Istanbul is unique. It is the only city in the world where two continents meet. Enjoy old and new in the cultural capital of Turkey with Istanbul expert Marc Guillet

Orient Express nostalgia in Pera Palas

Posted on 22 October 2019

Lobby of Pera Palas Hotel. Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec

The legendary Pera Palas Hotel is getting more attention again. Not only because the old grandeur is back after undergoing a major renovation and restoration project (2006-2010). Also because of a great book that has just been published Midnight at the Pera Palace: The Birth of Modern Istanbul, by Charles King.

I loved reading it. It is rich in detail and tells the history of Istanbul and the Pera Palace in the years between the First and the Second World War.

Here are two reviews:

In The Telegraph

And in The Economist

I’m more than happy that all the historical elements in the interior of the first modern hotel in Turkey are still there after the restoration and renovation. Cleaned of course and if necessary coated with new paint. Moreover, the rooms and suites, the kitchen, the restaurant, the elegant Grand Orient bar and the famous patisserie were modernized and adapted to all the conveniences of modern traveling. The best thing they did was removing the old roof and replacing it with a roof of glass.

The hotel is since the reopening in 2006 managed by the Jumeirah Group, a Dubai-based international luxury hotel chain. Pera Palas rightly calls itself a ‘museum’ hotel. The atmosphere and interior hardly changed over the past century. It was designed by French-Turkish architect Alexandre Vallaury, who mixed Oriental and Art Nouveau styles. That resulted in an extraordinary hotel that opened its doors in 1892 at a time when Istanbul was still called Constantinople.

Mustafa Kemal Atatürk, the founder of the modern Turkish republic, often stayed in room 101. His room was turned into a museum piece since his death in 1938. The walls were painted pink of the sunrise, his favorite color. On request you are allowed to visit the room.

The hotel was an initiative of the Belgian entrepreneur Georges Nagelmackers, founder of the Compagnie Internationale des Wagons-Lits, with its luxury sleeper trains in Europe. In 1883 he started the Orient Express, the international luxury train that ran between Paris and Constantinople (till 2009). In big cities where the train stopped overnight Nagelmackers had build luxury hotels. Pera Palas, overlooking the Golden Horn, was the hotel he built in Constantinople for its famous guests: kings, princes, presidents, generals, writers, movie stars and spies.

Agatha Christie stayed there and worked on her thriller “Murder on the Orient Express” (1934) with the Belgian detective Hercule Poirot as the main character. The American writer Ernest Hemingway frequented the bar. Other famous and infamous guests who stayed at the hotel were Dutch exotic dancer Mata Hari, the American singer Josephine Baker, Jackie Onasis, Sarah Bernhardt, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Greta Garbo, King Edward VIII and one of Adolf Hitler’s closest associates and most devoted followers, propaganda minister Joseph Goebbels.

Several suites have the names of their legendary guests.

As I said one of the major advantages of the restoration is that the hotel has gotten a glass roof which provides the dark hotel of the old days with much light now. Fortunately they also left the ancient iron elevator as it was. They did a thorough maintenance job and the oldest lift of Turkey fares better than ever.

Enjoy the Orient Express nostalgia by visiting this historic hotel for a few drinks in the bar or the terrace. Or stay there during your city trip to Istanbul. Highly recommended!

One of the rooms of Pera Palas Hotel: Photo: Slawomira Kozieniec

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