It's East meets West in glamorous, exotic and stylish form. Turkey’s most famous hotel has just had a £20 million facelift – and it's got to be seen to be believed. The Pera Palace, the first Western Hotel to be built in Turkey, has just completed a four-year renovation project. First opened in 1892 in the final decade of the Ottoman Empire – it’s now been restored to its former glory.
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This legendary spot was an elegant hangout for famous faces of the early 20th century including King Edward VIII, Queen Elizabeth II, Agatha Christie, Greta Garbo and Alfred Hitchcock. More recently Hollywood star Ben Affleck was spotted sipping drinks in the hotel's Orient bar, the same spot where Ernest Hemmingway used to knock back whiskies in a former, more glamorous age.
Described for many years as having 'faded grandeur', there's certainly nothing faded about it now. It's buzzing and vibrant. Murano glass chandeliers, state-of-the-art technology, and hi-tech services guarantee the comfort of a luxury hotel, while all around you the exotic setting harkens back to an earlier age. White marble steps from the foyer lead to the Kubbeli Saloon, a soaring room at the heart of the hotel, with an elaborate parquet floor, marble columns and domes pierced with turquoise glass. A new glass roof sends the sunlight streaming in.
Most famous perhaps for being the hotel in which Agatha Christie wrote ‘Murder on the Orient Express’ tourists can visit and even book to stay in her room - number 411 - where one of her typewriters is still prominently displayed. Many of the rooms offer stunning views from the Galata to the Golden Horn. A new basement level features a spa and Turkish bath, as well as the refined Agatha restaurant (named after Agatha Christie, the hotel's most famous guest), where the menu has been designed to reflect the notable stops on the Orient-Express: Paris, Venice and Istanbul.
The first electric elevator in Istanbul ascends to the blissfully quiet deluxe rooms via a cast iron and red velvet remnant of the hotel's glamorous past. The rooms, finished in dark, antique-looking woods and shades of cream and sage, are elegant and tasteful, with a hugely comfortable king bed dressed in fine white linens, with monogrammed shams and a feather duvet and pillows.
In the heart of the city the cobbled streets are lined with inviting restaurants, tea houses and shops. The ever exciting Istiklal Caddesi (a bustling, wide avenue for shopping and meeting) that is reminiscent of New York City – it never sleeps – is just steps away. Istanbul is a wonderful city for walking as much as it is a slow boat trip along the Bosphorus past the yali – old wooden (and expensive) summer homes – or a visit to Topkapi Palace, with its plane-shaded courtyards and Sultan's harem rooms.
For dining locals encourage the Sunset Grill and Bar - truly a stunning dining experience. Offering amazing views over the Bosphorus, the food must be sampled to be believed. A perfectly executed fusion of Oriental and European palates, Sunset Grill's cuisine startles and soars. Try the mixture of Japanese delicacies, such as yellowtail sashimi and a delicious and creamy shrimp tempura, along with Mediterranean dishes such as a lobster linguini.
For a fantastic cocktail head to Istanbul's famous restaurant and bar, 360. This multi-award winning spot is set in a penthouse perched on a 19th century apartment building overlooking the old embassy row in Beyoglu. The view is breath-taking – 360 degrees all over the city and across the Bosphorus to the Hagia Sophia Mosque and out to the Sea of Marmara. The food and ambience is Istanbul at its best. On the weekends, it turns into Club360 with DJ’s and dancing.
The Pera Palace Hotel offers deluxe rooms from £315 in the high season, including breakfast and VAT or £220 in low season (typically after the summer rush).
For a more cost effective boutique try Hotel Ibrahim Pasha. This small, delightful hotel is just steps away from the historic Hippodrome where chariot races were run in Byzantine times.
Pegasus Airlines flies from London Stansted to Istanbul. Prices start from £250 return.