For a brief period last autumn, Istanbul was just about the only city-break destination that didn’t require a spell in quarantine. Now, with travel opening up once again, British holidaymakers have the opportunity to return in more relaxed circumstances.
And few places could be more laid-back than the Six Senses Kocatas Mansions, which occupies two 19th-century palaces on the shores of the Bosphorus – one originally owned by the Ottoman empire’s grand vizier and the other by its minister of justice. After a period of fire and dereliction, the two mansions have been resurrected as an elegant 45-room hotel.
Why come here?
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While Turkey’s Mediterranean resorts are doing a brisk trade in post-lockdown beach retreats, Istanbul is for those who want to reconnect with the world rather than get away from it all.
As Byzantium and then Constantinople, this city has been at the heart of intercontinental travel and commerce since ancient times. The ebb and flow of empires – first Greek, then Roman, then Ottoman – has enriched its architecture, culture and cuisine, which borrow liberally from Europe, the Middle East and Asia.
And if all that sounds like sensory overload after a period of domesticity, the Six Senses provides a haven of restfulness. The hotel’s architects and interior designers have preserved the atmosphere of an opulent private house: its reception has the air of a boutique library, while the lounge is a genteel drawing room, furnished with Ottoman-era antiques and photographs.
The guest rooms are large, bright and, like the city itself, a harmonious blend of influences. In Sait Pasa mansion (the grand vizier’s, for those taking notes), the prevailing aesthetic is a restrained blend of Art Deco, mid-century and modern Scandinavian cues. Next door, Kocatas mansion (the justice minister’s) revels in full 19th-century garb. Polished walnut furniture and gilt-framed mirrors adorn intricately panelled and corniced walls. In both wings, the best rooms are at the front of the hotel, overlooking the Bosphorus.
What to do
Six Senses resorts are renowned for their spas and wellness programmes, and this urban retreat is no exception. A steam room, sauna and treatment rooms have just opened, in a century-old stone house in the hotel’s gardens. One swimming pool, overlooking the gardens, is already in place – and another, high on a ridge overlooking both the Black Sea and the Bosphorus, will open alongside the spa in the spring.
The hotel operates a daily boat shuttle to the city centre – by far the most glamorous (and often the quickest) way to get to the historic heart of Istanbul. There you will find the Hagia Sophia, which over the past 15 centuries has turned from church to mosque to museum and back to mosque again, as well as the Blue Mosque (below) and the Topkapi Palace Museum. Those who prefer to worship at the altar of commerce can lose themselves in the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s largest covered markets.
What to eat
Food is an event in itself in Istanbul, and indeed at Kocatas Mansions, where the all-day Defne restaurant offers Turkish accented salads, seafood and spiced, grilled meats. For those seeking international flavours, Toro serves Latin-Asian fusion dishes. Both restaurants spill out onto the courtyard, where you can eat in the open air.
Your Six Senses “guest experience manager” can help with bookings at restaurants elsewhere in the city – perhaps at Pandeli, where the “mouth-watering mezze” makes it onto Vogue’s list of “eight exquisite dining experiences worth travelling for”.
When to go
Istanbul is at its finest in the spring and autumn, but its maritime location takes the edge off the summer heat. Expect highs of 22C in May, 29C in August and 20C in October.
How to get there
With one of the world’s most well connected airports, Istanbul has direct flights to a range of UK cities from about £150 return.
How to book
Rooms are available from £317 per night, for two adults sharing, from the Six Senses website.
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