the High Atlas Mountains with a few British tour managers who opened his eyes to a different career path. Soon enough he was leading tours through the deserts of Egypt, Jordan and Morocco. After studying Arabic at the University of Damascus and a stint working with street children in Yemen, he started Backpacker Concierge, a personalized travel consultancy specializing in responsible tourism in the Middle East, mainly in Egypt and Jordan.

http://tmagazine.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/06/the-insider-eric-monkaba/

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Food + Wine Travels with Backpacker Concierge + Qasr Twenty

Premier American magazine Food + Wine traveled with Backpacker Concierge during Egypt’s January 25 Revolution. Originally intended to be a culinary tour with a primary focus on the company’s new Cairo-based cooking school, Qasr Twenty, now the magazine’s feature article will have a new stance. Stay tuned for updates in May 2011.

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The Debut of Qasr Twenty

Cairo’s first cooking school focused on regional cuisine – Qasr Twenty.

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Feature in Condé Nast Traveler Magazine

Going local with Backpacker Concierge!

Stay on the Red Sea coast with the Ababda tribe (one of the last Bedouin communities) and make the daily trek to the well, herd goats to greener pastures, and try your hand at leather handicrafts. Sorry, gents – due to cultural constraints, this is a ladies-only affair.

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Feature in Budget Travel Magazine

This truly is a Real Deal. Take advantage of quiet Jordan this April 2011 and indulge in all of the best sites and cuisine the country has to offer!

http://www.budgettravel.com/real-deal/jordan-8-nights-from-1175,7030/

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Restaurant Mondays: Best of Trendy Amman

No doubt, Amman has the best of what’s around in terms of food! If eating is your thing you won’t be disappointed! This week we focus on Amman’s most TRENDY restaurants. |

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Restaurant Mondays: Best of Authentic Amman

No doubt, Amman has the best of what’s around in terms of food! If eating is your thing you won’t be disappointed! This week we focus on Amman’s most AUTHENTIC restaurants. |

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Qasr Twenty’s Test Kitchen

Stuffed Zucchini – aka Mahshy

The talent behind Backpacker Concierge announces the (very) soft opening of their cooking school in downtown Cairo. On the heels of Egypt’s revolution, Qasr Twenty offers something never before seen in Egypt’s capital. Stay tuned for revised pictures once our stenciler has returned from Tahrir Square and we have accessorized a bit more! |

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Customized: Ladies-only Trip to Egypt

Galabiya Party!

Catharina and Elisabeth took advantage of Egypt’s post-revolutionary rates and treated themselves to an ‘in style’ journey through the country. After taking two days to reach Egypt, they put their feet up at Cairo’s newly opened Kempinski Hotel, where their room overlooked the River Nile. In Luxor they had the privilege of cruising on an ultra-deluxe boat to Dendara Temple, one of the most stunning monuments in the region. Their adventure ended with an afternoon excursion to Abu Simbel where they were the only two people inside Nefertari’s Temple!

Backpacker Concierge met with Catharina in London just a few weeks later to catch up over a few drinks. It was confirmed, they had a great time! |

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Customized: A Multi-National Desert Trip

Conquering the Western Desert

Xiaoyun and her family met in Israel and traveled overland to Egypt where they took part in a stunning 11-day program with Backpacker Concierge. After exploring the main sites in Cairo and along the Nile, they took to the lesser-explored regions of the Western Desert for a 2-night safari.

A few words from the client:

“You provide the best concierge [service] that backpackers could ever ask in Egypt. Backpacker Concierge was excellent all the way from designing the program to delivering the tour. The [program] itself was smooth and timely in all connections, the guides were first class and there were absolutely no scams (like a visit to a “Papyrus museum”). Although our trip was during the tumultuous time of post-revolution Egypt, we felt very safe and comfortable, were well taken care of, and were given full freedom to explore interesting things at our own pace every step of the way.”

 

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Customized: Cairo and the Dahabiya

Behind The Scenes

Christine and her husband traveled from Germany for a short jaunt in Cairo and a long, relaxing trip on their 8-cabin Dahabiya with Backpacker Concierge. They decided not to gulp in the Nile – rather, they sipped it and explored Upper Egypt at a refined pace!

A few words from the client:

“We had a wonderful time in Egypt and everything worked perfect. Our guides gave us a deep dive in the history of Egypt and showed us all the important sights. We enjoyed the trip!” |

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Qasr Twenty – Cairo’s Cooking School

Cooking Classes in Cairo

Egypt’s first cooking school devoted to regional cuisine is officially open and ready for business!

But don’t just take our word for it. In addition to upcoming press in major American culinary and travel magazines, Qasr Twenty has received some amazing shout-outs.

Click ‘Read More’ for press clippings and information on how to book space in an upcoming cooking class. |

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Customized: White Desert Adventure

En Route to the White Desert

As part of a one year around-the-world holiday, Liz and Reed contacted Backpacker Concierge to arrange an overnight White Desert excursion. This is by far one of our most popular offerings given the desert’s proximity to Cairo and it is a great add-on for clients already booked on a group tour with another company.

A few words from the client:

“We loved the scenery – reminded us of the desert in Nevada or Utah at times, really incredible to drive through and camp like we did. And to know Libya is one direction and Luxor the other was fascinating. The food was excellent! [Our driver] Waheed brought his pipe so we could try sheesha – something I wanted to do when we were in Cairo. Sounds like he has traveled a bit and loves his job, which was refreshing for us!

I loved the sandsurfing!” |

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Customized: Ramadan Break

Mt. Sinai Summit

Sophie and Jerome took a break from their time in Dubai and traveled to Egypt with Backpacker Concierge. We met up with them in the Sinai Peninsula and trekked the St. Katherine Protectorate together. From there, they continued down the Nile on a luxury cruise boat before finishing at the amazing Kempinski in downtown Cairo.

A few words from the client:

“We wanted to thank you [for making] our travel through Egypt so fantastic. Timing and level of services were very good. Stay in Dahab was great and the cruise on the Nile was excellent (we were the only one on the boat) and the guide was good. Overall the organization was excellent – you really made that trip very special – THANK YOU!” |

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ABOUT US

The Insider's Guide to the Middle East and North Africa   Stay current on the latest restaurants and hotels and gain inspiration from our past clients.

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