The Empress Zoe is tucked in a quiet side street near the main attractions of Seraglio Point and Sultanahmet. The hotel has only 19 rooms, arranged more or less vertically on successive floors. Hence the caveat about the stairs. The first set, an open spiral staircase, is in the small reception area. Thankfully, two small but incredibly strong men carried our suitcases up to our room, located at the top of the building.
We'd known that we would be in for a climb by opting for the "penthouse suite," but loved the idea of staying in a room with its own terrace. The room itself was charmingly decorated in dark wood and warm reds, but my god, the climb! Four steep flights, not to be taken lightly. Thankfully, our room was well worth it, decorated in a simple folk motif manner, with kilims and rustic antiques. Large windows ran the length of the main room and the adjoining wall. The effect was of being in a private hideaway, up above the noise and tumult of the street, yet in a prime position to observe everything from an enviable vantage point.
The suite consisted of three areas: a large main room containing two single beds doubling as couches, a small curtained-off area containing a double bed, and a lovely bathroom with an opulent marble shower. In the main room there was a small table, chairs, TV, and coffee table as well as a kitchenette with a shelf of dishes and utensils, a coffee/tea maker, and a small refrigerator. The promised terrace looked out to sea in one direction and toward the Blue Mosque the other. As a bonus we had our own set of stairs that led down to the hotel's charming bar.
In keeping with the intimate surroundings, the hotel staff couldn't have been more accommodating. Most of the young, well-educated staff speak excellent English. We had several interesting conversations with the night desk clerk, an archeology student. Ali, who tended the bar, advised us on places to hear Turkish music. He was also extremely kind to our 11-year-old son, offering to play several games of chess with him. Greg, needless to say, thought Ali was the coolest guy in Istanbul.
A typical Turkish breakfast is included in the price of the room. It was too chilly during our stay to eat out in the lovely small garden area, but as a consolation all the public areas throughout the hotel were decorated with lively Greek murals.
There’s a 10% discount for paying cash. The penthouse suite was $125 ($112 with discount). While there are undoubtedly less expensive hotels in Istanbul, I can imagine few with greater charm. We made a vow to ourselves before leaving: we'd be back.
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Newport News, Virginia
October 8, 2011
From journal Istanbul with family
July 25, 2003
From our room at night, I could hear the calls to prayer from three different mosques. Rather than a nuisance, these beautiful songs became the soundtrack to my trip and a gentle way to awaken in the morning.
The beautiful local art that serves as decor here makes this hotel a unique place to stay.
There is a narrow spiral staircase to our room. Our room is small and dark, with a balcony overlooking the inner courtyard, where we take breakfast each day.
One special suite on the top floor has its own private deck from which you can view the domes of the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sophia.
Access to all rooms requires climbing the spiral staircase. Luckily the hotel staff will carry up your bags when you arrive!
Breakfast Included and the Rooftop Bar
Breakfast consists of yogurt and cucumbers, local cheese on cenet. We sat and drank our American coffees next to an 15th-century Turkish bath-house. Breakfast is thankfully complimentary.
There is a rooftop deck from which to sip a cocktail and look out on the old quarter at night. You can also see the Marmaris. The bartender will make any drink you like.
The hotel is owned by an American woman and its staff are well-spoken in English. They can offer advise on what to do and be a great help sorting out misunderstandings. One of the staff was a great help in translating a dispute we were having with a taksi driver, as well as helping as navigate the cultural differences. He explained, for example, that the tourist police and the taksi companies have a special relationship, and we were not likely to get our money back.
If you pay in American dollars, cash, you will get a 10% discount on the room.
Hotel Empress Zoe is ideally located in the Sultanahmet. Hotels and restaurants line this street. The Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia, and Topkapi are within a five minute walk.
From journal Istanbul in June
April 12, 2002
From journal Istanbul Idyll