- What’s On
This elegant gem of a hotel, standing in an historic waterside setting, is an inspired conversion of an Ottoman distillery with spectacular views of the Old City.
A writer’s view, by Andrew Finkel
‘The Sumahan formula, combining the intimacy of a family-run hotel with that thick-fluffy-towel sense of luxury, continues to attract a loyal following and travel writers superlatives. As it says on the label, Sumahan is on the water; its unique selling points are its waterfront acreage and achingly beautiful views. The twin-level suites have living rooms that open out to their own garden on the Bosphorus. All rooms look out over the water to the First Bridge and, in the distance, the famous skyline of the historical peninsula. The building is a converted distillery. Fresh fruit once arrived on the quayside, to be turned into the eye-watering spirit in Turkish raki. The architect owners, Nedret and Mark Butler, have preserved this functional feel.
‘Rooms have Scandinavian-style fireplaces. The marble bathrooms with hamam-style fittings are the principal nod to the fact that you are technically in Asia. Being up the Bosphorus, just outside the old-fashioned neighbourhood of Çengelköy, means you have to take an early-morning ferry if you want to be at the Blue Mosque by 9am. However, Sumahan is convenient for the Second Bridge and the financial district.
‘The key pleasure is not being on top of the city but being able to get away. Once you enter the discreet front door, you enter a private universe tucked away in the side of the shore. Apart from the restaurant next door, also run by the Butlers, there is a terrace café for drinks and good Turkish food. Definitely tony. Nothing so vulgar as a minibar (use room service), but the library is remarkably well stocked.’
The Sumahan on the Water is one of Cornucopia and the Blue Guide’s hand-picked hotels of choice. For preferential rates book directly through the magazine with The Cornucopia Hotel Collection
The derelict 19th-century Ottoman spirit distillery at Çengelköy has been miraculously transformed from an industrial wasteland on the lower Asian shore of the Bosphorus into a tip-top 21st-century hotel, Sumahan on the Water, uniquely standing on its own private quay at the very water’s edge. The transformation is the realisation of a couple’s dream, achieved over two decades of painstaking negotiation with planning authorities and backers. Fitting perhaps, if small comfort to Nedret and Mark Butler, the architects whose dream it was, since the history of the Sumahan has always been complicated and romantic.
The original building dates from the reign of Mahmut II, when royal distilleries were well-constructed factory complexes built in local stone on prime sites. The distillery produced suma, or raw spirit, a clear, pungent liquid that can be made from almost any staple, from grain to grape – the Çengelköy factory used figs to distil its suma. On Mahmut II’s death in 1839, the waterside factory passed to his wife, the beautiful Bezm-i Alem Valide Sultan, mother of his two sons and successors, Abdülmecit I and Abdülaziz. She was renowned as a benefactress to the poor and to the women of Istanbul. She was vehemently teetotal, even destroying the palace’s precious collection of crystal drinking vessels…