IT’S HARD FOR A white-bread American to visit Istanbul, the bustling old soul of Turkey, and not feel foreign. Yes, in the heart of downtown you’re surrounded by people, locals and tourists alike, in jeans and running shoes. But there’s the skyline, punctuated by minarets, and the sound, five times a day, of competing muezzins calling the faithful to prayer. And of course there’s the Grand Bazaar, seemingly an entire indoor city, complete with “street” signs overhead, its shops selling everything from tacky souvenirs to underwear to antique copper and fine jewelry.
So maybe you retreat to your hotel room, where chances are it will seem as if you never left home: air conditioning, check; bathroom toiletries, check; minibar, check. Even the buffet breakfast will feel familiar, with omelets, toast and corn flakes mixing it up with the olives and cheese Turks favor for starting their day.
All the more reason to spend time at the Marti Istanbul and specifically in one of the two-year-old hotel’s Turkish Suites. The Marti doesn’t waste its Turkishness on the lobby, which is as sleek and modern and business-like as any top-notch international hotel. But the roomy, soothing Turkish Suites–ah, there was the difference.
Let’s ignore the neckroll on the lavishly swaddled bed embroidered “Eternity”: The next day I planned to travel to Washington, not to my Final Reward, so the mention of the hereafter was a bit disconcerting. The catnip was the hammam-style bathroom.
Hammams, Turkish baths, dot the city, but quite frankly their exotic looks coupled with unfamiliar routines turned this tourist into a wimp. A hammam in the privacy of my own hotel room brought Turkish culture to rest side by side with the minibar. Was that just too, too American of me? So be it. I had tramped around the Taksim Square area earlier in the day, run an errand in the Grand Bazaar and taxied the congested streets with a friend to get to Ortakoy, a lively area by the water filled with young people eating enormous baked potatoes topped with yogurt, eggplant, slices of sausages, olives and anything else Mediterranean in nature. In a city of 11 million people, all in one another’s way, I craved the serenity of my Turkish Suite.
The entire marble-clad bath complex in the suite was quite large. An extra-long soaking tub extended along one wall; opposite were two tiny rooms entered through marble arches, one for the toilet and bidet, the other for the shower. So began my watery evening: first a long soak with the provided bath salts, then, in the shower room, a rinse-off with the hand-held spray, then a full-on dowsing from the overhead rain shower. The little shower room was rimmed with heated marble benches, so I sat and contemplated the fourth water feature, the curious small hammam basin with its own faucet. Tucked into one corner of the bench lay a true Turkish towel, a thin, incredibly absorbent veil of linen. Underneath were soap and a scrub mitt and a shallow copper bowl. A quick consultation with Google revealed the technique: allow water to fill the marble basin, then dip the copper bowl to pour the water over my shoulders, whether lounging on the heated marble or just standing like a self-conscious American tourist.
Like several other luxury hotels in the city, the Marti Istanbul offers apartment-size Roman and hammam baths on the spa floor, the bubbling, cascading waters creating a languid atmosphere indeed. But I was smitten with my in-room perk. So relaxed–and water-logged–was my evening that I spared only a few minutes for Mixo Terrace, the hotel’s stunning rooftop bar, with its panoramic view. And after one of those baked potatoes, dinner would have been redundant.
But the four kinds of water features in my Turkish Suite? Not redundant at all!
Marti Istanbul Hotel, Abdulhakhamit Caddesi No. 25/B, Taksim, 34435 Istanbul, Turkey; phone +90-212-987-4000, martiistanbulhotel.com. Nonrefundable-price king or twin room, about $243 weeknights, $224 weekends; nonrefundable-price Turkish Suite, $460 weeknights, $440 weekends.