At the eastern end of that fabulous transcontinental train journey called the Orient Express was the glorious, mysterious, romantic city of Istanbul. It was here, in a neighborhood called “Little Europe” overlooking the Golden Horn, that the Pera Palace Hotel opened in 1892, and re-openedin 2010, to provide travelers with a standard of luxury and elegance befitting royalty, heads of state, artists, writers and celebrities. It has recently reopened following an extensive $32 million restoration and renovation.
Built to accommodate the guests of the Orient Express, this was the first grand hotel in Turkey — with the first electricity, running water and elevator, in fact the second European elevator after the one in the Eiffel Tower. Guests were brought from the nearby train station in a sedan chair that still sits in the lobby of the hotel.
The rest, as they say, is history; and the history of the Pera Palace mirrors that of Turkey and Europe over the years. The hotel’s gracious blend of neo-classical, art nouveau and oriental styles and its superior service entranced the likes of Ernest Hemingway, Greta Garbo and Agatha Christie, who, according to legend, wrote her classic, Murder on the Orient Express, while staying in her favorite room, 411. Other distinguished guests included King Edward VIII and Queen Elizabeth II of England, Emperor Franz Joseph, Sarah Bernhardt, Alfred Hitchcock and Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis. The founder of modern Turkey, Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, resided in room 101 when he visited Istanbul.
Eventually, time took its toll on the Pera Palace Hotel. The landmark of 19th century Istanbul was in need of loving care and, in April 2008, the hotel was closed for an extensive $32.2 million renovation and restoration project, carefully overseen by the Turkish KA.BA Conservation of Historic Buildings and Architecture. The magnificent “new” hotel opened in September 2010.
The key objectives of the restoration and renovation project were to ensure that the original architectural and design features of the property, created by Alexander Vallaury, a Levantine of Italian origin and resident of Istanbul, were preserved in accordance with Turkish Law, seeking to protect the cultural heritage of the country. It was equally important to enhance the infrastructure and technology of the Pera Palace Hotel, to ensure that it provided an experience synonymous with the standards of a 21st century luxury hotel.
The lobby area has been meticulously restored and retains the original art nouveau, neo-classical and oriental design influences. The first electric elevator in Istanbul remains intact, save for technical enhancements to keep it in working order. The public areas on the entrance floor level, including The Orient Bar, Patisserie de Pera and Kubbeli Saloon Tea Lounge, as well as the meeting rooms have all been updated while retaining the original architectural space and design details.
All of the interiors of Pera Palace Hotel are built around a very large rectangular open space in the middle of the building called the Kubbeli Saloon. The roof above the Saloon, which enclosed six domes, has been opened up. The domes have been cleaned and the high ceilings have been converted to glass to let in the sunshine.
Top priority was given to providing the highest level of comfort in the 115 guest bedrooms including upgrading interior fittings and installing new telecommunication systems. Murano chandeliers illuminate the bedrooms, heated Italian Carrara marble was installed in the bathrooms and each room has a few pieces of the original hotel furniture. The names of the spacious hotel suites pay homage to some of the hotel’s celebrated guests, including Ernest Hemingway, King Edward VIII, French novelist Pierre Loti, Greta Garbo and Emperor Franz Joseph through decoration, archive photography, subtle color schemes and furnishings.
The hotel is again the place to be for dining, special events and elegant nightlife. Located just minutes from the labyrinthine historic heart of the city, it is surrounded by the best restaurants, nightlife, galleries and boutiques. The much awaited reopening of its legendary restaurants and bars plus the opening of new ones, further heightened anticipation to return to this famous hotel.
The elegant Agatha Restaurant pays tribute to the three major stops of the former Orient Express —Paris, Venice and Istanbul — by serving a blend of French, Italian and Turkish cuisines. The restaurant is headed by Chef Maximilian Thomae, who previously worked at two Michelin star restaurants in Munich and Istanbul. Diners can watch the chefs at work in the trendy open show kitchen and visit the small wine cellar. Each month, there is a new, seasonal degustation menu in Agatha with three or six courses.
This summer, the Pera Palace’s stylish outdoor Orient Terrace became the most “in” spot for Istanbul’s jet set of all ages. And as temperatures cool, the historic Orient Bar will take its place. It has always been a popular meeting place for Istanbul residents, intellectuals, artists and international travelers alike. Ernest Hemingway spent many an hour there, nursing a whisky.
In keeping with the elegant style of the hotel, Istanbul’s most traditional English Afternoon Tea isheld in the spectacular Kubbeli Saloon, accompanied by piano music. The Pera Palace also retained its famous Patisserie de Pera, the first and until recently the only true French pastry shop in Istanbul. Decorated in an art nouveau style, it also features its own chocolates.
In addition, the Pera Palace Hotel opened a chic new Pera Spa with an indoor pool with jet stream, a traditional hammam (Turkish bath), steam bath, jacuzzi, sauna and three treatment rooms together with an indoor pool and fitness center.
For more information about the Pera Palace Hotel and its renovation, please visit www.perapalace.com.