Here's something I didn't know about Istanbul before visiting for the first time recently. It's not just a city split in two by the Bosphorus, the strait that connects the Black Sea and, eventually, the Mediterranean; the western (European) side of the city is also divided, by an inlet called the Golden Horn.
On the southern side of this inlet is "Old Istanbul" with landmarks such as Hagia Sofia, the Blue Mosque, the Grand Bazaar and Topkapi Palace in all their must-see glory. If you stroll or catch a tram across Galata Bridge to the other side, past fishermen standing shoulder to shoulder along the railings, you'll find a less tourist-centric, more cosmopolitan part of Istanbul – and one of its original hotels, the Gezi Hotel Bosphorus.
Named after a small park across the street, the Gezi is also right on Taksim Square, the heart of Istanbul, where New Year's Eve and Republic Day (October 29) celebrations happen, important football matches are screened and where the new Ataturk Cultural Centre will open in 2021.
Walking across Gezi Park, inhaling the wintry scent of roasting chestnuts from vendors' carts, I get my first glimpse of Gezi Hotel Bosphorus' sleek metallic facade through the trees. But it's not until I open the door to my sixth-floor Deluxe Bosphorus View Room that I feel I've really arrived. Welcome to Istanbul, says the wide-screen view of the surprisingly blue Bosphorus through floor-to-ceiling windows. I'm pleased to find that one window opens, for fresh air, until I realise a cacophany of car horns and jackhammers from the construction site next door also sails in on the sea breeze. So I close it and appreciate the double-glazing that keeps the room whisper-quiet despite the hotel's urban location.
An inviting velvet daybed with cushions and a matching footstool (do they call these "ottomans" in Turkey?) is a perfect window-seat from which to take in all the maritime action below. The views follow you into the bathroom, too, thanks to a glass panel facing the bedroom. It's not every day you can say you showered in Europe while looking at Asia.
The room's palette of greys, browns and blacks is brightened by an abundance of mirrors and a red, olive and white Mondrian-esque floor rug. Turkish architect Sinan Kafadar was inspired by the Dutch painter when he designed the hotel's refit in 2011. Another renovation is scheduled for early this year.
There's a kettle, a minibar, 24-hour room service and thoughtful touches such as a noon checkout, a Do Not Disturb button by the bed and wall-mounted reading lights that don't take up valuable real estate on the bedside tables.
It's a tough gig for a hotel chef to impress in a food-centric city such as Istanbul, but Gezi's ground-floor restaurant, Blu, holds its own with a varied Mediterranean-themed menu, excellent coffee, wines and breakfast buffet offerings, and balcony dining, with those Bosphorus views, in the warmer months. I can vouch for the quinoa salad, grilled sea bream and chocolate chestnut souffle. Blu's decor and friendly service also strike the right balance between warmth and style; this is fine dining that doesn't make you feel the need to dress up for dinner.
As a base for exploring, you can't beat the Gezi's close-to-everything location. Dawdle along Independence Avenue to Galata Tower for views across the Golden Horn. Wander Beyoglu's cobbled lanes, popping in to art galleries, cafes and design stores. Catch a ferry to Istanbul's Asian side and walk the foreshore, stopping for Turkish coffee and simit (Turkish pretzels). Or stroll down the hill to Dolmabahce Palace, a mini-Versailles once home to six successive Ottoman sultans as well as Ataturk, Turkey's first president, before returning to the unpretentious elegance of the Gezi Hotel Bosphorus and that incredible view of a city split by the sea.
Louise Southerden was a guest of Gezi Hotel Bosphorus with flights by Intrepid Travel.
Turkish Airlines, codesharing with Qantas, flies daily to Istanbul via Singapore from Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane. See turkishairlines.com
Gezi Hotel Bosphorus, a member of Design Hotels and the Marriott Bonvoy loyalty program, has 56 rooms and 11 suites from €150 a night. See gezibosphorus.com