A visit to the Pera Palace Hotel is a great way to get out of the touristy area of Sultanahmet. The neighbourhood in which it lies near Istiklal Caddesi, is a different world from Sultanahmet – much of the European-style architecture dates from the 19th century. There is an air of faded grand elegance and you can almost see the rich ghosts parading up and down the street. The whole area seems to be in the grips of gentrification and I can only hope that it will be a sympathetic gentrification. Thankfully, Pera Palace Hotel’s $30 million renovation between 2006 and 2010 was exactly that.
Historical romance positively drips from every corner of Pera Palace and you can practically see Agatha Christie, Ernest Hemingway, Alfred Hitchcock, King Edward VIII, and Greta Garbo lounging about with their scotch. Built in 1892 to host Orient Express passengers, the Pera Palace today is considered to be a museum-hotel. And a very beautiful one at that: antique furniture, mother-of-pearl, cast-iron, wood panelling, white marble, grand staircases, hardwood, glass domes, red velvet, and mirrors galore. Opulence from a by-gone era. There is even Europe’s oldest working elevator as well as an original painted sedan chair that was used to transport passengers from the Orient Express to the hotel.
Pera Palace is designated a museum-hotel because Room 101 has been converted into the Ataturk Museum – this was his room whenever he stayed at the hotel. It is full of his personal belongings and even if you know nothing about him, you can tell he was a politically-minded man who enjoyed his comforts. Room 101 consists of a little entryway, the main sitting room, a bedroom, and a bathroom. All rooms have touches of Ataturk – clothes, a tapestry, documents, photos, and mementos.
Pera Palace was very quiet when we visited. No surprise there as it was right in the midst of the 2013 protests. We felt like we were the only tourists around. The downside was that the afternoon tea experience made us feel a little like “all dressed up and nowhere to go”. I won’t lie – I was disappointed with our Tea experience. But at the same time, it wasn’t totally Pera Palace’s fault. It was an unusual time and they had no control over the fact that their country was in a bit of an upheaval and that foreigners were staying away. We had made reservations for Tea a couple days in advance but when we did arrive, they seemed to have forgotten we were coming. Or they assumed we weren’t coming as they had had no one in for Afternoon Tea all week due to the political situation. Though they were surprised to see us, the kitchen still managed to pull together some cakes, dainties, and tea: multi-coloured triangles of cake, puff pastries, mini scones and mini cakes, tarts, and little rectangles of sandwiches.
Tip 1: Unless there are protests again, make sure you book ahead for the Afternoon Tea. If there are protests, you just may have the place to yourself like we did!
Tip 2: Ensure you wander around the hotel – see the elevator, peek into the various eating/drinks places, and always remember to look up at the ceilings!