IF you have never been to Istanbul, then this is the year to do it. the Turkish capital is one of the two European Capitals of Culture for 2010 it is sharing the privilege with Pecs, in Hungary. Istanbul is an interesting choice: it has long been considered the meeting place between east and west, and the city's cultural heritage takes in Roman, Islamic and Renaissance and just about everything else you could think of. And at the heart of Istanbul is the Bosphorus, one of the world's truly great waterways, which links the Black Sea and the Mediterranean and which was long seen as the border between the European and Islamic worlds.
Its charms were not lost on the Ottoman Sultans, who in the 19th century built a group of residences on the Bosphorus' European bank. The Feriye palaces were each perfectly positioned for spectacular views of both Asia and Europe.
Of the 166 rooms, 25 are luxurious suites, including four Palace Roof suites with a 180 degree view of the Bosphorus. If that is not enough, the Atik Pasha suite on the second floor is a three-bedroom deal with a grand foyer, your own living entertaining area, plus a dining room for 10 and a bathroom equipped with its own steam room and Turkish hammam again all set within breathtaking Bosphorus views.
These palaces would make perfect luxury hotels a thought which didn't escape the Four Seasons group. It has just opened its second hotel in Istanbul, refurbishing and greatly expanding one of the old palaces. The result is superb, an authentic property with cutting-edge facilities in a unique location. Vases of fresh pink orchids in the lobby set the tone of delicate, thoughtful luxury; this hotel's key feature is a gorgeous 190m terrace overlooking the Bosphorus.
For such a busy waterway, the Bosphorus is incredibly soothing and the hotel a wonderful oasis carved out of a bustling metropolis. The terrace's rooftop pool, facilities and restaurants are excellent; the hotel's gym and hammam state of the art; the gardens beautiful.
Three World Heritage Sites are minutes away; the concierge can arrange for you to visit them by boat. Rooms are luxuriously furnished in a modern style which also respects the hotel's Ottoman past.
Even the "average" rooms have rain showers and separate baths all in marble of course. There is a comfortable desk and chair and internet access in the room or in the thoughtfully equipped Business Centre with printers, staplers, stationery and mineral water on tap 24/7.
The hotel is clearly appreciated by the locals too - we witnessed a fancy society wedding, with the Istanbul glitterati basking on the terrace with their diamonds sparkling in the sunshine. The hotel boasts an indoor function space accommodating 1,000 people, ideal for conferences or weddings; its spectacular waterfront setting overlooks landscaped gardens with lit fountains.
Above all, don't underestimate how relaxing it is to sit by this historic stretch of water it takes the stress out of Istanbul. Those sultans knew what they were doing.
Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul at the Bosphorus, from EUR630 per night on two people sharing on a bed and breakfast basis, excluding 8 per cent tax.
See: www.fourseasons.com/bosphorus, or tel: 00800 6488 6488.