Perched on top of a hill on the European side, within a stone’s throw of the Bosphorus, the new Raffles Istanbul offers the perfect point to explore both halves of this stunning city – and General Manager Tarek Mourad aims to ensure visitors have the experience of a lifetime
There is the 10- or 20-second impression of Istanbul, says Raffles Istanbul General Manager Tarek Mourad, and then there’s the experience of a lifetime. He aims to deliver the latter, in a hotel styled to combine the luxury associated with the Raffles name and the unique style of the world’s most fascinating city.
“Our location is perfect; we are truly in the heart of the world. We are on top of a hill that emotionally and physically connects you to the Asian side, to the other side of the world, and gives you an amazing, fulfilling experience, with unobstructed views of this beautiful city,” says Mr Mourad.
Raffles Istanbul is in the heart of Zorlu, an upscale development that delivers a mix of top-rank Turkish and international shopping, including the country’s first Apple store and luxury retailers Bulgari and Louis Vuitton, alongside leading Turkish fashion houses Beymen and Vakko. The restaurant scene includes Jamie’s Italian, Tom’s Kitchen and the Italian deli Eataly, while the Performing Arts Centre, with its vast state-of-the-art stage, hosts everything from Turkish orchestras to touring Broadway shows.
The hotel has its foothold on the European side of Istanbul, with rapid transport connections to the centre of the city and is in easy range of the ferry and private boat docks on the Bosphorus shore.
The rooms, with their views across greater Istanbul, feature artworks inspired by the chandeliers of the Blue Mosque. The facilities run from a roof-top swimming pool to a heliport and a Long Bar, inspired by the original in Raffles Singapore,
with a very Turkish twist. Interiors, which are at the heart of Turkish design tradition, include the comfy leather tub chairs of the Writer’s Bar, as well as fantastical ceiling ornaments modelled on upturned Ottoman domes, and wall décor in Turkish marble.
At the hotel’s grand opening in September, a series of artworks commissioned from leading international and local artists was unveiled. The lobby lounge includes an 8m-high mural, playing with perspective and focusing on photography, that was specially commissioned for the space. The Turkish artist Çetin Paksoy designed the glass-tiled doors for the building’s lobby, in a modern spin on the famous ceramics that emanated from the Selcuk region in Anatolia.
Mr Mourad is well qualified to guide Raffles through its grand opening, having risen through the ranks from bellman to general manager. He has assisted with or directed the opening of half-a-dozen hotels, from Las Vegas to Riyadh, and ran the Four Seasons both in Damascus and in Istanbul.
Born and raised in Egypt as a Muslim by a father of Ottoman descent, he has Greek nationality through his mother. Even his background represents the cross-cultural connections of Ottoman life that thread through Istanbul itself. That may be partly why he directs guests to the Ortaköy district where the gleaming white 19th-century mosque – a neo-Baroque wonder by the famous Balyan family of architects, who also designed the Dolmabahçe Palace – was opening this summer after a major restoration.
But Ortaköy also boasts a synagogue and a Greek Orthodox Church, a symbol of Ottoman tolerance, alongside nightclubs, such as the famous Reina, one of Istanbul’s hottest spots. The bustling municipality of Besiktas, and the famously upmarket Bebek – home to the fastest bars, cars and yachts in the city – are just a short journey away.
The concierge is at the heart of any hotel and with his team connects the
guest to the city. “Istanbul is not just history, Istanbul today is contemporary,
a beautiful evolution of amazing culture, art and fashion. Our concierges can
recommend the best art exhibitions and galleries to see the unique art of
Turkey represented in carpets, glassware and handicrafts,” says Mr Mourad.
The first impressions of the hotel may come from its stunning lobby, the
200-plus art works or the spa with its three hammams but, as Mr Mourad
says: “The lifetime impression is created by a passionate, caring, insightful
team that has one goal – to serve and satisfy.”