In Istanbul, elegance endures at Pera Palace

The Agatha Christie Room at the Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah in Istanbul.
The Agatha Christie Room at the Pera Palace Hotel Jumeirah in Istanbul.

The founding of the Pera Palace Hotel in the 1890s couldn't be more evocative of luxury and glamour: It was built for customers traveling from Europe to Istanbul on the Orient Express. Since then, the guests have included a rich assortment of the famous and infamous.

In 2012, Pera Palace became a Jumeirah property; a restoration and renovation followed that was completed in 2014. Although it's equipped with all the modern conveniences, the public spaces are clothed in history and glamour, with velvet, upholstered seating; dramatically placed lobby pillars; a grand, high-ceiling lounge (site of daily tea) and a French pastry shop. The spa includes a traditional hammam.

Modern elevators are in place, too, but, as was my experience at the Pera Palace in April, guests could also find themselves aboard Istanbul's oldest electric elevator, which is as old as the hotel.

General manager Pinar Kartal Timer said that regardless of its stature among the city's hotel offerings, the property was "affected as much as anyone in Istanbul" by last year's terror attacks.

She said business this spring was off 50% from spring 2015, but among Americans — who generally account for 24.8% of sales, mostly leisure — the decline was between 65% and 70%.

Timer said the property "has doubled sales and marketing focused on developing new business. We are moving toward more of the [former Soviet] countries and Iran," as well as South America.

The hotel sits on a hill in the Tepebasi district, walking distance from the better-known Beyoglu area. Both districts offer a selection of shops and eateries that attract locals and visitors, and they're particularly busy at dinnertime. The Galata Tower is the nearest well-known landmark.

Pera Palace has the history, style and location, but for each guest, it needs one more thing: the right room. With 115, the property offers several types, including 16 suites named for famous former guests, such as Ernest Hemingway and Britain's King Edward VIII.

Outside that category, most (83) are Deluxe Rooms, but there are six Greta Garbo Corner Rooms and 10 Grand Pera Studio Rooms, including the Agatha Christie Room. For Christie fans, that room is No. 411.

Timer said room rates range from about $245 per night to $2,825 for the presidential suite.

Travel agents account for 70% of U.S. business, she said. The hotel operates a program called Passport to Luxury. Its benefits, which includes a daily breakfast, are extended to clients of Virtuoso and Signature agencies because "we have so many clients of these agency groups, and we want to keep the clients," Timer said.

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