Opulent and family-friendly, the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet is close to Istanbul’s famous sites, writes Adam Workman
Hotel Insider: Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
After a hotel minivan transfer from Istanbul Atatürk Airport, which is about half an hour away, the five-star Ajwa rises from the chaotic architecture of Istanbul’s historic Sultanahmet like a vision of modern Ottoman luxury. Check-in is quick, and a member of staff shows me to my room on the seventh floor, the top level in the boutique hotel, which is the first from the Ajwa group.
“Neighbourhood” is the correct term, here – the Ajwa’s positioning slightly away from the main, more touristy areas of Sultanahmet means that the vibe is very local and real. You’re more likely to get a friendly hello from an old man sipping tea or coffee in a streetside cafe than be hassled by hawkers. That said, it is easy walking distance from some of Istanbul’s most iconic sites: it is about five minutes to the Grand Bazaar, 10 to the Blue Mosque, 15 to the Hagia Sophia and 20 to Topkapı Palace.
My deluxe room is spacious and still with a sheen you would expect from a new hotel. The bathroom is the highlight – with green, red and white tiling in the shower, plentiful marble, plus copper fittings and fixtures everywhere. In the bedroom, electronically operated blinds, as well as thick curtains, ensure that natural light doesn’t hamper your slumber. When these are all open, however, the views are agreeable, across terracotta-coloured rooftops to the shipping lanes of the Sea of Marmara. The soft-drinks minibar is complimentary, while there is also a kettle and a coffee machine. The internet-enabled television has a small selection of Middle Eastern channels.
While Turkey as a whole can be a linguistic challenge if you don’t speak at least a few lines of its mother tongue, there are no such problems at the Ajwa – English is widespread and some staff speak Arabic, too. For the most part, everyone is friendly and eager to help, although one or two of the waiters at breakfast seem a touch unfussed about whether they take your order or not.
The 61-room boutique hotel doesn’t serve alcohol, making it perfect for GCC families, as do various configurations within the corridors that allow areas to be shut off to create adjoining room spaces. A Syrian carpenter is responsible for all the traditional-looking furniture in the hotel’s public spaces, giving the place a vintage feel. Several buildings in nearby streets are currently under renovation, to be opened from later this year, to enlarge the Ajwa’s capacity, acting as stand-alone, butler-served satellites to the main hotel. A multi-floor Ajwa art gallery is also being constructed. The hotel has various luxurious transport options, meanwhile, including Bentleys.
The hotel’s top-floor restaurant, Zeferan, has an Azerbaijani chef, which lends a Central Asian flavour to the Turkish-centric food. Breakfast is full of cured meats, preserves and a trolley of regional cheeses, while eggs can be ordered à la carte – I try the Azerbaijani traditional herbs frittata. The highlight of dinner, among seemingly infinite kebabs and lamb chops, is the Azerbaijani plov (from 40 lira [Dh42]), a pie-like creation filled with dried fruit, chestnuts, rice and beef. The two main dining areas are both semi-open-air, with views across to the Blue Mosque at dinner and towards the Sea of Marmara during breakfast.
A five-star take on the traditional Turkish hammam (120 lira [Dh127] for 30 minutes) at the Afiya Spa. Note when booking: the spa has separate hours for men and women.
The slightly violent lift doors, which nearly took off one of my hands.
A luxurious boutique hotel that is a great choice for GCC families and those who prefer the quieter side of life in an otherwise hectic part of Istanbul.
The bottom line
Double rooms at the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet cost from €200 (Dh878), including taxes, breakfast, Wi-Fi and minibar.