It was dark and Istanbul was shiny with rain as the taxi driver and I sluiced our way through busy streets from the airport to the Four Seasons Hotel at the Bosphorus. I’d always wanted to visit Istanbul, even before I heard the They Might Be Giants cover of Istanbul (Not Constantinople). Earlier this year I finally spent a weekend visiting the city that straddles two continents, absorbing the city’s luxury, food, architecture, literature, history, and rituals.
I went on my own to catch up with a friend in town for a conference, but for families travelling together or even parents on a weekend without the kids, it’s a fantastic place to visit. After an easy four-hour flight you’ve landed in an exotic but sophisticated city. Even over a weekend I felt immersed in the history, mindset and beauty of the city.
The driver turned right off the main road and spread before us was the 18th-century former palace of the Four Seasons Bosphorus. The converted 19th-century Ottoman palace sits on the city’s famed river and is great for family stays. Because of the big spaces available, including a sprawl of terrace directly overlooking the Bosphorus, it’s also a favourite for events, playing host to weddings, family events and baby showers as well as reported guests like Victoria Beckham. (The other Four Seasons in Istanbul is in the middle of Sultanahmet and housed in a neo-classical former prison — the one portrayed in Midnight Express.)
My junior suite overlooked the outdoor heated pool, the river and the city beyond. The view inside the rooms is just as good: L’Occitane soaps, enveloping bathrobes, rainforest shower. One of the truly wonderful moments of staying at a Four Seasons hotel comes at the end of the day, when you sink into your cloud-like mattress with pillows like angels’ wings. I’ve stayed in properties in London, New York, France and the experience is always the same. I actually let out a sigh as I settle down and can help but think disdainfully of my trusty ol’ mattress at home, which is merely extremely comfortable.
Not your ordinary breakfast
Another unexpected wow moment came the next morning: the breakfast buffet. Instead of a ho-hum line-up of danish and cold cereals, the spread included olives, succulent tiny tomatoes, artisanal cheeses from small farms, pastrami, fruit, and a slab of real honeycomb to sliver off a portion. Best of all was the black sesame seed topped flatbread and bal kaymak — a thick yoghurt topped with honey — possibly the most delicious breakfast food I’ve ever eaten.
The restaurant overlooks the patio next to the Bosphorus. I could imagine my husband and I enjoying our tea and breakfast, watching the children through the floor to ceiling windows playing outside.
Breakfast is an important meal in Turkey. I ate with Sibel, the director of public relations for the hotel, who described it as really the most important meal, a time for Turkish families to gather together — to chat, share stories, wile away Sundays. Here, you don’t want to miss it.
Other things to eat in Istanbul are the incredible meze and the fresh fish. The city’s beloved bluefish is popular and is the subject of a campaign to ensure its sustainable fishing. It’s in season from September to March. Watch the video for some tips from the manager at the Four Seasons on how to eat well in the city.
Visiting the spa
The hotel also has a 2,100 square foot spa with three hammams: separate sections for men and women and a couples’ hammam. I’d love to come back with my husband but there’s something freeing about wandering from steam room to shower to relaxation room with only other women around.
I had the first hammam here, starting in the steam room: Within moments of my entering, it was cloudy and opaque and I sat there in the ghostly still on the warmed aquamarine tiles and deliquesced like a pile of spinach leaves.
Then I was led to the hammam room. My therapist Feliz, a tiny toned woman in a Speedo one-piece with a cotton wrap around her waist, led me into a room with a round heated stone in the middle. I lay on a towel, she doused me with warm water drawn from a marble bowl, then scrubbed me purposefully with a loofah.
Next she did the most amazing thing: in the bowl she worked up a lather with olive oil soap, submerged a large fabric bag in it, then squeezed out the water. At this point I feared where she was going with this. I pictured being thwacked with the long twist of bag, a la a snapped towel. Instead, she opened the top, swung it back and forth, back and forth, creating billowy bubbles inside. Then she held the bag aloft over me and squeezed them out. They foamed over my body, which was simmering on the hot stone below. I felt like the third course of a Heston Blumenthal tasting menu.
The massage and shampoo that followed passed in a blissful blur. The experienced ended with Feliz pouring successively colder bowls of water over me until the final icy splash. Afterwards I felt as if I’d taken a Bikram yoga class — rubbery, alert, at ease.
The entire experience is pampering, yes, but also something more. You are rinsed, scrubbed and washed by someone else, the way most of us haven’t been since we were children. Go with a friend and have a communal experience.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus
Çırağan Cad. No. 28
+90 (212) 381 40 00