My favourite building in Istanbul, indeed the world, is not the 15-story vertiginous dome of Hagia Sophia, but a saffron-yellow former prison built in 1918 that was reincarnated in 1996 as the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet. Thanks to my father, a retired hotelier, I had a peripatetic childhood as a hotel brat, staying, even living, in Hilton, Sheraton, and Mandarin Oriental hotels, from Istanbul to Egypt to Hong Kong. This led me to become a travel writer. One of my jobs was reporting on the Four Seasons in Sultanahmet and included a now only dreamed-of expense account and plenty of free Champagne. I took my then boyfriend to dinner for his birthday at its courtyard restaurant, Avlu, in an attempt to impress him with my worldliness.
Some years later, we ended up getting married at the hotel. Minutes before the ceremony, I realised I had forgotten a bouquet. The staff swiftly sent two gorgeous arrangements to my door. We said our vows in a corner of Süreyya, the rooftop terrace lounge, with Hagia Sophia seemingly within touching distance. As we ate a sumptuous wedding dinner on a private terrace overlooking the Bosphorus, we noticed a rare celestial event: a partial eclipse of the moon. My 87-year-old grandmother’s feet were suffering, so the hotel brought her a pair of soft terry slippers, a look she owned as she strode nonchalantly through the lobby. We stayed in the erstwhile warden’s office, a stunning two-story suite with a huge arched window. We came back for our first anniversary and then our 10th, with two extra guests: our young sons.
In 2022 the hotel reopened after a two-year redesign, with interiors revamped by London-based studio Goddard Littlefair. Now the lobby is like a microcosm of Sultanahmet: a patisserie, La Pistache, sells Turkish sweets; Sahaf, an antiquarian bookstore, has prints and maps; and a jewellery boutique dazzles and entices. The new main bar, Lingo Lingo, has a dining space that provides a singularly Turkish ritual: seafood and meze with raki. The spa has been hugely expanded, adding a hammam and private treatment spaces. Avlu now serves modern Anatolian cuisine to tables surrounded by seasonal flowering plants. Near it is a mescit: a blue-tiled prayer room that exudes tranquillity. Guests can hop on a private shuttle to the hotel’s sister, a Four Seasons set in a 19th-century palace on the Bosphorus, lap in its waterfront outdoor pool, and loll in its awe-inspiring spa. The story of my husband and me includes the dramatic appearance of a double rainbow during a recent stay. My mother, whose happy place was also the Four Seasons, died in December 2021. She was no stranger to extravagant gestures, so I like to think that the rainbows were a message from her, welcoming us home. From about £557. Sevil Delin