A 20 year long (and continuing) journey of visiting Istanbul and we finally made it, for the first time, to one of the city’s iconic sights; Pierre Loti Hill (Pierre Loti Tepesi).
We’re in the Eyüp district on the European side of Istanbul for this little outing…
And let us make the mistakes so that you don’t have to. Don’t do what we did.
Don’t go on 1st May Labour Day!
Don’t go on any other Turkish national holiday for that matter. And maybe even don’t go on a Sunday.
Unless, that is, you want to do what we did and share Pierre Loti Hill and the equally famous Pierre Loti Cafe with sizable crowds of Istanbulites looking to escape city life for a few hours.
This is a very popular spot!
And it’s no wonder, once you’ve seen the spectacular views from here for yourself!
Who Was Pierre Loti?
Pierre Loti Hill is one of the most famous hills of Istanbul. But how did it come to be known by such a name?
Pierre Loti was a French naval officer who was also a famous French writer in the late 19th and early 20th Centuries.
Although his real name was Julien Viaud, Pierre Loti was his more famous pen name.
After diarising his trips to Istanbul which also described his love of Ottoman culture, he made those notes into a novel, Aziyade, in 1879.
Pierre Loti is said to have met harem girl, Aziyade in Istanbul in 1876.
Although he went on to have other lovers and travel the world as a naval officer, she is said to have been the famous French novelist’s greatest love. He wore a gold ring with her name on it for the rest of his life.
As a famous Turkophile, Pierre Loti was awarded honorary citizenship.
He lived in Eyüp when he was in Istanbul because he loved the views of the water. And so the cafe on the slopes of the hill was named after him.
And now, this Eyüp hill is also more well known as Pierre Loti Hill.
Why Visit Pierre Loti Hill & Cafe?
We’re sure you’ve all seen the photos on Instagram, other social media outlets and guidebooks.
Pierre Loti Hill is one of the best places to visit to experience panoramic views of the Istanbul skyline and along the Golden Horn (Haliç). It’s an iconic city scene.
That was mainly what we had come to see on our first visit.
We knew about the short cable car ride (teleferik) that would carry us to our destination.
And we knew about the cafe with its famous red and white checked tablecloths.
We also knew Eyüp Sultan Mosque is close by; a mosque hugely important to Muslims around the world.
Armed with that very basic outline knowledge, we jumped on the tram and headed off along the shores of the Golden Horn, beyond the ancient city walls to the district of Eyüp Sultan.
Labour Day Crowds
A quick hop over to the teleferik (cable car) boarding area. And it was there we saw the long, snaking queue.
We’re firm believers that life it too short to be standing around in long queues and I vaguely remembered reading that you could also walk to the top of the hill…
A Walk Up Pierre Loti Hill
We spotted the sign pointing us up the steps at the start of the climb and set off. And we’re really glad we did.
Pierre Loti Hill is also a huge graveyard – Eyüp Cemetery – housing the tombs of many prominent figures and families.
From historic Ottoman graves to those of government officials, military commanders, scholars and famous activists.
It’s a 15 minute not-too-strenuous climb – first by way of steps, and then by cobbled footpath.
And why rush when you can stop to look at headstones, spy vistas of the Golden Horn through the lush foliage and turn to view the domes and minarets of Eyüp Sultan Mosque…
And stop to take photos of Istanbul cats, too, of course.
After around 15 minutes, you’ll arrive at the disembarkation area for the cable car. And this is where you’ll also be able to go onto the observation deck.
From here, you will be rewarded with a stunning, commanding view of the Golden Horn and the city streets rising either side of the shoreline.
A glimpse of Galata Tower in the distance on the eastern shoreline. And the minarets of Süleymaniye Mosque and towards Seraglio Point on the western shore of the estuary.
The domes of leafy Eyüp Sultan peep emerge through the treetops below as the cable cars cross paths on their journey up and down the cable line.
A perfect setting for great photos!
Looking north, this is home to rowing clubs, park and sports centre.
Directly blow, Bahariye Islands have been landscaped in such a way as to provide a habitat for migratory birds – resting, breeding and areas of shelter.
The Pierre Loti Cafe is just beyond the viewing deck.
We did sit down for a çay. But like we said, if you want to experience this place in peace and bag yourself a table overlooking the water, a quiet weekday is perhaps best.
Down To Eyüp Sultan
As we were in the area, we decided to have a quick wander around Eyüp Sultan on the way back down to sea level.
A Very Pleasant Surprise
And this is the part we weren’t prepared for: Eyüp Sultan is very pretty!
No doubt due to the presence of such a sacred mosque, this is a very conservative area. By accident, rather than a careful choice, I was glad to be dressed in a loose dress and leggings.
The central square was packed with local day trippers. And the vast majority of the females were conservatively dressed with heads covered.
Many come here to visit the sacred sites.
A Sacred Site
Eyüp Sultan Mosque is so sacred because the complex hosts a mausoleum that is said to be the exact spot where Abu Ayyub al-Ansari (Ebü Eyup al-Ansari) is buried.
The immense significance of this is the fact that he was the standard bearer and friend of the Prophet Muhammad.
Inside the mosque are relics that are said to have belonged to the Prophet.
An area of great importance for Muslim pilgrims, the souvenir shops around here sell religious artefacts.
The graves on the slopes of Pierre Loti Hill are so high in number because Muslim people wanted to be buried close to the mosque.
Around the square are pedestrianised side streets, one of them home to a small 16th Century mosque.
These places were doing a roaring trade on the day we were there.
Many of the buildings are wooden historic mansions, some of them restored. Others house local business like the eateries mentioned above.
It’s a lovely place to while away a bit of your time.
Leaving Pierre Loti & Eyüp Sultan
And when you’ve had your fill of feeling like you’ve stepped back in time, you can head back to the shoreline and either jump on the tram or do what we did…
Head to the nearby Eyüp ferry port and take the leisurely ferry journey back along the Golden Horn, taking in the breathtaking views along the way.
Pierre Loti Hill – Useful Information
From the European side of the city, you can take the T5 tram line to the Eyüp Sultan stop. At the time of writing, the line is being extended as far as Eminönü.
At the moment, from Eminönü, it’s just a short walk to where the line currently begins.
You can also take the ferry along the Golden Horn. This is the Haliç Hattı (Golden Horn Line). At the time of writing, this ferry leaves from Karaköy rather than Eminönü.
There is also a ferry from Üsküdar on the Asian side of the city.
It is also possible to take the bus if you’re happy to sit in the Istanbul traffic.
The cable car system can take you to the top of the hill. On busy days such as national holidays, there could be long queues for the cable car.
If you’re feeling energetic and are wearing comfortable shoes, you can make the (approximately) 15 minute leisurely walk up the hill.
If you are dining at Pierre Loti Cafe and also intend to visit Eyüp Sultan Mosque and surroundings, give yourself at least half a day.
Don’t forget to wear appropriate clothing if you want to visit the mosque.
For public transport in Istanbul, you need to get an Istanbul Kart (Istanbul Card).
These can be purchased and topped up from kiosks and vending machines around the city.
Your card is used to pay for the tram, ferry and the cable car, too.