Turkey: Four Seasons Sultanahmet
The Four Seasons Sultanahmet, in a centuries-old building in the heart of Istanbul's ancient historic center, is an unfailingly gracious and graceful retreat amid the bustle of one of the world's most vibrant cities
Credit: Jaime Ardiles-Arce
Address Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1 34110 Sultanahmet-Eminönü, Istanbul, Turkey 90/212/402-3000fourseasons.com
In the central courtyard, check out the peaked-roof guard-towers, which now house the hotel's elevators.
Count the windows. There are 347 of them—which is a lot for a former prison!
Admire the mural-style artwork by local artist Timur Kerim Incedayi, in the Blue Room lounge.
- 65 rooms and suites
- In the heart of Istanbul's historic centre, within a few minutes' walk from Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, Topkapi Palace and other key sites
- 24-hour in-room dining
- 12,000 square foot fitness center
I would gladly pay the price of a night at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet—a crown jewel of the luxury-lodging chain, in the heart of Istanbul's ancient historic center—for a drink on the roof terrace alone. This is not meant to diminish the pleasures to be found elsewhere in this unfailingly gracious and graceful hotel, but to sip a flute of champagne or a tall glass of raki, Turkey's bracing aniseed-infused spirit, on the third-floor terrace is to feel, at least for the duration of cocktail hour, like a sultan. To the east extends the mighty Bosphorus Strait; to the north, so close you could touch it, rises the sturdy red-brick mass of the Hagia Sophia, the religious seat of the Byzantine Empire for a thousand years; to the south, in beautiful juxtaposition, stands the Blue Mosque, its six distinctive minarets soaring skyward as gulls circle about them in the waning light. Being able to contemplate these two near-mythical UNESCO World Heritage Sites at such an intimate remove while noshing on roasted Anatolian hazelnuts or maybe caviar-garnished cubes of house-cured gravlax is like having your foot on the brakes and the gas at the same time: the body relaxes while the heart and spirit race.
The terrace also overlooks the hotel's landscaped central courtyard, which is where I took breakfast each morning. Now, you can have an excellent dinner at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet's restaurant, which is helmed by a Turkish chef who tends an on-site herb garden and gets his baby vegetables from local growers who work exclusively for him, but the most indelible sense-memory of my stay here was of those morning meals. Here was the genius of the Turkish breakfast on fresh and full display: salty beyaz peynir, a lightly aged sheep's milk cheese; gouda-like circassian smoked cheese; rings of simit, a bagel-like sesame bread; plump Turkish olives; cool yogurt; a panoply of dried fruits, and—in an odd twist I've seen elsewhere in Turkey—individual covered glass bowls of birchermüsli, the traditional Swiss rolled-oats-and-apple breakfast sacrament.
The Four Seasons Sultanahmet occupies a century-old building that once served as a prison. The fact that shackled inmates once roamed the courtyard outside my room's elegant wood-shuttered windows gave the place a curious historical frisson. As for my room—one of just 65—it ably married modern comforts (flatscreen TV, free wi-fi) with an understated neoclassical décor. The marble-clad lobby, corridors, and lounges exhibited a similarly tasteful union of cool minimalism and Ottoman-style indulgences like richly embroidered tapestries and intricate mosaics. It all combined winningly to give the place the feel of a cloistered, exclusive retreat amid the bustle of one of the world's most vibrant cities. —David McAninch
In the Area
- Mısır Çarşısı (The Spice Bazaar): The smaller and (slightly) more orderly cousin of Istanbul's legendary Grand Bazaar, this covered market and the surrounding streets are an excellent source for Turkish sweets, spices, tea, and other foodstuffs. It's just a 15-minute walk from the hotel. Cami Meydani Sok, Eminönü
- Kurukahveci Mehmet Effendi: This window-service-only shop near the Spice Market is Istanbul's oldest and—by the account of every local I talked to—best coffee purveyor. Beans are roasted and ground on the premises. Tahmis Sokak 66 Eminönü; tel: 90/212/511-426-263; mehmetefendi.com
- Nar Restaurant at the Armaggan Department Store: In 2011, the high-end culinary-products company Nar Gourmet opened a critically acclaimed full-service restaurant in the new Nuruosmaniye branch of Turkey's most prestigious department store—a ten-minute walk from the hotel. Ottoman specialties are the restaurant's forte. NişantaşiAbdi Ipekci Cadessi, Bostan Sok 8; tel: 90/212/291-6292