What's new to say about Istanbul? Since pre-Christian times, it has been the focus of world attention; fought over by armies from all points of the compass for its advantageous geographical position, and an essential stop for travellers seduced by its location at the edge of Europe and the entrance to Asia.
Yet, Istanbul is one of this year's hottest city-break destinations. The history, exoticism and cultural diversity continue to be irresistible, but 2008 also marks the arrival in the city of two of the world's leading hotel groups, Starwood, with its funky W brand, and Park Hyatt, plus the launch of a second Four Seasons on the banks of the Bosphorus.
Ahead of the pack is an independent Turkish offering, The Sofa, so called because it wants to imbue a sense of relaxation. It will be a hard act to follow. The hotel is located in the fashionable Nisantasi district and ticks all the boutique boxes with its minimalist yet luxurious styling and a concierge service run by Quintessentially. But it also stands apart because of its role in the city's art world. A sponsor of the Contemporary Istanbul art fair, the hotel's public spaces double as a showcase for interesting new works. And a gallery will open on the top floor in March, where human creativity will be complemented by glorious views of that world-defining stretch of water.
The Sofa has 82 bedrooms in four styles. All have generous sleeping areas and bathrooms with wet-room-style rainshowers. Suites offer living rooms, kitchenettes and balconies, one has two bedrooms and two bathrooms, and honeymooners are spoilt with a suite featuring a huge round bed and indoor and outdoor bathing options. The style is fashionably utilitarian yet plush, warmed by the use of textured fabrics and earthy, muted tones for furnishings and decor. (Spot the signature sofa, too.) Satellite TV, broadband and DVD/CD are laid on. Guests get free use of the gym, sauna and swimming pool in the basement spa – the Taylife Detox & Wellness Center – and discounts on treatments.
The food and drink
Like a growing number of hotels, the restaurant, TuuS, is run by a separate business, in this case the Washington-based Leftbank. Good call; the Mediterranean cuisine served here is of a high standard and the venue is gaining a reputation as one of the best destination restaurants in the city. But temper your expectations, Istanbul remains something of a culinary wasteland. Café Sofa, off reception, serves a hearty buffet breakfast, lunch and dinner, and has a bar. At the rear is a library-cum-bookstore where residents can browse the shelves at their leisure and snap up a good read at a discounted price.
One room has been modified for guests with disabilities and the lifts are wheelchair accessible. Children are welcome, as are small pets.
Doubles from €200 (£149) per night, room only through Great Hotels of the World (0800 032 4254; ghotw.com/sofa-hotel).
The Sofa Hotel, Tesvikiye Caddesi 123, Nisantasi, Istanbul.