My wedding ring? I gave it to my wife in Pera Palace. Where else?
Several of my blogs are about the rapid modernization of Istanbul’s infrastructure. Istanbul however is also a city of history that spans three millennia. Near the Dutch Consulate, just a few minutes away is Pera Palace, one of the ‘1000 places one has to visit in his/her life before one dies’ and voted one of the best, if not the best, boutique hotel in the world.
The hotel is located in the neighborhood of Pera, now called Beyoglu. In the 19th century, this neighborhood resembled a chique European city, with a distinctive fin de siècle atmosphere, luxury shops and embassy buildings, including our own Palais de Hollande, as the Dutch Consulate is better known.
This “East meets West” feeling is best captured in the Pera Palace, a place of intrigue, mystery, spies, diplomats and the high life. In 2010 the hotel reopened after four years of renovation: elegant and as ever breathing history. The hotel did a great job in preserving its nostalgic atmosphere, from the furniture and the curtains to the wall paneling and uniforms of the waiters. Every room is decorated with at least one piece of original furniture. The restored elevator is the oldest one in Turkey and after the Eiffel Tower the oldest of Europe. The traditional afternoon tea, champagne, caviar and live piano music, it all feels like Yesterday, but somehow still fits in very well in 2015.
The hotel was built to accommodate travelers arriving on the Orient Express, which had Istanbul as its final station from 1885 till 1977. Pera Palace was the last stop of ‘modern Europe’ before entering the Orient or a safe haven on the way back from a gruelling desert adventure.
The Pera Palace immediately became Istanbul’s number one hotel. All important balls were held here and it was the perfect place for the first night of arriving ambassadors. From the Sirkeci end Station ( now a stop on the Marmaray metro line crossing the Bosporus), important quests were carried all the way to the hotel in sedan chairs.
Part of the fame of Pera Palace is linked to famous visitors, like King Edward VIII, Alfred Hitchcock and Ernest Hemmingway who described the bar of the hotel in his book ‘The Snows of Kilimanjaro’. One of the rooms is dedicated to Agatha Christie, writer of ‘Murder on the Orient Express’, who stayed at the hotel on her way to Baghdad. Another room features personal belongings of Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, who frequented Pera Palace no less than 18 times.
Together with its neighbor the Soho House, the former US Embassy, Pera Palace reflects one of the many aspects of this city of 3.000 years old, with its 16 million inhabitants. Just as the Blue Mosque or the First Bridge, Pera Palace has become an integral part of what Napoleon called his future capital of the world.
And yes, they also have a wedding suite.