My one-month tour of the Mediterranean and Middle East began with a one-week stay in Turkey. The plan was to spend four nights in Istanbul, hop over to the scenic Cappadocia region for two more nights, and then return to Istanbul for one last night before continuing the journey to the Greek island of Santorini.
In booking a hotel stay, I sought to use this opportunity to burn up one of my remaining seven-night certificates from the legacy Marriott Rewards program, which I felt would be a good deal even though I wouldn’t be staying for two of the seven nights (such was the sheer generosity of the Travel Packages back in the days of the old program).
The only question that remained was which hotel to choose. The W Istanbul looked nice as a lower-level Category 4, while the St. Regis Istanbul was a Category 5 at the time, and would soon be rising to a Category 6. (I ignored the Ritz-Carlton because of the lack of elite benefits I’d get from staying there.)
In the end, I decided to splurge a little and redeemed a Category 5 seven-night certificate at the St. Regis Istanbul. Having already tried out the world-class St. Regis brand in Moscow, Bali, and Toronto, I was looking forward to seeing how the location in Turkey’s largest city compared.
(These days, a free night at this hotel, which is now a Category 6, would run you 50,000 Bonvoy points per night, while the cash rates hover around $350/night.)
The St. Regis Istanbul sits within a six-storey building in the Nisantasi district, one of the city’s poshest neighbourhoods, overlooking the expansive green space of Maçka Sanat Park (where a music festival was taking place when we arrived).
The location is a short walk from the Dolmabahçe Palace, but quite a hike away from Istanbul’s most popular attractions like the Blue Palace or the Hagia Sophia – you’ll definitely need to take a taxi or public transportation to get to the Sultanahmet district, where those sites are located.
We arrived from Istanbul’s new airport by way of a 30-minute Uber ride, and were greeted by the bellmen outside, who helped us with our luggage. We entered the hotel’s small and intimate lobby area and were invited to sit down at the personal check-in desks.
We were handed a fruity welcome drink, which I thought was rare for a city hotel like this one, and a great way to be introduced to the St. Regis.
Looking around, I could tell that this was definitely a more boutique St. Regis location than some of the brand’s more grandiose properties around the world, welcoming guests with a sense of luxury that felt intimate rather than over-the-top.
The check-in associate recognized my Titanium status and then informed us that we had ben assigned a Deluxe Room for our seven-night stay, which he mentioned was an upgrade from the standard room I had booked.
At this point, I politely interjected to ask whether any suites happened to be available, and the associate checked on his computer for a while before saying that a St. Regis Suite would indeed be available for the duration of our stay, but it had yet to be cleaned by housekeeping after the previous guest checked out.
I was happy to wait an hour or so for a nice suite, so Jessy and I retreated to the St. Regis Brasserie while we waited. The brasserie had some nice live music going on the outdoor patio at the time, so it was very pleasant to sip on a late-afternoon beer and engage in some people-watching for my first impressions of Istanbul.
The time went by pretty quickly, and soon an associate came to fetch us and bring us to our suite. We had been put up on the 4th floor, in Room 415.
The hallways here at the St. Regis Istanbul are dimly illuminated by thin stripes of lighting along the ceiling and floor, which again gave the place a boutique character.
This was one of the more interestingly designed hotel suites I’ve found myself in. There’s no foyer or anything upon entering the suite – instead, you immediately find yourself in the living and dining area, your attention captured by the large floor-to-ceiling windows facing the views of Maçka Sanat Park.
The suite features a curved mirrored wall, which cradles the living space as it wraps around to the back of the room. The furniture consists of a central table, together with a semi-circular couch and two more chairs on the other side.
I found the furniture setup to be a little confusing. Both the couch and the chairs were set too low to the dining table, which made it awkward to eat anything while sitting down. They also functioned poorly as a living space, since sitting down and spreading out on the couch would mean facing away from everything else in the room, and you’d also be viewing the wall-mounted television at a diagonal angle.
The arrangement of the St. Regis Suite’s living room definitely wasn’t very well-executed, as it was guilty of trying to fit too much into a limited space.
There’s a small snack cart in the corner, which functioned as the minibar, while a comprehensive coffee and tea set in the pantry (including a Nespresso machine) ensured we were properly caffeinated throughout our stay.
The desk is found in the corner of the living space, and I spent quite a bit of time working from here. I enjoyed the bookshelves set into the wall behind the desk, which made this corner of the room feel like a quiet library.
Unfortunately, I was disappointed that the hotel didn’t come with universal power ports, and that the UK-style outlet wasn’t even working properly.
To the right of the desk is a sliding door that leads to the bedroom. This part of the suite receives full marks, with the spectacular king-sized bed doing a great job of nourishing our jet lag away, and the floor-length curtains in the room bringing about to a highly elegant feel.
Another television is mounted against the wall in the bedroom. I quite liked the jade colour of the wall, which contrasts nicely against the hotel’s primary design palette of beige and bronze; together, I found that these colours perfectly transmitted the hotel’s modern Turkish identity.
Adjacent to the bedroom, a spacious walk-in closet occupies the space in front of the bathroom. Jessy made ample use of the vanity here as she was getting ready in the mornings, and the floor-length chain-link curtains were another nice modern touch.
Then we enter the bathroom, which is perhaps the sleekest part of the suite yet. The walls and floors are made of polished marble with a striking pattern of straight lines running all the way up and down, another example of the boundary-pushing design choices of this hotel.
There’s a set of double sinks, a third television screen embedded in the mirror, a large bathtub, and a similarly spacious shower in the corner. After long days exploring Istanbul in the sun, it was a pleasure to retreat here to our bathroom and freshen up before falling into a deep jet lag-induced sleep.
To stave off the tiredness, we took full advantage of the St. Regis butler service, which is provided to guests at all St. Regis hotels around the world. Here in Istanbul, they offer espresso coffee, Turkish coffee, and tea delivered to your room round-the-clock.
Ultimately it’s an unnecessary indulgence, since we were perfectly capable of making our own coffee and tea in the room, but we still ordered butler service a few times since it was there.
The views from the room mostly overlooked the greenery of Maçka Sanat Park, with Besiktas JK football club’s Vodafone Park stadium not far in the distance. This part of town seems to be home to most of Istanbul’s high-end hotels, with the Ritz-Carlton, InterContinental, and Grand Hyatt all visible in the skyline.
Overall, I was extremely happy to have received a Titanium upgrade to the St. Regis Suite, but it left me with slightly mixed feelings. While the design and visuals were on point, the living space wasn’t very practically designed, and I thought the square footage was also rather limited for a full-sized suite (i.e., not a junior suite).
Jessy and I had breakfast at the hotel on each of our five mornings. Breakfast is served in the St. Regis Brasserie, which has an indoor and outdoor section – guests are welcome to sit on the outdoor patio for breakfast, although we found the morning weather to be a little too cold on some days.
The breakfast buffet spread was on the smaller side, with only four or five hot items accompanied by a larger cold spread. Usually there’d be one type of meat, vegetables, and cheese pastry every morning, with a more impressive charcuterie and pastry selection on the side (and a nice little kids’ buffet as well).
Fortunately, there was also an à la carte menu, which included distinctive local specialties such as the delicious menemen, a Turkish scrambled eggs dish with tomatoes, onions, and peppers.
We also tried the Belgian waffles and Eggs Benedict on some other mornings, which were appetizing but nothing too memorable.
Overall, the breakfast at the St. Regis Istanbul is certainly presented beautifully – check out the foam work on that cappuccino – and mostly hits the spot, but I found the overall quality of the food to be so-so, and Jessy and I found ourselves growing tired of the breakfast by the fifth morning.
There are some other features of the hotel worth mentioning. On the second floor, accessible via a staircase from the lobby, is the Study, a quiet space where you can get some work done if you happen to be waiting for your room to be ready or something. I didn’t see a single guest using the space throughout my stay, though.
This is also where the business centre is located, in case you needed to use the computer or to print something off.
Up on the top floor is Spago, the hotel’s upscale Italian dining venue. We never got around to eating here (we much preferred to pick up some of Istanbul’s delicious street food), but the outdoor patio looked to be quite nice, and I imagine Spago is a pretty popular dining establishment among the posh clientele of the Nisantasi neighbourhood.
There’s the gym and fitness centre on the basement level, which was exceedingly well-equipped (and even had some equipment that I’ve never seen before, including something that looked like some kind of medieval torture device).
Jessy and I came down here a few times for a much-needed workout after gorging on iskender, meze, and cheese pide during our time in Istanbul.
Finally, the service at the hotel was at a good-enough standard throughout the five days we spent here, but not quite to the world-class levels of service that I’d expect from the St. Regis brand. Every staff member was friendly and polite, although I do find the Turkish hospitality style to be a little rough around the edges.
One example might be when a junior staff member asked me how I was liking Istanbul near the start of my stay, and when I said it was very nice, he then replied – in a well-intentioned but presumptive manner – “How’s Korea?” That may have been a casual, offhand remark for him, but as someone who’s from China I didn’t appreciate it very much.
The St. Regis Istanbul was a very good base from which to explore Istanbul during my first visit to the city, boasting impressive facilities, a hearty breakfast, and a stylish boutique design that, unlike other St. Regises, prioritized intimacy and comfort over glamour and ostentatiousness. Nevertheless, while I can’t say that the hotel was actively poor in any way, it failed to reach the same (admittedly very high) standard as other St. Regis properties around the world have done in the past.
Most notably, the St. Regis Suite wasn’t intuitively laid out at all, and certain aspects of the hotel’s service left me feeling disappointed. Altogether, I’d categorize the St. Regis Istanbul as a hotel where I’m happy to have stayed at once, but most likely won’t be returning on my next visit to Istanbul.