Today, our ‘My Favourite Hotel’ review is from Istanbul.
We are currently running this reader-written feature to provide some positivity and inspiration to Head for Points. You can find all of the ‘My Favourite Hotel’ reviews so far by clicking here. This was scheduled to be a series of about 25 hotels, but a good response from readers means that we have commissioned another batch and are continuing the series.
Today’s hotel is the Pera Palace in Istanbul, immortalised as the place where Agatha Christie wrote ‘Murder on the Orient Express’. It is reader Sam’s favourite hotel and here is his review:
An Istanbul institution famed as being where Agatha Christie wrote ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, Pera Palace had long been on my list of hotels to visit.
Originally owned by the Orient Express Company it was THE place to stay back in the early 20th Century and is still held in high regard. More recently, it was part of the Dubai-based Jumeirah chain for some years but is now run independently.
I’ve been visiting Istanbul every few months for a few years, drawn by the unique mix of East-meets-West culture and hospitality you find in Turkey.
Istanbul is exceptionally well represented by all the major hotel chains, including luxury brands such as Four Seasons and Mandarin Oriental. Typically I stay at one of the twenty (!) Hilton group hotels to make use of the Diamond lounge access and complimentary breakfasts.
This time I decided to make a change and used some orphaned Alaska Airways miles to try out the Pera Palace hotel. Like all HFP readers I never turn down the opportunity to acquire miles, and a few years back took advantage of a promotion to open an Alaska Mileage Plan account and received 10,000 for free. Room rates here usually start at around £120-£150, so having no other use for the miles this seemed like a good chance to use them up.
Istanbul itself doesn’t have just one real central area to base yourself in, but for most Pera Palace’s neighbourhood of Beyoğlu is a good bet. Locally there’s a good mix of restaurants, shopping and transport links, plus the Istanbul Modern Art Museum is just opposite.
Also in the same area is Galata Tower and Istiklal Avenue, the main shopping boulevard which leads to Taksim Square. It’s a 2km walk from one end to the other, but you can catch the nostalgic tram if you don’t feel like walking or aren’t interested in visiting the shops.
Tourist attractions such as Hagia Sophia, the Grand Bazaar and the Blue Mosque are about 4km away in Sultanahmet, but I still recommend Beyoğlu as an area to stay in due to having more going on in the evenings. Visiting the tourist attractions is still easy using the trams or metro. Taxis are best avoided due to the road congestion.
If you arrive in Istanbul on a British Airways flight you’ll land at the gargantuan New Istanbul Airport which is located around 30km outside of Istanbul. The airport runs a fleet of brand new coaches (called HavaIst) every 20-30 minutes which is the best way to get into the city until the new metro line opens in 2022.
Arriving at Pera Palace
I was greeted at the hotel with a glass of apple tea (very much a thing just for tourists) and given a quick tour of the restaurants and bar on the ground floor. I was impressed by the ambiance of the Kubelli Saloon Tea Lounge where they serve afternoon tea alongside a live pianist. Sadly I arrived at the end of their service so did not have a chance to try it on this occasion.
The staff are proud of the history of the hotel and mentioned the Agatha Christie connection. You can even stay in the same room (pictured below) if you wish!
The hotel was also frequented by modern Turkey’s founder Atatürk, and his room is now preserved as a museum for guests to visit. It’s worth a look just to see the original décor from the early days of the hotel.
The rooms at Pera Palace
The front desk manager showed me to my room on the first floor which was at the back of the property. Somewhat unfortunately it became immediately apparent that there was an issue with the drains in that room and I was quickly given a new room a few doors down.
Booking as a redemption with miles I had an entry level deluxe room with a balcony that, despite being by a main highway, more pleasantly looked towards the shores of the Golden Horn. I enjoyed having the balcony as a place to relax before heading back out to the city.
The room itself was nicely appointed with period furniture and a Nespresso machine. Personally I enjoy hotels with traditional styles and felt that the, admittedly faded, elegance of the room suited the hotel well.
The bathroom was to an excellent standard with marble fixtures and all the usual toiletries. Unlike many hotels these days the Pera Palace has retained the evening turndown service too which was a bonus.
Orient Bar & Terrace
No visit to this hotel would be complete without a cocktail in the Orient Bar which is kitted out in sleek art nouveau decor alongside the period features they’ve retained. There is a real relaxed atmosphere and the bar picks up both guests and non-residents which adds to the mix of people.
During this visit I found myself entertained by noticing a Russian businessmen casually chatting up the bar staff, often dropping in references to his supposed wealth and business dealings. That’s what I like about places like this – you get such interesting characters there is never a dull moment!
In warmer weather the terrace just off the bar is a nice spot to sit on and enjoy drinks with friends.
As this was just a one night stay before an early morning flight back to Heathrow I didn’t get a chance to sample the breakfast or visit the in-house patisserie they have. Once travel returns to normal this will definitely be on the list for my next trip.
Pera Palace Istanbul offers a slice of historic elegance. If you are visiting Istanbul and want a place to stay that is convenient for restaurants, shopping and access to attractions, this is a good choice at great value. I’d recommend booking a higher room category at the front or side of the hotel to avoid the back of the hotel and road noise.
Regardless of if you stay here, when in Istanbul I hope you find time to visit the Orient Bar and enjoy the Turkish hospitality.
If you want to find out more, the hotel’s website is here.
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