Here at The Budapest Times we have stayed in some spectacular hotels – the George V in Paris, the Imperial and Bristol in Vienna, assorted Kempinskis – and Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, which has only been open since early 2017, has already taken its place in the five-star firmament. Although, we confess: our descriptive powers are not really adequate to capture all the lavish details, and thus we urge readers to remember that a picture is worth a thousand words (so they say) and there are a number on display here.

Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet looks special from the outside – towering over the neighbouring buildings and featuring a finely detailed façade with marble doorway and lower walls – and this is confirmed as soon as you walk in, where carved woodwork and hand-made carpets and furniture with inlaid mother-of-pearl dazzle the eyes. “Ajwa”, we are told, is the original Arabic word for the black dates that are offered with tea to guests in the exquisite lobby as the check-in procedure is carried out.

The hotel describes itself as an artisanal gem, and indeed artisan elements have been incorporated throughout all the 61 guest rooms and public areas. The wooden panelling that evokes palaces of old was carved by craftsmen who worked on restoration projects at the nearby Topkapi Palace, which was built between 1460 and 1478 by Sultan Mehmed the Conqueror and which served as the home of the Ottoman sultans and their courts until the mid-19th century.

Unique pieces of solid wood handmade furniture with mother-of-pearl details were made for Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet by masters from Damascus, Syria, and precious silk rugs and carpets come from Tabriz, a large and world-famous carpet-making centre in Iran. The hotel’s rugs are so fine that some guests are apparently wary about stepping on them, fearing they will do damage.

Other graceful elements are the hotel’s immaculate marble work and the intricately handcrafted Iznik tiles. Marmara White marble is famous and comes from the island of this name in the Sea of Marmara to the south of Istanbul. Its name originates from the Greek marmaron (marble), indicating “crystalline rock”, or “shining stone”. Much of the marble used in the building of the Hagia Sophia – the church, then mosque, now museum that is another of Istanbul’s centrepieces – came from the marble quarries on the island.

The traditional art of İznik, a town in the Turkish province of Bursa, had its roots in the long-past Seljuk empire and its heyday during the 600-year Ottoman era, and hand-painted İznik tiles decorated with turquoise and red tulip patterns can be seen in the Ajwa’s marbled bathrooms as well as in the interior of historic mosques all over Istanbul. The hotel ceilings are also splendidly hand-painted.

Guests rooms offer much of the above, with ultra-high-definition television, electronic window shades, air-conditioning, under-floor heating, M Line Slow Motion beds with pillow menu, safe, hairdryer, daily newspaper, and tea and coffee setup.

Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet is only the second five-star hotel in Sultanahmet, the most popular area for tourists to the city. This peninsula is bounded by bodies of water to the north (the Golden Horn), the east (the Bosphorus) and the south (Sea of Marmara), and the old city walls to the west, which are the oldest and longest defensive walls still standing in Europe. Sultanahmet is essentially what used to be Constantinople until 1453, and the most important areas were declared World Heritage Sites by UNESCO in 1985. The name derives from the Ottoman sultan Ahmet I (reigned 1603-1617), who had the Blue Mosque built and is buried in a mausoleum there. The Topkapi Palace, the Hagia Sophia, the Cistern and the Grand Bazaar are all found here, and are all within 15 minutes’ walk of Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet.

The hotel is in a lively authentically Turkish part of the city called Kadirga, and all around the locals can be seen going about their daily business: men pull carts of goods around the cobbled streets, little motorised three-wheel carts also make deliveries, a carpenter has set up his workbench in the street and nearby is what seems to be a forge, flaming inside a dark room, presumably for ironwork. People sit in the sun outside coffee houses, smoking and sipping çay (tea). Just metres from the hotel is the tomb of Ermin Sinari hazretleri (His Highness) who was born in the 15th century and dedicated his whole life to charity work.

The Turkish group that owns the hotel spent three years completely renovating the previous hotel that occupied the building, reducing the number of rooms from 106 to 61. The owners intend to build a presence in the Kadirga area, and they have opened an art gallery, Art Salon Verni, and bought a dozen dilapidated traditional wooden houses to renovate.

This is an effort to regenerate a somewhat neglected area and to slow the threat of extinction of one of Istanbul’s least appreciated architectural forms, its traditional wooden houses, because many have vanished and the survivors are under threat from decay or more modern developments. The first of these houses owned by the Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, dubbed the White House, has just opened a few streets away from the hotel and has four bedrooms and four bathrooms, two living areas, a kitchen and winter garden. A Turkish bath, sauna and shock shower (a suspended bucket that will tip out icy water by pulling a rope) are part of the offer. These will be for short- and long-term stays, with housekeeping included and a cook can be hired if desired. Again, beauty is to the fore in all the furnishings and décor.

Back at Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet, we would be remiss not to mention the rooftop Zeferan Restaurant where executive chef Ramin Nuriyev presents Azerbaijani cuisine. A six-selection sherbet tray is brought to the table to prepare palettes and complement the food, then starters are followed by soups such as traditional dusbere (meat-stuffed mini dumplings in fragrant broth) and dovga (made of yoghurt and herbs).

Staple Azerbaijani dishes such as lula kebab (made of minced lamb meat), piti (slowly cooked lamb with chestnuts, dried plums and saffron), xengel (a type of pasta with a meat and yoghurt topping) and sah pilav (crispy dough stuffed with beef, rice and dried fruit) are all part of the menu. Azerbaijani cuisine, apparently, is not extraordinarily dissimilar to Turkish cuisine but different enough to give Ajwa a bit of distinction.

Elements of the Zeferan décor include paintings by Azerbaijani artists and handmade unique china from that country. And the 8th-floor restaurant provides a wide view of the old city, the Marmara and the Princes’ Islands, which are an archipelago off the coast.

Continuing the Azerbaijani connection, valuable paintings by that country’s and other artists decorate the corridors on each of the hotel’s seven guest floors.

And there is the Afiya Spa with its hammam, jacuzzi, sauna, indoor pool and gym; a tearoom where date muffins, chocolate mousse, Tiramisu and other delicacies can be sampled, for afternoon tea, perhaps; and a lounge room-cum-library to relax after a busy day in the city. The hotel’s two Bentleys sit outside. By the way, the food and beverage offering does not include alcohol at the hotel.

General manager Sedat Nemli points out: “The Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet is truly a one-of-a-kind property that perfectly merges old-school elegance with a stylish modern twist. We wanted to offer guests something they’ve never experienced before – a glimpse of the past while living in the luxury of today. With the fine attention to detail, exclusive setting and prime location, the property is quickly establishing itself as a must-visit location in Istanbul.”

Ajwa Hotel Sultanahmet

Piyerloti Caddesi No. 30, 34126 Sultanahmet, Istanbul, Turkey

Tel.: +90 212 638 22 00



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