Hotel Insider Mo Gannon enjoys returning to the assured service and dependable staff of the Ritz-Carlton after a day spent haggling in the Grand Bazaar.
Pampering with a personal touch at the Ritz-Carlton Istanbul
It's impossible to miss the Ritz-Carlton's modern skyscraper looming above the more historic buildings on the Taksim skyline. This is definitely not your classic Ritz-Carlton, I think as we pull up, but my first impression is dispelled at the entrance, where we are greeted by attentive doormen in uniform and whisked past the baggage detector into a lobby with marble floors, chandeliers and wood-panelled walls. Walk through the lobby and the main selling point is revealed: a wide view of the sparkling Bosphorus Strait from the European side at our feet across to the green hills of the Asian side.
Standing on a hill overlooking the 19th-century Dolmabahce Palace and its mosque, the hotel doesn't have much of a neighbourhood, but it's a fit person's walk away from both Taksim Square and the Kabatas tram, which runs to the historic sites of Sultanahmet. It also stands next to the stadium at Kucukciftlik Park, where Elton John recently played, so check the listings before your visit. Best of all, it's a short taxi ride from Nisantasi, home to high-end clothing and design shops and trendy sidewalk cafes (the trip should cost about 10 Turkish lira [Dh20]).
"My pleasure" seems to be the staff's catchphrase, but the pleasure is all mine. There's good hotel service, and then there's hotel service so good it makes you want to come home to. Here, where everyone recognises me after one encounter, I experience the latter. The concierge staff look up the addresses of obscure stores and write directions for the taxis on cards with a map of the hotel that say "please take me to ...", as if I'm Paddington Bear. The doormen instruct the drivers in Turkish, telling me what price I should pay and offering to take up the inevitable dispute when I return. (Taxis are known to jack up their rates, particularly at tourist destinations.) After mentioning that I left my business cards in Abu Dhabi, I later return to my room to find my own personalised Ritz-Carlton cards, listing me as a guest in residence.
My deluxe room, which has a partial view of the Bosphorus, is medium-sized with classic hotel-style furniture. Etchings of old Istanbul hang on the beige walls and painted Turkish tiles decorate my marble bathroom, which has a large soaker bath and a separate shower room. My feather bed has the finest linen, the kind one would expect in Istanbul, providing for the deepest sleep.
My fellow guests look like business travellers, equipped as they are these days with iPads, or middle-aged couples on vacation, many of them with children, from Europe, North America and the Middle East. I begin and end my day with them in the Club lounge, which offers small spreads of food for breakfast, lunch and dinner as well as beverages at night.
Cintemani, the hotel restaurant, provides a better-than-standard breakfast buffet, including miniature smoothies and Turkish staples like simit and borek (65 lira [Dh138]). However, the Club lounge offers an abbreviated selection of similar fare, so is well worth the value if you want to eat in the hotel. The outdoor grill at Guney Park Terrace is a nice place to watch the Bosphorus over cold and hot mezze dishes such as meatball rolled wheat (think kibbeh) with mint yogurt sauce (24 lira; Dh48).
Besides the first-rate service, this hotel is full of tiny, delightful touches, such as a language card in the room with basic Turkish phrases, plus complimentary Turkish Delight and cherry juice in the lobby.
The access cards for the elevator - one for the Club floor and one for my room. Both failed a few times, necessitating a trip to the lobby to have them fixed.
In a city as historic as Istanbul, the hotel's modern tower seems out of place but it's what's inside that counts. If you want to be pampered by trustworthy staff after a day arguing with taxi drivers or aggressive salesmen in the Grand Bazaar, then you'll be relieved to return to the Ritz-Carlton.
The bottom line
A double room costs from €275 (Dh1,457) per night, including taxes. Club floor room rates start from €351 (Dh1,860). Ritz-Carlton, Suzer Plaza, No 9, Elmadag, Sisli, 34367, Istanbul (www.ritzcarlton.com/en/Properties/Istanbul/Default.htm; 00 90 212 334 44 44).