Experiencing luxury hotels as often as we do here at The Luxury Editor, it’s sometimes hard to impress us, writes Andrew Forbes.
Yet my stay at Hagia Sofia Mansions exceeded all expectations. The joy of such a stay often comes from a great team, and here the tradition of Turkish hospitality has been transformed into an art form. Each member of the staff was a pleasure to meet.
On few occasions have I felt so welcome and so at home. This of course is especially important for short stays, which are typical for city breaks. Hagia Sofia Mansions is a warm, homey place to enjoy a luxury city break in Istanbul
UNESCO Location, Sultanahmet
Istanbul is a remarkable city, bridging two continents and reflecting a rich and diverse cultural history.
The UNESCO old city, the Sultanahmet Archaeological Park, on the European side is probably the most visited, and here one finds the Hagia Sofia Mansions, close to Istanbul’s Basilica Cistern, steps to the Hagia Sofia Grand Mosque and beside the Hürrem Sultan Hamam, and the former sultan’s Topkapı Palace.
Yet despite being at the heart of this popular area, this Curio Collection by Hilton property has wonderfully authentic and tranquil areas including a beautiful dining courtyard with views to the Hagia Sofia museum and mosque and another charming restaurant with views to the historic sites.
The signature restaurant, ‘The Sarnic’ is unique in the city as it is housed in one of the city’s subterranean cisterns. Here the cocktail bar and dining tables are set within a theatrical and evocative space with high vaulted ceilings.
Staying in a Mansion
The exquisitely designed and prepared rooms and suites are within the restored ottoman mansions, originally built as guests house for the Sultan’s palace.
The restored houses are home to Ottoman-style suites over two or three floors.
There is a real sense of privacy and space. Each mansion has a welcome lobby salon on the ground floor for the guests, and then stairs up to the private suites.
This makes the accommodation particularly ideal for private use, perfect for families travelling together as the smaller properties are perfect for exclusive use.
Our suite was full of details. The spacious living area featured art, fresh flowers, and a welcome amenity. I’m often spoilt with treats upon arrival, but this was another level! Turkish hospitality is all about the notion of abundance and sharing.
The bathroom is spacious too, yet cosy with underfloor heating and the shower is designed as a private hammam with heated marble floor, fountain and hammam dish, glove, and towel.
The experience far exceeded my expectations. The houses are full of light and lots of architectural and design details that really connect you to this historic destination.
Dining In The Heart of the Old City
Guests and visitors alike can enjoy the dining options of Hagia Sofia Mansions.
For a memorable dining experience, accompanied by live music, The Sarnic is the choice. The menu includes Turkish mezze as well as international favourites.
There is also the Sofia Terrace Restaurant, for lunch and dinner. There is a lovely terrace for outside dining and an Ottoman style dining room with contemporary touches.
The Greenhouse Garden Restaurant has seating inside the conservatory style building, as well as outside around the fountain.
This is where we enjoyed the spectacular Hagia Sofia breakfast. Turks take breakfast seriously; it’s a meal not to be rushed. When you order this gourmet breakfast you can expect an amazing choice of fresh fruit, vegetables, cheeses, meats, olives, nuts…plus jams, honey, grape jelly, tahini paste, and of course sesame ‘Simit’ bread rings that are also sold as street food.
I also ordered the classic ‘Menemen’, a Turkish favourite of scrambled eggs with tomatoes, onions, peppers and seasoned with paprika.
Pre and post dinner drinks can be enjoyed in the bar Sofia Garden Bar, another charming place, tucked away in this extraordinary hotel, set amongst the historical buildings of Sultanahmet .
Part of the hotel’s thoughtful pre-check in communication includes capturing food and beverage preferences, so expect to have your favourite cocktail perfectly mixed and waiting for you when you arrive.
The mansions are within a protected historic area so when you arrive, expect to be met by a bell person in an electric buggy which will take you to the main mansion for check-in and then onto your first mansion.
This Turkish city is one of the most fascinating urban destinations in the world. As a global travel hub, and flexible stop-over options with Turkish Airlines, at some point the chances are your travels will take you to Istanbul.
It’s so worth taking a day or two for enjoying a flavour of the city.
The UNESCO historical centre of Sultanahmet is a good place to start, with its famous palaces, mosques and souks.
Hagia Sofia Mansions can help plan tours and organise boat trip experiences on the Bosphorus and give sightseeing itineraries for the many alluring neighbours on both the European and Asian side.
I particularly enjoyed visiting the neighbouring Topkapı Palace Museum, once home to the Ottoman Sultans from around the 15th-17th centuries.
Basilica Cisterna, the largest of the ancient water deposits or cisterns that lie under Istanbul, is another sight to experience, and going with a guide means you can skip the queues. The place was built using columns and stones that were taken from ancient temples and other architectural sites across Anatolia.
So now the cistern is drained you see these amazing columns and carved stones. The most famous are the Greek Medusa heads which the construction workers put them upside down and on their side, so as to allegedly avoid their face which would turn then to stone. The Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world. is of course very tempting, but even right next to Hagia Sofia Mansions is a beautiful handicrafts centre selling high end artisan products you won’t find in the markets.
After a day’s sightseeing, I can tell you that you’ll want to relax with. Turkish Hammam
The spa here is located in an ancient subterranean cistern so that really adds to the atmosphere.
I started the spa treatment with a relaxing soak and splash in the hydrotherapy pool.
Then it was time to experience the hotel’s private hammam. Lying on a soft towel on a heated marble table I was gently washed with warm water and my skin was exfoliated with a cotton glove.
The Turkish hammam is a much more luxurious and pampering experience to the sometimes ‘rougher’ experience in Morocco.
Here in Istanbul, it feels nurturing.
The Turkish hammam also includes a bubble massage where warm soapy water is drawn through a cotton sheet by the therapist creating a blanket of comforting bubbles all over your body before a massage and rinsing with more water. Bliss.
Yet my lasting memory of visiting Hagia Sofia Mansions will be the authentic, welcoming staff. General Manager Yulia Kardesoglu and Nevra Ozdelice Erberksoy, Sales & Marketing Director, lead a wonderful team.
As I set off on my trip home concierge generously extended the Turkish tradition of pouring water behind me, a precious gift that wishes me a safe journey home. Thank you.
This hotel is included in our guide to the best luxury hotels in Istanbul
Address: Kabasakal Cad No 5 Sultanahmet, Fatih, Istanbul, 34122, Turkiye
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