Bright smiles greet me when I enter the impressive lobby, which is dominated by a crystal chandelier that swirls like a vortex, a giant bronze sculpture in the style of Henry Moore and a huge mural. After a swift and efficient check-in, the receptionist shows me to my suite, which turns out to be quite vast, and gives me a quick tour. Everything is so smooth that it’s hard to believe the hotel has only been open since September.
You’re in the heart of modern Istanbul, specifically the Zorlu Center, a new complex with more than 200 shops, cafes, cinemas, large outdoor spaces and Turkey’s biggest performing-arts venue. It’s a fair distance from the centre, but a 15-minute walk through an underground passage leads to the metro at Gayrettepe. From there it’s a 10-minute ride to Taksim Square.
The elegant decor shows that contemporary doesn’t have to mean cold. Neutral tones are livened up with splashes of colour and texture – blue Oriental rugs, lilac murals, specially commissioned objets d’art and tables upholstered in creamy leather. Full-length windows open on to private balconies, and my 17th-floor corner suite has captivating views of the Bosphorus. If you’re there on business, you can actually get work done: desks have excellent lighting, iPads and a leather box with proper office supplies. Marble and mosaic-tiled bathrooms have mirror TVs, deep bathtubs and rain showers. It’s soothing, relaxing, understated and luxurious, without any bling.
Staff members are endearingly helpful and charming without fawning over you. All guests get a personal butler who’ll resolve requests with admirable speed.
The sprawling lobby is home to the Lavinia lounge, where afternoon tea is served. The mezzanine level has the Writers Bar, which resembles a sumptuous library. In homage to the original Raffles in Singapore, the Long Bar has been re-created in Istanbul, with frequent live music and DJ sets. Come summer, the sixth-floor outdoor pool becomes a magnet for people wanting panoramic views of the city, plus Turkish mezze at the poolside restaurant. On the same level is the beautifully designed spa.
An unexpected treat is the refined Spanish cuisine served by the Michelin-starred chef Sergi Arola in his eponymous restaurant, including king crab under a delicate tomato and egg mousse (50 Turkish lire [Dh82]) and a tabletop grill covered with freshly cooked shellfish (190 lire [Dh313]). Rocca offers contemporary Turkish dishes, and also serves one of the best hotel breakfasts I’ve ever had.
The calm ambience and warm service make you feel cosseted without being smothered. And plenty of Turkish touches in the decor and cuisine give you a strong sense of place.
The lighting controls are more complicated than they should be, and hopeless if your eyesight isn’t very good.
Impeccable service and the unimpeachably classy five-star Raffles brand are enough to make you forget that you’re not near the city centre.
The bottom line
Double rooms start from €600 (Dh2,760) per night, including breakfast. Raffles Istanbul, Zorlu Center, 34340 Istanbul, Turkey (www.raffles.com/istanbul; 0090 212 924 0200).
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