PerapalasextUnlike many iof its upstart new hotel rivals, the Pera Palace in Tepebaşı near what was once the old American Consulate has a history to conjure with.

Back in 1888 the Belgian tour operator Georges Nagelmackers founded the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits to operate what came to be known as one of the most famous and glamorous of all railway services -- the Orient Express. Passengers boarded the train in Paris and arrived in İstanbul three days later, and it soon became obvious that the then Turkish capital needed an equally glamorous hotel to accommodate them. Nagelmackers quickly decided that the Levantine architect Alexandre Vallaury was the right man to come up with something appropriate, and in 1895 the stately Pera Palace Hotel opened its doors for the first time from a lofty perch high up above the Golden Horn.Perasedan

In those days the hotel could advertize itself as having “a thoroughly healthy situation, being high up and isolated on all sides,” and guests who arrived in town by train were ferried across the Bosphorus and then carried to its door in sedan chairs. The first hotel in the city to boast electricity, the Pera Palace even had an electrically operated lift that was the second to be installed in Europe after the one inside the Eifel Tower.

In its ballroom grand parties were held, while in its patisserie wealthy dowagers met to compare notes. Its bar was a well-known meeting place, frequented by a long list of famous guests, amongst them the spy Mata Hari and the Hollywood screen goddess Greta Garbo. Mustafa Kemal Atatürk was a regular visitor to the hotel where his corner suite (room 101) has been preserved as a museum. But probably the most famous guest of all was the British crime writer Agatha Christie, who used a stay in room 411 in 1934 to pen Murder on the Orient Express, the most famous of all her novels featuring the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot.

PeraintTime passed, and the Pera Palace was lucky to survive the demolition balls that saw off other İstanbul icons such as the Tokatliyan Hotel on İstiklal Caddesi and the Park Hotel on Gümüşsuyu (İnönü) Caddesi. Inevitably, however, its period-piece status became a mixed blessing as newer hotels with more modern facilities popped up all over the city. In 2006 new owners finally bit the bullet and closed the hotel for the extreme makeover that was completed in 2011.

In a city not always known for meticulous restoration work, it's good to be able to report that the 115-room Pera Palace has been brought up-to-date at no cost to its historic features.

Modern elevators may now whisk guests up to their stylish bedrooms, but the old lift with its wonderful metal grilles still stands sentinel in the stairwell. A stylish Agatha restaurant may have been shoehorned into the basement alongside a spa, but guests still take tea in a glorious high-ceilinged hall decorated with glass domes reminiscent of those atop old hamams (Turkish baths). The patisserie still looks just as inviting as in the past, with its sedan-chair-style seats lined up by the windows. Only the famous bar where the likes of Ernest Hemingway rubbed shoulders with the locals might strike a contemporary visitor as a tad too brightly lit for comfort.


Today the Pera Palace queens it over rapidly modernizing Meşrutiyet Caddesi in Tepebaşı, a street that has acquired a whole new lease of life with the departure of the US consulate from the beautiful Palazzo Corpi (now slated to become a boutique hotel) to distant İstinye. Not far away stands the Büyük Londra Oteli, the last of the dinosaur hotels still awaiting a facelift. Some of the Pera Palace bedrooms look out towards the much-criticized TRT building, but that may in time, and if the fates allow, be replaced with a Frank Gehry-designed museum.

In 2012 British crime writer Barbara Nadel set her latest İstanbul thriller Deadline in the Pera Palace Hotel as a homage to Agatha Christie in whose room she had stayed while doing her research.

Thumbs up: Perfect for romantics who love to stay in history; spectacular ballroom, dining room and bar

Thumbs down: Most rooms relatively small; views not as impressive as along Bosphorus

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Tel: 0212-377 4000, www.jumeirah.com



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