Hotel Review: Four Seasons Istanbul At Sultanahmet

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You may be surprised to learn that the luxury Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet started out not as a hotel, but a Turkish prison. In fact, the street the hotel sits on is still called Hotel Detention street, and the cross street is Day of Celebration. I was curious to spend the night in a former prison, and the cab dropped my husband and I off right at the entrance, where the doorman stood at the ready. We were shown in to the reception area through the high-arched entryway and past some bright purple blooms.

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Sultanahmet Prison was built in the early 1900’s right next to Istanbul’s city courthouse and housed prisoners that included famous artists and political figures. Funny enough, prisoners referred to their accommodations as “The Hilton” because local restaurants delivered room service to inmates with money that had been stolen from other prisoners, won from gambling or earned by doing carpentry or beadwork. Instead of being locked up in individual cells, prisoners lived dormitory style with six or twelve to a room. At its peak the prison could hold 2,000 prisoners which seems like a lot considering today’s hotel has just 65 rooms and suites.

The creator of the prison was architect Mimar Kemaleddin Bey whose portrait is still on versions of the 20 lira Turkish banknote.

The prison was constructed with swooping domes, ornate tiles and pointed arches which you can still see today. It housed its last inmate in the early 1980’s, and in the mid-1990’s Four Seasons Hotels & Resorts partnered with Enternasyonal Tourism Investment Inc. to transform the former prison into a luxury hotel. Care was taken to ensure that as much of the original structure remained intact, and the project was successful.

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I had booked through American Express’ FHR program, which meant that full American breakfast was included with the booking, along with $100 in resort credit. Trying to choose a hotel in Istanbul, the Four Seasons was the winner hands-down due to location. Yes, it was more expensive with rates regularly in the $300 range, but St. Sophia, Topkapi Palace and the Blue Mosque were all literally 5 minutes away and the Grand Bazaar close enough. I was only going to be there for one night and a full day and wanted to maximize my time spent sightseeing. Looking at the Park Hyatt and the Ritz-Carlton on the map, I realized I would have had to spend more time taking transportation than I wanted if I stayed at either of those properties.

Screen Shot 2015-06-18 at 7.17.13 PMMap of the area from GoogleMaps

During check-in, the host lifted the lid of a silver cone to reveal some local treats called Turkish Delight. He said I could help myself, and I happily indulged in a few of the lightly sweet chewy morsels.

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As I stood in the lobby I looked around at some of the artifacts.

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As he handed over the room key, he said that although I had not been upgraded from a Deluxe to a Premium room, he felt like the view in this room was better than a larger space. If I disagreed, he said to please call and he’d do his best to accommodate.

I followed the hallway around to the stairs leading to the guest rooms. A sign had been placed there that indicated it was for guests only.

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At the end of the hallway was the elevator. The decorative hand-painted tiles preserved from their earlier days in the prison had been left intact, but the elevator doors and archway had been built new once the building became a hotel.

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Reaching the fourth floor, as I walked towards the hallway I peeked around the corner to find a terrace with restaurant to the left, which served drinks and snacks.

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It had a great view of the hotel courtyard below, which served as an exercise yard during prison years.

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The bartender came over and admired the view with me for a few moments, then asked if he could get me something to drink. He rattled off an impressive list of coffees and drinks, but I declined politely for the time being since I still had my suitcase in tow.

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Continuing down the hall my room was the last one on the right side. All of the original wooden doors are still intact from the hotel’s earlier days as a prison, and it was history springing to life as I put the key in and turned the doorknob.

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For goodness sakes, even the key had an eye-pleasing design on it.

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As soon as I was inside I studied the floorplan on the back of the door and saw that there were very few rooms on the floor. With only 65 rooms and suites the building seemed cozy and comfortable rather than sprawling and impersonal.

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The floors were hardwood, and all covered with intricately patterned Turkish rugs. I immediately slipped my shoes and socks off, and found that the wood was warm and the rugs were soft underfoot.

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I padded in to the bathroom which was just to the left. The carpet in the bathroom didn’t feel out of place at all.

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The bathroom walls featured several rows of tiny marine-colored tiles that were punctuated occasionally with a single shiny gold tile.

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At the sink there were small ceramic containers in a beautiful deep turquoise blue (did you know the word turquoise comes from the French word for Turkish?). One held Q-tips and cotton pads, another had a sewing kit and face cloths, and there was a spa book perched up in the corner of a shelf. Bathroom amenities were by L’Occitane.

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There was a deep soaking tub complete with soft headrest, loofah and large L’Occitane soap.

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As I moved back towards the room my hand grazed the most fun bathrobes I’d seen in a hotel room with a subtle blue/green pattern on them. All of the towels (and the robes too) were made of thick Turkish cotton, and they were all wonderfully plush.

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There were several closets near the door but since I had packed light for a single night I had no need.

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I didn’t need the TV or the chest of drawers underneath either, but the top of the chest served as an convenient place to toss items for easy retrieval later.

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There was a minibar set up with snacks in a wooden box and glasses for enjoying the drinks in.

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I left the drinks alone, but was glad to see that it wasn’t a weighted mini-bar.

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Hand-painted drinking glasses and a large bottle of still water sat near the desk, along with fresh fruit. Two smaller bottles of still water were on the nightstands.

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The bedside table had a charging station that not only had the new iPhone 5/6 connection, but actually had two chargers as well.

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I liked that on the desk a row of charging outlets popped up, and there were two for the US, one for Europe, etc.

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There was also a coffee maker.

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The easy chair in the corner looked like the perfect spot to curl up in with a good book.

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It was a clear day, and the sun’s golden rays streamed in through the windows. Moving closer to the windows, I saw that they were actually French doors that opened to… a terrace!

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Chair momentarily forgotten, I slid the door open and was greeted by fresh air and warm sunshine. There were two wrought iron chairs and a small table on the terrace, perfect for lingering over a lazy meal or enjoying some sunshine outside in a private area.

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The view stretched to the Marmara Sea, and even included the Blue Mosque. I just stood there for a while taking it all in.

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The host at the front desk sure knew what he was talking about! I did indeed enjoy this room more than I would have any other room even in a higher category.

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It was one of those times where I felt that the photos just didn’t do the place justice.

I ordered some room service for dinner and as I ate I watched the changing hues of the sky. As the evening sky darkened, tiny white lights surrounding a rooftop terrace flicked on, giving it a fairytale appearance.

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The sun having set and the hour getting late, it was time for bed. I went back inside and prepared the bed. I loved the detailed velvet pattern on the bedspread, and the feather pillows were great.

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At first it seemed as though the curtains would only partially close, but I found a button near the bed that brought down a heavy blackout shade behind the curtains. I didn’t hear a peep from the hallway or any rooms during my stay, so the walls must have either been thick or the guests were very quiet.

In the morning, I enjoyed breakfast in the courtyard restaurant. The buffet was closed for the winter but the host assured me I could order whatever I wished from the menu. The FHR rate included free breakfast so I decided rather than just getting a regular breakfast that I could have had anywhere, I wanted to experience something different.

I wanted to try some local Turkish breakfast and asked what the waiter recommended. He said the Menemen (spicy eggs) and layered cheese pastries were especially good, and I decided to try that.

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The food was brought out and placed in the center of the table, family style. He said it was typical, and that way we could try a little of everything. We were both stuffed by the time we was done, but we had found everything to be delicious and fresh.

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This was a great hotel stay. The location was perfect, the room was gorgeous, and there was such incredible attention to detail. When we mentioned to the concierge that we wanted to visit lots of museums, he recommended the Istanbul Museum Pass which they had right there for sale in the hotel. There was no need to stand in line to purchase tickets which was very convenient. From the beautiful Turkish rugs to the hand-painted floor tiles and great customer service, I would absolutely stay here again. This was one of my best hotel stays ever.

Four Seasons Istanbul at Sultanahmet

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Good To Go

+ Beautiful private terrace with amazing views over the Sea of Marmara and the Princess Islands
+ Unbeatable location 5 minute walk away from St. Sophia, Blue Mosque and Topkapi Palace
+ Amazing attention to detail with hand-made rugs, hand-painted water glasses
+ Concierge sold Museum Pass tickets right in the hotel so we didn't need to stand in lines
+ Swift and warm service from the hotel staff, anticipating needs and responding with more than expected
+ Special historical significance, having previously been a prison

How many Magic Stars did this hotel stay earn?

 5/5 Magic Stars

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