Centuries-past plasterwork and pristine parquet flooring is the elegant backdrop to statement retro lighting, quirky marble ensuite bathrooms in this lovingly revived mansion in Cukurcuma reworked by designers du jour, Autoban. Just how Mr Smith and I have come to be wandering around the Galatasaray district searching for such splendour on a balmy evening is something of a story, too.
A year before, we were headed to the airport to hop a plane, that time to revel in a hip hotel in Miami
, when we missed our plane out of JFK. This led to a few tears, some choice words, and a re-route to another Florida airport. Determined not to miss another flight we arrived at the airport the full two hours early. As we reached the gate, high-fiving each other for being on time, an announcement offered vouchers in exchange for our seats – the flight was overbooked. A shared glance, a jog to the counter, and we were walking away with $1,600 for future flights. Cut to 12 months later, and here we are on a 10-day adventure in Turkey.
Having arrived in Istanbul
from the resort-town of Bodrum, we are sunburned but relaxed as we wind our way through Galatasary’s cobblestone streets, bags in hand, trying to find a tributary street called Bostanbasi. As we pass the same taxi stand for the third time, I muse to Mr Smith we might be lost. Our inadvertent detour, anything but boring, has us snaking up and down the labyrinthine sidestreets off Istiklal Avenue, the coursing artery of the New District of Istanbul. Under the warm late-September sky, the air is alive with animated philosophical discussions over glowing coals and bejeweled hookahs. With the help of a few hubbly-bubbly bar proprietors and late-night fruit merchants, we land at last at the front entrance of the House Hotel, its steps charmingly hidden from the hustle and bustle.
The House Hotel’s marble entrance glows softly with a warm light. As we step inside, it feels as though we are in a turn-of-the-century yet neatly appointed mansion, complete with wall sconces, chandeliers, and brocade couches placed strategically on the landings. The lobby is cosy, with a front desk tucked under a grand staircase.
Once in our room, Mr Smith and I take a few moments to fully test out our boutique bolt hole – me perusing bath products (L’Occitane) and WiFi (free), and him on minibar (fully stocked) and bed-testing (perfectly plush yet firm) duty. There's a spacious living room and a large boudoir, with a vibe that's both modern and classic; golds, creams and navy contrast nicely with witty bathroom tiling. And, as we overlook an open-air garden restaurant behind the hotel, a pleasant clinking of forks and glasses is our soundtrack as we spruce up for supper.
The best quirk? A standalone glassed-in shower smack dab in the middle, between bed and bathroom. Sure it’s got all the right requisites (scented unguents, piping water, perfect pressure) but it really sells itself when I step in for a quick rinse and Mr Smith gets a reverse peep show he won’t soon forget. Less steamy, but just as satisfying is the discovery that when we leave the lights turn on and off with the door key – an eco-friendly feature I always appreciate.
It's late, and tonight the hotel is only offering room service. Happily we discover that the alfresco eatery beyond our room is one of the best in the neighborhood, so we amble across for a leisurely late-night meal. After dinner, a few drinks later, and a few wrong turns, we end up back at our beloved hotel in time to pull the drapes on those massive windows tight and collapse in that bed…
Breakfast is a buffet affair, with fresh fruit, cheese and yogurt alongside options such as eggs, pancakes and freshly brewed cappuccinos. Knowing it beckons from three flights above prises us from our comfortable lodgings. As we reach the top floor, before heading into the small dining room, we steal a glimpse into the penthouse. There, in a gigantic, gorgeous room, we spy a glamorous girl getting her make-up done, no doubt for a photo shoot in this exhilerating style-drenched city. Flopping onto one of the leather couches we get another eyeful of something also worth snapping – a breathtaking panoramic view over Istanbul's rooftops. Meanwhile, bringing a glimmer of Palm Beach to our surroundings, is a more eclectic take on the decor with brightly coloured ceramic birds, indoor greenery, and dark wood coffeetables. What a stunning start to a day.
Packing up our cameras, our water bottles filled, we head off for some shopping at the world’s oldest mall, the Grand Bazaar. Centrally located a short walk from both Istiklal Avenue and the Metro, it’s an easy hop from the hotel to the city’s colourful markets. Here we search for trinkets for our families, when I discover the best handbag shop ever. I spend the next few hours honing my bartering skills, Turkish style. My reward? A Balenciaga replica – ‘Pretendciaga’ I quip to Mr Smith – that would fool Anna Wintour.
Several cups of sweet, strong Turkish tea later, Mr Smith and I salute our retail triumphs over sunset drinks at the top of the Marmara Pera hotel – its view over this East-meets-West, old-meets-new city is stuff postcards were made for. Here we toast, too, the House Hotel. Classic glamour yet completely contemporary – this hip urban hideaway shares the same unique contrast that makes Istanbul such a magnificent destination. Thank you, JFK for bumping us off that Miami flight.