by Annette Bignami

As a travel writer on the road I've stayed at, on or in hundreds of hotels, apartments, condos, resorts, B&B, cruise ships, barges, houseboats, posadas and paradores that melt together in a smoky set of shifting images.

Sultanahmet Hotel

photo credit: Louis Bignami


Perhaps a half dozen stays offered more. Yosemite's Awahanee on a morning when snow dusts the valley, or the waking in the Hotel Europa in Venice and looking out one window down the Grand Canal and out the other at the exact view Monet painted of Sante Church don't fade. Falling asleep in a suite in the old section of the Pink Lady, Hawaii's Royal Hawaiian, as the light's twinkled on at dusk remains clear. So does dawn from a Hale, or Polynesian thatched hut in Hawaii, Kona Village, or waking 60 feet above ground in the treetops of the Amazon forest. Breakfast buffet under the incredible stained glass dome in Madrid's Palace Hotel recalls the taste of breakfast curlers. The Sultanahmet Hotel in Istanbul stands high on this list of visual, audible and gastronomic memories.

To start it's incredibly well located, very attractive and obviously the former private home of someone very rich with impeccable taste. Imagine falling asleep with the flood lit Blue Mosque framed in the arched top of your window and waking to the call to prayer as dawn lit it's sere walls. Enjoy dinner in the upstairs restaurant, and the best meal we had in Istanbul, a city of great, and affordable, food as Turkish music played and lights faded on the Sea of Mamara.

Factor in your own private marble to the ceiling Turkish Bath with some rather unusual fixtures that turn pedestrian showers into splashing foolishness. A big bed, interesting, comfortable furnishings and splendid settings.

"Location, location, location!" Consider the Blue Mosque five minutes away, the Hagia Sophia, splendid, and splendidly cool cistern well known to James Bond fans and the Hippodrome perhaps ten more minutes walk. The wonders of the Topkapi are only 30-minutes off. The only drawback we could discover, aside from everyone wanting to sell rugs, was the hotel's size as with 26 rooms reservations should be entertained a log way before any visit.

Great lodgings have a certain flavor of their own. You wake up and you know where you are. You find local foods, not indeterminately Franco-Italian or currently correct Pan-Pacific offerings. There's a sense of place, of pleasures past and prospective and a feeling that the staff will do whatever you wish whenever you like. Restaurants just closed for lunch magically reopen. Conversion plugs for laptops appear and the front desk makes arrangements for a car and driver. It's calm, classic hospitality of a sadly old-fashioned kind in a day when waiters named "Bruce" recite menus long boring, and you can't get an extra pillow for a bad back.

Of course, Istanbul helps. You could put a Motel 6 here, or a Hilton, and it would almost be exotic. So, I suppose, a memorable hotel needs a memorable setting. Istanbul?s certainly that with an odd mix of European, Middle Eastern and Slavic tastes and traditions. A place worth visiting again.