EMPRESS ZOE: Boutique? You could say that. Unique? Redefining the word. You’ve never seen anything like Empress Zoe, a crazy rabbit warren of various townhouses layered around a courtyard and bordering an abandoned 15th century hamam in the shadow of the Hagia Sophia. This is a place where getting to your room needs a compass (up the spiral staircase, right at the bar, second stairwell of the third house, go down and then up) and every single room is gloriously different (the website will run you through options of canopied beds, rooftop balconies, frescos, fireplaces and bathroom hamams). It’s mad, but it’s wonderful, with ancient bits of statuary lying around the premises. The resident cats are the icing on the cake.
Room Rate: From €60 ($80) for a budget twin room.
Address: Akbiyik Caddesi 10.
FOUR SEASONS ISTANBUL AT SULTANAHMET: An imposing building set around a courtyard, the neoclassical Four Seasons used to be a jail – but don’t let that put you off. The location is perfect for sightseeing – on the hillside right below Hagia Sophia – and they’ve dolled up the building with mustard walls, a pretty garden (and restaurant) in the exercise yard and 65 understated rooms with large windows overlooking either the courtyard or surrounding streets. If you’re lucky, you’ll have glimpses of the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia or the Bosphorus.
Room Rate: From €320 ($429) for a deluxe room.
Address: Tevkifhane Sokak 1.
NEORION HOTEL: There’s a reason why it seems impossible to topple the Neorion from the TripAdvisor leaderboard: its irrepressible owner, Faruk Boyaci, knows exactly what you want from a hotel. Free cancellation (48 hours before arrival). A free airport transfer (for stays of three nights or more). Comfortable, decently sized rooms – even the single ones. An onsite spa and hamam. Free mezze. Free earplugs. A network of local restaurants owned by the same guy. And notably awesome service. The rooms are more businessy than sexy, but it’s brilliant at what it does.
Room Rate: From €170 ($228) for a double or twin room. 10% off for cash bookings.
Address: Orhaniye Caddesi 14.
HOTEL AMIRA: It’s not the cheapest in town but the Amira is phenomenal value with pretty, boutique-style rooms (think coffered white headboards, feminine furniture and patterned – in a trendy way – wallpaper) and a lovely roof terrace looking out over the Bosphorus (a five minute walk downhill) and the Blue Mosque (10 minutes uphill). The best bit? Either the basement hamam or the free daily afternoon tea – a smorgasboard of traditional Turkish snacks.
Room Rate: From €109 ($146) for a standard room.
Address: Kucuk Ayasofya Mah. Mustafapasa Sokak 43.
Tomorrow, we'll be looking at must-stay hotels in trendy Beyoglu. Stay posted...
[Photos: Neorion: Neorion Hotel. All others: Julia Buckley for HotelChatter]