Doesn’t matter if you call it Istanbul, Constantinople or Byzantium, the city is somewhere everyone should visit at least once in their life.
If you're heading to Turkey mind, just make sure, unlike me, that you check the weather first. Visiting Istanbul in January is only for those who are addicted to drizzle and fog. And if it’s drizzle and fog you’re after, why not stay at home? Visit Istanbul in any other season, and stay at either of the city’s two Four Seasons, and you will experience a holiday that spans the past and the future in the same way that the city spans the Bosphorus, two continents and two football teams (Fenerbahçe and Galatasaray).
The Four Seasons Sultanahmet is by far the older one of the pair. Spread around the courtyard of an old prison which once housed out-of-favour writers (much to my wife’s mirth) the hotel is perfectly situated, if it is the attractions of old Stambouli which will be the focus of your holiday.
The Blue Mosque and Aya Sophia are a few hundred yards away, as is the Topkapi Palace and all the rest of this amazing historic city which, for more than a thousand years, was the most important place in the world.
If, on the other hand, the side of Istanbul you want to focus on is a touch more contemporary – a buzzing, forward-facing Istanbul of stylish restaurants, vibey bars ram-packed full of gorgeous women and yacht rides along the Bosphorus to waterside bistros, then the so-new-it’s-sizzling Four Seasons Bosphorus is the one for you.
Situated directly by the waterside in the area of Besiktas, which is where all the newest and hippest bars are to be found, the hotel has stunning views across the water and a pier from where a boat service is available to Sultanahmet Four Seasons and the old-world rich-as-incense flavours of that area.
Back in Europe, both literally and ambience-wise, Besiktas is at its most rewarding when you dive off the crowded main streets to explore narrow, winding lanes of cafés and shade from the summer sun (apparently – I wouldn’t know).
So – hip or historic? For once there’s no need to choose. As Istanbul is the city that straddles time, continents and cultures, ‘you can have it all’, as they used to lie to working mums. Spend a couple of days savouring the historic charms of Old Stamboul, staying at the Four Seasons Sultanahmet – then reward yourself with the hedonistic allure of Besiktas. Heritage and hedonism in one package; now, that’s my kinda town.
The Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, +90 (212) 638 82 00;
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, 90 (212) 638 8200; www.fourseasons.com
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