Lifestyle

Formerly A Prison, Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At Sultanahmet Reopens After Major Refurbishment


Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet fully reopened in November after an extensive and complete refurbishment that took place over two years. The five star hotel is offering new food and beverage offerings, 65 exquisitely renovated guest rooms and suites and a brand new, luxurious full-service spa. The Four Seasons is conveniently located in the historic district of Istanbul in Turkey.

Previous guests will be pleased to know the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet has retained its original and historic neoclassical architecture, yet the renovations have given the entire facility a fresh new aesthetic look.

Interiors were designed by London-based Goddard Littlefair. The redesign is described by Jo Littlefair, Director and Co-Founder of the award-winning interior design studio, as seamlessly reflecting the beauty and history of the site and Old Istanbul while also incorporating a contemporary residential design expected at a Four Seasons-branded property.

Adds Martin Goddard, Director and Co-founder of Goddard Littlefair: “Our designers researched styling, pattern and details from antiques, fabrics and architecture and distilled these influences through a contemporary filter to create designs that feel completely in tune with the building and setting.”

The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet emanates luxury at every glance. A striking collection of Turkish contemporary and Ottoman period art are found throughout the hotel—in guest rooms, wide corridors and public spaces. Spectacular handwoven Turkish Kilim textiles are also seen throughout the property in addition to striking light fixtures. Views from every guest room are stunning, whether they are of the hotel’s lush central courtyard, expansive city views, the famous Hagia Sophia or the Sea of Marmara in the distance.

Retail shops in the lobby area reflect the city’s rich culture and heritage with their offerings of antique books, jewelry and textiles. There’s even a pastry shop in the lobby that offers sweet Turkish delicacies. Called La Pistache Patisserie, it offers expertly made pastries and desserts made daily by the hotel’s own in-house pastry chef. An afternoon tea service is offered here featuring teacakes and savory delicacies every day from 3:00 pm to 6:00 pm.

On the ground level, the hotel also offers a large ballroom, which is ideal for weddings, business conference or large family gatherings. There is 340 square meters of event space in total, including a variety of meeting spaces, with state-of-the-art technology and advanced audiovisual equipment.

A Unique Hotel With A Colorful History

Step inside the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet and you will be welcomed by a friendly doorman. But the warmth doesn’t stop at there. Indeed, the staff at this five star hotel go above and beyond the call of duty with every guest interaction as they want nothing more than to make your stay as pleasant and comfortable as possible.

Here, you will feel like you are a member of a private club, as soon, some staff will be politely greeting you by name. You will soon discover that this highly trained staff makes an extra effort whenever possible to make sure each guest feels highly valued with a level of attentiveness not experienced at most other luxury hotels around the world.

This level of hospitality is a far cry from that experienced by its former occupants who were there during the facility’s previous incarnation when it was used as a jail. Indeed, while this Four Seasons offers the level of luxury one might expect at a five star hotel, it is also an important landmark with a unique background and colorful story to share. Just ask Büşra Yazlik, who holds the official title of “Storyteller” at the hotel. Ms. Yazlik, who is a member of the Guest Relations team, is responsible for sharing the complex history of the facility with its visitors.

Before its conversion to a luxury hotel in 1996 (after an extensive two-year renovation), the nearly 110-year old facility operated as jail from 1919 to 1969. After being closed for several years, the jail reopened from 1980 until 1986 when it held political prisoners. Many well-known people were imprisoned here including communist leaders, writers, journalists, artists and intellectual dissidents, such as humorist Aziz Mesin, poet Nazim Hikmet (imprisoned here twice) and novelists Kemal Tahir and Orhan Kemal, according to Yazlik.

Storyteller Yazlik met with a former inmate who recently visited the hotel. “He came with his family,” says Yazlik, who personally guided the family on a tour of the hotel. “He was emotional when he saw his room. He was a young political prisoner when he was here from 1980 to 1982.”

Remarkably, in terms of the architecture, little has been changed since the facility operated as a jail. Watch towers, formally used as lookout towers for guards, still stand, while other details are also original, such as the tall windows, wide corridors and high ceilings. Ornate wrought iron bars that cover lower level windows are left over from its days as a jail.

There are a few other reminders of the complex’s storied past. For example, inside the building adjacent to an elevator is an original marble column. If you look at its surface closely, you will see that it still bears graffiti left by a few inmates who carved their names onto the surface.

The hotel surrounds a central courtyard which served as the prison yard where men, women and children (born to female inmates who arrived pregnant), walked back and forth while doing their daily exercise. Genders were separated by a tall wall. The landscaped courtyard is now a serene oasis of lush greenery where guests enjoy a relaxed, elegant atmosphere. Surrounded by stone walls with a small mosque for prayers in one corner, the courtyard is remarkably quiet considering the hustle and bustle of the busy historic district where the hotel is located.

Luxurious Guest Rooms and Suites

Guest rooms, suites and bathrooms offer a wide variety of sizes as each space retains the same original dimensions as walls were never moved. Larger rooms held as many as eleven inmates while smaller rooms typically housed six prisoners. Suites vary as well. One suite is a large, duplex that once served as the private apartment of the prison warden. It features hardwood floors, a beamed ceiling and a second floor loft with a bedroom that overlooks a large living room and dining area below it. It has a bathroom on each floor, with the enormous upstairs bathroom featuring its own private steam shower. It is the largest suite at the hotel and is 130 square meters in size.

Guest rooms and suites are spacious and decorated with a palette of earth tones and subtle shades of light greens and blues. Marble-clad bathrooms feature deep soaking tubs and separate showers. Beds are covered with luxurious sheets and pillows—as one might expect as Turkey is well-known for its superior cotton. You will be hard-pressed to find a more comfortable bed anywhere else in the world.

Dining At The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At Sultanahmet

In the heart of the courtyard is the hotel’s new primary restaurant, Avlu, which serves breakfast, lunch and dinner. Avlu is located in an atrium-like setting with a large copper oven behind a semi-circle-shaped counter in the center of the room. Many of the modern Anatolian dishes served by the restaurant are cooked in the oversized wood-fired oven including its delicious homemade baked goods. Local, seasonal produce is featured at the restaurant. There is a sumptuous breakfast buffet every morning with many hot dishes made-to-order.

Outside and adjacent to the restaurant, there are tables which serve as an excellent spot for a morning coffee or afternoon tea. There are also several glass igloos in the garden, each outfitted with a table and chairs, where guests can dine privately regardless of the weather.

Just off the lobby is the Lingo Lingo Bar and Restaurant that offers a selection of craft cocktails, wines, raki and mezze. On Friday and Saturday evenings, it offers a prix-fixe raki-pairing mezze tasting menu served in an elegant dining room. The dishes are paired with raki, the national drink of Turkey, which is a liquor made with twice-distilled grapes and flavored with anise that similar in color and taste to ouzo but stronger in alcohol content. Mezze dishes vary depending on the season. Each Friday night, a pianist accompanied by a saxophonist perform Jazz music for guests while on Saturday evenings, traditional kanun and clarinet melodies are performed by local musicians.

The Süreyya Teras Lounge is located on the roof of the hotel. A full-service bar, it serves cocktails and bar bites, when the weather permits. Here, you will discover breathtaking views of the city surrounding the hotel, including the famous Hagia Sophia, which is especially spectacular to view at night from the terrace when it is illuminated by colored lights.

A Brand New World-Class Boutique Spa

The hotel’s refurbishment included the addition of a new luxurious boutique spa, Kurna Spa, which opened with rave reviews in mid-November (see Forbes’ article, World’s Best Spas: Kurna Spa At Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At Sultanahmet). Kurna Spa offers a treatment room for massages, facials and body treatments and two Hammam treatment rooms for its Hammam Ritual experience—the smaller of the two treatment rooms is for individual use while the other, a much larger space with an adjacent lounge, can accommodate up to three people simultaneously (must be booked as a group treatment).

“We needed a spa because we wanted to provide an elevated hammam experience for our guests,” says Nedret Erbilgiç, Manager of Kurna Spa, who was part of the team that helped design the spa and treatment menu. “It is a unique experience that dates back to the ancient Greeks and Romans. For the Ottomans, it is an ancient ritual that is still a cultural and social event.”

Kurna Spa’s atmosphere reflects the traditions, beauty and history of the hammam culture in Istanbul, but with a very contemporary design and take. The Hammam Ritual experience is not to be missed. It involves a Turkish bath with a foam massage, hair cleansing, and a full body scrub. After this experience you will feel invigorated and energized. It is the ideal way to overcome jetlag.

The hotel’s fitness room was also renovated and features Life Fitness cardiovascular and weight training equipment. Personal trainers are available to hire upon request. The fitness center is conveniently open 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

Located in the center of the historic district of Istanbul

In addition to the fascinating history of the hotel’s building, luxurious accommodations, delectable cuisine and excellent service, its desirable location is yet another reason to stay here.

The Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet is in the heart of the Old Town neighborhood of Istanbul, an important historic district of Istanbul. Also referred to as the Sultanahmet neighborhood, it is the only five star hotel in the historic district, so if visiting some of the city’s most important sights is a priority (and it should be), this hotel affords you the luxury of doing so on foot. (See the Forbes Travel Guide five star profile of the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet at this link).

The breathtaking Hagia Sophia is so close to the hotel that the hotel’s rooftop terrace is one of the best spots to photograph the historic landmark. Other important historic sites, such as the remarkable Basilica Cistern, Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and Grand Bizarre, are within easy walking distance. The Bosphorus River, which runs through Istanbul and separates the continents of Europe and Asia, is also within walking distance.

The concierge at the hotel can arrange for a private, full-day or half-day tours of the city with a knowledgeable professional guide (such as Recep “Reggie” Ayden, an excellent private tour guide who holds a Ph.D. in Biblical History and speaks fluent English @Recepregie).

Access To Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul At The Bosphorus

The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanhamet and its sister property, Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, are closely tied yet distinctively different and beautifully complement each other while offering the best of Istanbul. The Sultanahmet property offers an authentic and memorable experience in an environment that instils the best of local culture and values, and the Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus is an urban resort. It is located in a beautifully restored 19th century palace adjacent to the shore of the Bosphorus River, offering spectacular views of Istanbul. (See the Forbes Travel Guide five star profile of the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus at this link).

The two properties are closely tied as guests staying at either hotel are given special privileges to use both facilities. For example, guests of the Four Seasons Sultanahmet can go to the Four Seasons Bosphorus to use its waterfront swimming pool, spa, indoor swimming pool, fitness center, restaurants and bar.

A complimentary van shuttles guests between the two hotels (depending on traffic, it takes approximately 30 minutes to travel between the two properties) or they can use a scheduled boat service that takes guests across the Bosphorus for a small fee each way. Some guests choose to divide their time and stay at both hotels during their holiday in Istanbul.

For more information about The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanhamet, visit this link.





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