You could be forgiven for believing that there's only one Raffles and, in a sense, you'd be right. The historic Raffles Singapore recently unveiled an impressive and heavily-publicised multi-million dollar makeover, but the Raffles name nowadays also signifies a fully-fledged and ever-expanding chain of premium hotels across the globe. In the meantime, one of the standout Raffles beyond the famed colonial Singapore flagship is the brand's glamorous 136-room Istanbul establishment.
Breathtaking. This multi-storey hotel is built atop a hill which affords panoramic views of the Bosphorus and the city's rooftops and, while not positioned in the thick of the action, there are good transport connections, including to the excellent Istanbul Metro, to get you to and from the city's myriad attractions.
What the contemporary Raffles Istanbul lacks in history – it opened just five years or so ago, compared with the 132-year-old pedigree of its Singapore counterpart - it compensates for with an abundance of culture and style. The hotel's generously-proportioned public areas are festooned with a large collection of contemporary art, based on "the dream of Istanbul" concept. Guests can book a highly-recommended, hour-long, art tour of the hotel with the works not only a pleasure in their own right but also providing insights into modern Turkish life and society. Perhaps the most arresting piece is Dolmabahce by Parisian photographer Jean-Francois Rauzier, an enormous fantastical photographic composition inspired by the city's ornate, Ottoman Empire-era Dolmabahce Palace, built in 1856, with the artwork specially commissioned for the hotel's inviting lobby lounge.
James Bond, or at the very least Ethan Hunt, would surely be most content in these hi-tech designer digs during an Istanbul sojourn. As for your humble reviewer, my mission possible is for a one-night, don't-miss-the-boat stay, having temporarily swapped a suite aboard a luxury floating hotel in the form of Regent Seven Seas Voyager, as part of a Mediterranean cruise, with a luxury five-star hotel room on land. I've been allocated one of Raffles Istanbul's lavishly-equipped Bosphorus Suites, which, with its tasteful blend of Turkish and western design, must rate as one of the world's best hotel rooms with wraparound, floor to ceiling views of Istanbul. Even the entry-point deluxe rooms start at a generous 72-square metres, with the Bosphorus Suite, one of 21 of this type, weighing in at a huge 183-square metres.
Raffles Istanbul is rightly proud of Isokyo, its new pan-Asian restaurant, in a city where such fare can be in short supply, even though it famously straddles continental Asia and Europe. Some guests who favour Turkish cuisine may be disappointed that there's not a signature Turkish restaurant in-house (though, really, we're not complaining). You can always drown your foodie sorrows at the hotel's elegant Long Bar – named after the original version at Raffles Singapore - where the curious artistic light fittings are subtly inspired by Turkey's own Whirling Dervishes. There are also plenty of locally-inspired dining options at the modern Zorlu Centre, one of Istanbul's chic shopping malls, which is connected directly to the hotel. In addition to Isokyo, there's also the Italian-theme Rocca Brasserie, along with Lavinia, the hotel's main lounge and a popular destination for high tea.
If you can drag yourself away from the considerable allures of Raffles Istanbul, incredible Istanbul and its well-documented, attractions await, such as the Grand Bazaar (closed on Sundays, please note), the Spice Market Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque and more. The aforementioned Metro station is handily-connected and accessible from both the hotel and the mall full of designer boutiques and decent dining options.
Istanbul, and for that matter, Turkey, is only now re-emerging from the spate of monstrous events that not long ago deterred western travellers from visiting the city. What a pleasure it is to finally reconnect with one of the world's greatest cities after a prolonged and unfortunate interlude at what surely ranks as one of the world's most superbly designed and spectacularly located hotels.
Doubles from €350 ($A570). Raffles Istanbul, Zorlu Centre, Istanbul, Turkey. Phone +90 212 924 02 00; see raffles.com/Istanbul
Raffles Istanbul is a true Turkish delight, but in the end it's the city itself that most captivates.
Some guests may find the hotel remote from the action, but just lie back and enjoy the views.