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Written by Timmy Coles-Liddle

At a time when political and economic tensions are impacting both leisure and business tourism in Turkey, we spent a vibrant and all-encompassing five days in the city of Istanbul, an exciting cultural melting pot where East meets West and its world-class contemporary art and gastronomy scene offer visitors an intoxicating energy.

The luxury hotel scene in Istanbul is reinventing itself at a reassuring rate. Independent group The House Hotel Collection now have four boutique hotels in the city, with another just opened in Cappadocia – itself an extraordinary design master class in how to seamlessly combine ancient architecture with the ultra-sleek necessities of the modern world. Our favourite is Vault Karakoy, located between trendy Karakoy and Galatasaray, a former bank has been meticulously restored by Turkish architect Han Tumertekin into beautifully appointed and well-proportioned bedrooms and suites – all featuring original fireplaces, contemporary artwork and a successful juxtaposition of traditional grandeur and modern style. The wine cellar is located deep in the building’s vaults and the in-house spa features a traditional hamam and numerous treatment rooms. Venture a little further up the vertiginous hill to Pera, a neighbourhood which is both buzzy and culinary intriguing. Sleek restaurants such as Aheste and Gram, situated next door to one another, offer Turkish classics reinterpreted for a more discerning, youthful crowd. Undoubtedly the most impressive opening this year is Soho House Istanbul, from the eponymous London members’ club founder Nick Jones. Together with a group of Turkish investors, the club has reimagined the once derelict US embassy, a former private palazzo, and created a remarkable synergy of ultra-modern and traditional spaces for club members. Non-members undergo a strict vetting process should they wish to stay the night in one of the club’s eclectic 87 bedrooms and suites – all furnished with a modern, vintage style. The chic Italian favourite restaurant Cecconi’s features a large patio garden filled with elegant tables and trademark blue and white striped upholstery, and is open to all for lunch and dinner.

A short stroll will take you to designer boutique hotel Witt Istanbul. With just eighteen generously proportioned suites featuring kitchenettes, glossy marble bathrooms and over-size beds, all are open-plan and many boast extraordinary views to the Golden Horn and Galata Tower.  Not to be left out, Witt are planning a new hotel in trendy Karakoy so watch this space.

The family behind popular Turkish restaurant Karakoy Lokantasi, located in a 17th century mansion, also own Karakoy Rooms, not a hotel, but twelve beautifully arranged rooms and suites – some with sea views and all with bright interiors and modern touches such as the king-size beds, crisp white sheets, high ceilings and exposed brass piping. We loved the spacious 50 sq-m Studio with sea view – perfect for drinks with friends before hitting the city.

Earlier this year, US-based Morgans Hotel Group launched 10 Karakoy, a 71-room design hotel in the heart of upbeat Karakoy, set back from where the Bosphorus meets the Sea of Marmara. The ground floor restaurant, Rudolf, offers an inventive take on modern Turkish cuisine with a touch of international flair. The Loft Terrace Suites and the Penthouse are particularly elegant, each with a wraparound terrace and extensive seating – perfect for cocktails with friends on a balmy evening. 

Lunch at hot new Mitte is a must, where traditional Turkish recipes have been updated with a gentle international modern flavour. The double-height ceiling and open-plan, mezzanine kitchen create a sleek, buzzy environment in which to dine and socialise. Head further along the Bosphorus and you’ll need to check out modern bistro, Lucca, which is a hotspot for lunch but it’s after dark that the real magic happens. A short stroll up the hill to the Galata Tower and refuel on chargrilled chicken skewers and hummus at Kiva Han Galata, a simple Tukish café with a super terrace offering one of the best spots for people-watching in the city. A short stroll away and onto

Accenting his famous farm-to-table philosophy, Michelin-starred chef Wolfgang Puck has just launched Spago atop the St. Regis Istanbul. The playful, modern international cuisine, which includes hand-made pastas and pizzas and an extensive, carefully chosen wine list, is proving a hit amongst the well-heeled city dwellers and visitors alike. The sleek interiors, individual banquette seating and far-reaching city and Golden Horn views are creating a new evening hangout within this world-class nightlife hub. The hotel boasts some delightful floor-to-ceiling glass walled suites for anyone seeking a touch of New York bachelor cool. Sticking to the theme of hotel rooftop restaurants, the eponymous Mikla at The Marmara Pera is still going strong after ten years. Chef-proprieter Mehmet Gurs is, of course, the founding father of contemporary Turkish cuisine, having brought his Turkish-Scandinavian twist to the city in 1996.

Since 1995, Miamensa has been serving simple Italian dishes at lunch and dinner to an eclectic crowd on its expansive terrace overlooking the Bosphorus. NOPA, located in trendy Nisantasi, launched at the beginning of last year and is well worth the steep trek from the Bosphorus. Sleek interiors and a wonderfully lush verdant vertical garden allow for year round dining. Playful and contemporary Turkish dining presented by the team behind The House Hotel Collection make this city hotspot a must-visit.

Munferit, located in vibrant Galatasaray, is most definitely the go-to evening venue for locals and visiting jetsetters. The very modern Turkish menu, inventive cocktail list and dreamy Turkish wines are served in the sleek, dark ground floor restaurant, but it’s the cute external terrace and first floor bar that really wow. For those not quite ready to go home, the city has some ultra-sleek rooftop bars such as 360, which serves modern Turkish meze and small plates for lunch and dinner, but becomes Club360 after dark where international DJs provide the beats to a cool crowd until 4am – all while enjoying extraordinary panoramic views to the Bosphorus, Hagia Sophia Mosque, Golden Horn and the Sea of Marmara. Another rooftop venue with sublime views is Angelique, a concept bar and restaurant with nightclub. Whizz up for pre-dinner cocktails and enjoy the high-energy.

Undoubtedly one of the primary reasons for a visit to Istanbul is the lure of world-renowned spa and hamam treatments. Kilic Ali Pasa hammam, founded in the 16th century, has recently undergone a million-lira refurbishment project, should be high on the list. A traditional Turkish hammam experience, where men and women visit at different times, the ultra-professional staff are helpful and will leave you feeling refreshed and rejuvenated – the no-fuss massages are exceptional. For luxury seekers, travel a little further up the Bosphorus to Four Seasons and explore their cavernous 2,000 sq-m spa and enjoy a private hammam, one of their signature spa treatments and massage therapies.

NINE’s members should contact their dedicated manager for travel inspiration and to discuss their next tailored adventure. 

Images: 1) 360 Istanbul. 2) Witt Istanbul. 3) NOPA. 4) Munferit. 5) Angelique