If you go hiking in Turkey (and you should, it’s got some of the most beautiful, un-developed mountain ranges within easy reach of Europe) chances are you’ll end up in the nations capital, Istanbul. By the time you get there you might well have had a few weeks in the Kachar Range, or the Taurus, and been free camping all the way, bathing in lakes and eating very basic foods. You’ll be up for a bit of luxury, perhaps, and why not. Hostels are ok, but there are times when I just don’t want to have to worry if the guy in the bunk below is going to snore loud, or go through my pack whilst I’m out or in the bathroom, or steal my feta and Raki from the communal fridge…
So, the last few trips I’ve taken to Istanbul I’ve ended up in three hotels that you’d call ’boutique’. This doesn’t mean to say they’ve been hideously expensive, just that they’ve got class, character, their owners and staff won’t keep on hassling you to buy a carpet or a tour (as will be the case with many Istanbul hotels) and they are largely unlike hotels you’ll find anywhere else in the world. They’ve been created by their owners to be unique in their own way, and it’s likely that if you stay in either of them, they’ll end up being one of the highlights of your stay in the city. They sure have been for me.
The first hotel I’d recommend is the Empress Zoe, situated in the heart of the tourist district of Sultanahmet, just a ten minute walk from the main attractions of Ayia Sofia and the Blue Mosque. The hotel is built around the ruins of a 15th century hamaam, and you descend a metre or so below street level to check in, before climbing a narrow iron staircase to your room. The reception staff are a class act; cultured, intelligent, ever ready to help and extremely knowledgeable about the city and what’s going on there of interest to the tourist. Here’s a view of reception.
Each room has been individually designed by the two American ladies who run the place. Those in the new wing are spacious, light and modern looking. They’re all en-suite; my room had a huge marble bathroom, it was like having a private steam bath all to ourselves.
The rooms in the old part of the building have a more rustic feel, with wooden floors and four poster beds.
Whatever room you stay in though you’ll have access out into the garden, a shady place full of alcoves, fountains, ruins and birdsong.
There’s a bar area, where they also serve up the buffet breakfast, which has some of the best borek (breakfast pastry) I’ve had in Istanbul and also a nice spread of cheeses, olives, cereals and fruit. There’s no loud music and the hotel discourages rowdy guests, in fact, just before I arrived the first time they’d asked a party of English schoolboys to leave their rooms before their stay had ended because, well, they’d been acting a little too English (getting roaring drunk, being sick in the closet, etc). If you’re after a quiet, civilized, very friendly hotel to use as your base in Istanbul, then do consider the Empress Zoe, it’s worth every penny.
Another hotel worth a look, and one that is quite different from the Empress Zoe, is the Hotel Ibrahim Pasha. Also situated very centrally in the Sultanahmet district, the main attraction at this hotel is the view from the roof terrace. Look one way and you get the Blue Mosque, the Hippodrome and the Sea of Mamara…
..then look the other and see over the ancient rooftops to Ayia Sofia.
The rooms are a little small, but there was ample space for two of us with our rucksacks to relax. We had satellite TV and a fridge, a decent bathroom and a well chosen buffet breakfast selection. Here’s a view of our room. It was overlooking the street but the windows were thick so we were never disturbed by traffic noise (it’s on a side road anyhow so traffic is light).
The welcome from reception staff was possibly the best I’ve ever had, anywhere. Everything we really needed to know about the hotel and immediate area delivered in the sort of perfect English you rarely hear even in England nowadays, and all within just five, very polite minutes. Here’s a Â view of the reception area, which leads onto a communal lounge. The open fire was very welcome; it was February when I stayed here, and icy cold and rainy much of the time.
A third and final choice for Istanbul; if you’d rather stay in a larger, slightly cheaper, more business-like hotel, then you could do much worse than the Armarda. It’s down the hill towards the sea from the other hotels in Sultanahmet, and whilst it is very friendly I probably wouldn’t mention it if it wasn’t for the fact that their breakfast is the stuff of legend, and so is the view you get as you eat it.
The fortifications you can see in the foreground are the old city walls, and very nearby are the ruins of the Buceleon Palace, the old seat of the Byzantine Emporers. If you were to walk outside the covered area your view would be of the Blue Mosque and Ayia Sofia.
The breakfast offers a good Western-Turkish mix, and I defy anybody to come away without being totally happy, full and eager for the next mealtime to come around (the hotel restuarant has a good reputation for evening meals as well).
The Armada is only a ten minute walk downhill from the main attractions, and a five minute walk from the sea and a local train station that can take you into the very centre, or out to places such as Yedikule Fortress. It’s in a very quiet location and the rooms are clean and comfy.
A word of warning, the Hotel Empress Zoe and Hotel Ibrahim Pasha are very popular, as they deserve to be, and you’d be very lucky to get a room at late notice. I’d advise you to book as far ahead as you possibly can if you want to stay in either of these places.
If you want to check out Hotel Empress Zoe then view their websiteÂ http://www.emzoe.com/
If you want to check out Hotel Ibrahim Pasha then view their websiteÂ http://www.ibrahimpasha.com/
And if you want to check out the Armada Hotel then view their websiteÂ http://www.armadahotel.com.tr/pg_en