Boutique Istanbul Hotels

From hip to historic, these boutique Istanbul hotels offer travelers unique experiences By: Janice and George Mucalov
The 24-room Sumahan on the Water overlooks the Bosphorus. // © 2012 George Mucalov
The 24-room Sumahan on the Water overlooks the Bosphorus. // © 2012 George Mucalov

Istanbul is all the rage among trendsetters and sophisticated travelers — and several boutique hotels has exploded on the scene to cater to them. The following three properties are among the best.

Tomtom Suites

Don’t be misled by the hotel’s odd-sounding name (based on its street name). A member of the Small Luxury Hotels of the World, Tomtom Suites is an elegant property. Clients will discover 20 spacious and inviting suites with hardwood floors, 10-foot ceilings, classic wood furniture and, in a city where these are hard to find, true king-size beds.

The soothing neutral decor is enlivened by splashes of vibrant color, contemporary original art and decorative ceramic bowls. And each suite has every five-star amenity North Americans expect from an international city hotel — soundproofing, high-tech lighting, free Wi-Fi access, a giant flat-screen television, a Bose sound system and a huge, light-filled, marble bathroom with Hermes amenities.

Tomtom is tucked away in a peaceful, diplomatic enclave, steps away from a lively dining and shopping scene. The restored building itself dates back to 1901 when it served as a Franciscan nunnery. The thick stone walls have been retained; inside, a modern glass elevator is a design showpiece, separating the hotel into two sides connected by glass floor walkways.

Service is accommodating, courteous and friendly. The front desk staff went out of their way to help us discover Istanbul on our own. The rooftop restaurant, La Mouette, is one of the city’s finest, serving artistically prepared Turkish “nouvelle cuisine.” With a retractable roof, it’s a beautiful spot on warm summer evenings, favored for its city views of the Bosphorus Canal and minaret-guarded mosques. 

Tomtom Suites

Pera Palace

Clients will step right back in time at the Pera Palace. The storied hotel was built in 1892, near the end of the Ottoman Empire, for wealthy passengers arriving from Paris on the Orient Express train. Over the years, it has welcomed a lengthy list of celebrities, including Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock, Sarah Bernhardt, Mata Hari, Zsa Zsa Gabor and King Edward VIII. And it’s believed that mystery writer Agatha Christie penned “Murder on the Orient Express” while staying in Room 401.

Fast forward to September, 2010. After a two-year closure and a more than $30 million renovation, the Pera Palace reopened its doors. More recently, in May, the Jumeirah Group (which operates the sail-shaped Burj Al Arab hotel in Dubai) assumed management of the historic hotel.

In the current reincarnation, 115 guestrooms and suites surround a glass-roofed, floor-to-ceiling central atrium. While guestrooms boast 19th-century features — such as Murano glass chandeliers, hand-woven Turkish carpets and white Carrara-marble bathrooms with replica clawfoot tubs — they reflect a more business-modern feel. Most rooms are on the smaller side; clients should opt for the Golden Horn view rooms which come with a Juliette balcony. Top floor suites are larger — our corner suite felt like a comfy attic loft. We particularly loved the king bed, with quality white linens and pillow cases, embroidered in gold with the Pera Palace logo of two stylized lions.

Check-in is an experience. Clients will pass by a museum-piece sedan chair once used to carry guests from the Orient Express train station and ride in an original late 19th century, wrought-iron elevator, with a burgundy velvet cushioned bench.

An attractive spa, with a traditional Turkish hammam and tiny, indoor, jet-streamed swimming pool, is found in the basement. The main restaurant Agatha is also partially underground, offering a fusion of French, Italian and Turkish food. The food could probably do with a rethink, as it strikes as rather ordinary, but the Pera Palace’s location can’t be beat. The hotel is located right in an arty, happening part of the city, close to Istanbul’s famous, pedestrian-only, Istiklal shopping street and it is only a short tram ride away from the Old Quarter.

Pera Palace Hotel, Jumeirah

Sumahan on the Water

The delightful Sumahan on the Water feels more like a small boutique resort than a city hotel. It’s on Istanbul’s less-touristy Asian side, across the Bosphorus Canal from the European side. Getting there is a special treat — a 30-minute complimentary ride in the hotel’s classy mahogany water taxi, past palaces and other Istanbul landmarks.

All 24 rooms and suites front the glittering Bosphorus. The view is mesmerizing, with fishing boats, passenger ferries, tankers and other vessels criss-crossing the world-famous waterway.

In summer, the two-story, light and airy loft suites are the most requested. Double French doors from the ground floor living room open directly onto the hotel’s lawn, where lawn chairs under shady trees invite quiet moments to read or enjoy the view. In winter, junior or executive suites on a higher floor are popular — clients can cozy up by their fireplace while looking out at the water traffic. The spacious marble bathrooms are luxurious with glass-walled showers.

Once a 19th-century distillery, converted into this hip hotel in 2005, Sumahan preserves the past in its industrial chic decor. Exposed brick walls, black slate floors and black painted metal girders are both functional and tasteful.

Some might feel that the Sumahan is a bit isolated, but we didn’t, as the complimentary water taxi makes several daily runs. Many guests split their Istanbul time, starting with a hotel in the busier Sultanahmet district, followed by a more relaxing stay at Sumahan. Loyal staff, most of whom have been with the hotel since it opened, welcome guests with genuinely warm service.

Sumahan on the Water 

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