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LUXURY Hotels: Four Seasons Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey
Style: Turkish delight
The Scene:  The very heart of the old town
Seen in the lobby: An international crowd
I am staying in what has to be the world's most beautiful prison. The Four Seasons Sultanahmet in Istanbul was once a fortress-like gaol. Now its cells have metamorphosed into stylish suites and its prison gates into a luxury lobby.  The hotel is tiny by Four Seasons standards with only sixty or so  rooms and if staying where jailbirds once slept still bothers you  ,worry not,  only the cream of the 'criminal' fraternity  were locked up here.  The building was reserved for writers, artists, and aristocrats (poet Nazim Hikmet and novelist Orhan Kemal for example) and it was even immortalized by Graham Greene in his novel, Stamboul Train.  In Istanbul hotel terms this is the gem in the Sultan's turban. No five star hotel is closer to the very heart of the old city, with Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace a stroll away on one side and the Blue Mosque on the other. The location is extraordinary. No wonder Travel & Leisure magazine named it Best Small Hotel in Europe last month.
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four seasons sultanahmet lobby
One morning my companion and I get up early and wander out into the cobbled streets before the tour buses arrive. The Old Town is ours.  We are alone except for a tiny stray cat and her kittens also taking a morning stroll.  In Cagaoglu Square we walk past the centuries old hammam and an old man cleaning rubbish away from Sultan Ahmet Park with Hagia Sophia pink in the morning light and down a back street with old wooden houses painted peppermint green. We tip our sun hats to the Topkapi Palace and admire the Blue Mosque  -and all before breakfast.  The scene is very different from the evening before when the park was packed with picnicking families in bright headscarfs breaking their Ramadan fast at sunset.
Back at the Four Seasons the walls of our hotel are glowing golden in the early morning light and the carpet shop vendors opposite are just plumping up cushions and setting out their colourful kilims. We eat coffee and Turkish pastries in the hotel gardens before heading back out.
For the next few days we don't hail a cab at all - we simply walk everywhere. The exception being after out visit to the Grand Bazaar which is so 'grand' our feet acre from shopping (our wallets less so -there are bargains to be had) and we take a tram two stops back to the hotel.
Istanbul does get crowded in high season, its exotic delights and fascinating history make it a magnet for travellers but staying at Four Seasons Sultanahamet somehow makes the city seem so much more "ours', the tourists that bus in as the day unfolds are the interlopers, not us. Hagia Sophia especially can be packed to its lofty dome with hundreds of instagramming tourists but Four Seasons even has the answer to that. At night the hotel can organise a private after hour's tour.  Led by a private guide, you can walk around the immense church-turned-mosque-turned -museum and admire its 9th century mosaics and ma huge marble columns with only your footsteps echoing on its ancient stone floors.
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Like Istanbul itself, which straddles the continents of Europe and Asia across the Bosporus, the hotel mixes Four Seasons signature style with enough Turkish touches to make life interesting. Think kilims, carpets and antiques alongside hand-woven Ottoman tapestries, blue painted tiles, wrought iron and neo-classic stone archways.  We love its saffron-yellow walls and private courtyard garden, its archways and its art but most of all we love our Deluxe Suite.  A staircase with wrought iron banisters separates the living area from the bedroom and our little stone balcony, right over the arched entrance is a special treat. Am I a harem princess looking down on the world from our secret terrace or perhaps the Sultana herself? It feels like it.
On our last night we head for the A'YA Lounge, this has to be one of the best rooftop terraces in the world.  It has been newly re-imagined by Istanbul native Serdar Gülgün a world-renowned interior designer and Ottoman art collector. This is the ultimate Terrace-With-A-View. On one side Hagia Sophia is bathed in bronze light, so close I almost feel I could touch it, and as turn my head the other way I  see the illuminated minarets and dome of the Blue Mosque. We laze back on Ottoman-style couches and snack on dolmas and lamb durum.  If you are cocktailed out the lounge also offers special ice-creams for warm summer nights. Our two favourites were the Sultanahmet Ice Cream with Rose Delight, Pistachio and Yogurt Ice Cream and The Chef's Garden with Tarragon, Thyme, Basil Ice Cream, with Mint Sauce.
As we tuck into our ices the moon rises, white as mother of pearl, in a tile-blue sky. The perfect end to a perfect stay.
 
TLTB recommend you also stay at Four Seasons Bosphorous
Check in: Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at Sultanahmet, Tevkifhane Sokak No. 1, Sultanahmet-Eminönü, Istanbul, Turkey

Key count: 65 rooms, 11 suites

Ultimate Luxury:  The Marmara Suite with three private terraces overlooking the Sea of Marmara and the Princess Islands. This suite is a favourite of repeat visitors.
Most Indulgent Moment:  A spa treatment on the roof under a canopied tent fit for a sultan
Insider Secrets: Only a very few rooms have balconies so check before you check-in. 
The Little Things: We're loving the traditional food offerings that appear at afternoon tea in the suites - each day a surprise
Junior Luxies: Welcomed in Four Seasons
Dent in the platinum:
Luxury Hotels Link: www.fourseasons.com
Hilary Doling 8/8/14
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