At the edge of the Bosphorus, on the Asian side of Istanbul sits the Sumahan on the Water Hotel.
This is a place for those in the know, literally. It’s bad enough most Istanbul cab drivers make fake promises of knowing their way around, but read out the Sumahan’s address, just outside the Cengelkoy neighbourhood and you’ll be surprised just how many times they stop to ask directions.
Luckily the guys at the nearby petrol station haven’t grown weary of pointing in the right direction. The low lighting and tiny un-lit sign all makes for a slightly frustrating, but ultimately exclusive arrival at the Sumahan.
Staff rush out to greet guests and usher them inside to the warmth of an intimate reception space and library.
It’s late at night and I’m shown to my room swiftly where I take refuge and am relieved that despite this being a “designer” hotel, it takes no more than a few seconds to figure out how the light switches work.
And that seems to be the theme at Sumahan. Everything is immediately accessible. There are luscious Turkish towels (what else?) and robes, a small gym, and even a hammam. Every room has a view and windows that open up to stare out at the Bosphorus to the European side.
This is a hotel with history.
It has remained in the hands of the same family since the mid-nineteenth century, when it was built to produce “suma,” the spirit used to make raki, the wonderful anise-flavoured Turkish tipple. The dock was a convenient spot to unload figs brought on barges to feed the stills. Turkish-American architects Nedret and Mark Butler inherited the place and transformed the derelict, Ottoman alcohol factory into an elegant hotel hosting Turks and foreigners.
I’ve never stayed in a hotel with so much truly helpful tourist information. We’ve all seen the stacks of luxury shopping guides, which I often wonder who uses.
I mean, do we really need guides for the experience? Isn’t it sort of an obvious one? Never mind. The Sumahan provides a copy of the excellent, locally produced “The Guide” to Istanbul, which is great for getting off the tourist track.
Even better, for people like me, who are normally highly organised, but a bit of a time crunch prevented me from flipping through any kind of guide, there are laminated cards for a handful of popular sites.
I’ll admit to feeling a bit smug with my day bag now that much lighter. And there’s even an option for those too cool to carry any bag. About a dozen different wallet-sized cards offer handy information about sites, from opening hours to taxi fares, and directions from the hotel. Someone has clearly given this a lot of thought.
Istanbul is a much more divided city than any I’ve ever visited. Water taxis traverse the Golden Horn, an inlet chopping up east and west.
The Sumahan is most definitely NOT in the thick of things. It’s in a village which beckons to be explored. The streets are lined with fruit sellers, fish restaurants, wooden houses and huge mansions.
It’s not necessarily quiet, thanks to a thumping restaurant and night club next door, but one call to reception after midnight snuffed out the noise. What it is, though, is a very chilled out place to stay. Staff are eager to help, and welcoming. The library is inviting and feels like an authentic nod to Turkey’s great literary legacy.
Breakfast is downstairs looking out at the river. Just outside the restaurant is a small dock with a complimentary water taxi to transport guests to Kabatas, the main harbour on the European side, where the tram system runs to all the major spots, and a funicular zooms up the hill to Taksim Square in a few minutes.
There is wi-fi throughout the hotel and a computer in the library. And wonderful, traditional Turkish breakfast is served with a plate of cheeses, meat, olives, cucumbers and tomatoes, along with breads and jams, followed by my personal favourite, Menemen. Think gently scrambled eggs with chilli peppers (but not too hot), and chopped tomatoes. It’s a great way to start the day before indulging in all that sweet, gelatinous, other Turkish delight.
Sumahan is the perfect hotel for either a second visit to Istanbul, or an alternative experience. I’m told water taxis are on par with those in Venice. Thankfully, I haven’t found out. It’s a lovely way to get across the city and, presuming the city’s three bridges are open, the taxis coming back make the ride no more than a tenner.
I hit 360 during my stay. It’s a top hotspot in Istanbul for both locals and tourists and I was lucky to meet the owner, a bit of a local celeb, who immediately exclaimed that he had spent his wedding night at the Sumahan. If this is where the guy running the hottest bar in town comes for nirvana, it’s definitely good enough for me.
Sumahan on the Water
+90 216 422 8000
Kulelí Caddesi No 51, Çengelköy, Istanbul
Address: Istiklal Street, Mısır Apartment
8th Floor No: 163 Beyoglu - ISTANBUL