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Istanbul’s golden era at the golden hour

November 18, 2021 - Open the double-height shutters of the Bosphorus-fronted guest suite at dawn, and Asia glows from across the deep blue of the Strait. Six Senses Kocataş Mansions, Istanbul which incorporates the next-door Sait Paşa Mansion, is in the prosperous Sariyer district of the city’s European side.

  • Aerial View Of Bosphorus

Like nowhere else, these “Pearls of Bosphorus” waterfront properties bring home the impressive strategic position of the city where the two continents meet. Tiny fishing boats, flanked by gulls, jostle with huge cargo ships. This iconic waterway links the Aegean with the Marmara (where, in 1810, Lord Byron’s proudest achievement was swimming the five-kilometer Hellespont from Europe to Asia) and – here right in front of you – it begins its last curve towards the Black Sea.

If the walls could talk

From its beginnings in 660 BCE as Byzantium to its days as Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire, and its role in the ascent of the 14th-century Ottoman Empire, Istanbul has a storied past. So too these Ottoman-era mansions. They have seen so much; you wish the walls could talk. Luckily, through the property’s eloquent raconteur, Six Senses Director of Sales and Marketing Onur Kademoğlu, they do.

Onur arrives just as I reach over the cordon to press a key on the vintage harmonichord. “It was designed by Debain in 1851. Queen Victoria had one. This is the only example we have in Turkey,” he says, as I hastily retract my hand.

I learn the building we are in was bought by and named after Minister of Justice Necmettin Molla Kocataş̧, owner of Kocataş̧ Water in 1928, attracted by the freshwater spring. With its Belle Époque styling, it was used as a platform for influential political speeches and cultural events. Onur lists some 70s Turkish blockbuster movies, but I draw a blank.

Wandering the mansions, the restoration has stayed true to the original footprint and style while adding contemporary signature touches. This mirrors Istanbul’s own ability to embrace its contradictions – whether east and west, ancient and modern, or mystical and earthly. The artworks by Turkish Realism artist Ismail Acar, the carefully preserved and quite extraordinary gold and silver Kaaba cover, the kaftans, and the other artifacts from Ottoman palatial collections all reflect the homage paid to the city’s cultural heritage. When complete, the restoration was even admired by Betül Mardin, Turkey’s pioneer of public relations and granddaughter of Kocataş, who was born in this mansion and returned 93 years later to enjoy high tea in the Kahve Lounge!

Grand designs

Linked by a beautiful courtyard and highly Instagrammed fountain, the next-door mansion was built in a “Turkish House” style by Mehmet Said Paşa, who served as grand vizier for nine terms. And grand it is. The ceiling height increases with each of the three floors, reaching five meters at the top. Entering the guest room feels like you’ve taken a large swig from Alice in Wonderland’s “Drink Me” shrinking potion. Size is everything. The bed. The welcome gift. Who settles for a single chocolate on the pillow when here you receive a whole bar, and it is house made, along with a fruit bowl, hummus and dips, and sticky baklava (go on then, just the three)? The other thing to note is there is no plastic, from the home-brew tea bags in jars to the bathroom bottles. There’s even an Earth Lab on the property to cleanse me of my wasteful sins.

Dining top tip: arrive hungry

Care and pride are watchwords at Turkish-inspired Avlu. Under the stars in the leafy courtyard, Chef Müslüm Karanfil serves everything with a warmth that infuses his food. My favorite dish is the Burrata & Heirloom Tomato (both as big as my head), mainly for the figs that introduce my cold-climate taste buds to what figs should taste like. Chef Müslüm’s favorite is the Kanu Incik (Braised Lamb Shank) served with almond-barley rice made from a creamy local rice variety only found in this region. Zero-Waste tasting menus are also served in the Kocataş courtyard.

Peruvian performance

Book in advance at the buzzing destination dining venue Toro Latin Gastro Bar, styled by Richard Sandoval and captained by Chef de Cuisine Olcay Yildirim and Executive Chef Özgur Üstun. With its glass floor over an original 250-year-old hammam and view of the twinkling lights across the Bosphorus, the setting is as romantic as it is dramatic and in demand among hotel guests and Istanbul’s glitterati alike. There’s a sense of drama and excitement to the food too. The signature Smoked Swordfish Dip with coriander and lemon is unveiled from its glass dome in a swirl of smoke so you catch the aroma before the flavor. The Dynamite Prawn Ceviche Roll and Flamed Salmon illustrate the perfect fusion between hot sushi and Latin American influences of chipotle, paprika, chimichurri and adobo sauce.

Plans are afoot to add two new restaurants by Spring 2022, one by celebrity chef Mehmet Gürs, along with a coffee shop and event area within 25,000 square meter forest behind the mansions that leads up to the Six Senses Spa. 

Watery delights

While most hotel spas in this city are relegated underground (why?), Six Senses Spa Kocataş Mansions, Istanbul shines like a gemstone from the property’s elevated crown. The prime position is showcased best within the hammams, which feature a decorative glass panel to let in a sprinkle of daylight and peek of the Bosporus below. The walls of the treatment rooms are designed with blue tiles reminiscent of the Blue Mosque, with red line detailing for an authentic Turkish finish.

Rejuvenated from the signature Royal Hammam – in which your skin zings after being exfoliated, anti-aged and infused with rose essential oil and hydrating lotion – there is just time to consider the experiences. The bustling Sariyer is worth an explore, and the bike trails of Belgrade Forest are also within easy reach. Istinye Park Mall and Vadistanbul Mall are both close by for keen shoppers. Istanbul’s Old Town is about an hour by boat cruise, which is the smartest and prettiest way to travel. Or back to where I started, and the draw of the Bosphorus, to dip my toes in just upstream from Lord Byron’s bubbles and ponder an open-water Intercontinental Swim…

Jessica Swales visited Six Senses Kocataş Mansions, Istanbul in October 2021, staying in a Bosphorus Deluxe Room.

Enjoy a Golden Festive Season

Six Senses Kocataş Mansions invites you to end the year in the height of luxury with a stay in one of Istanbul’s most iconic buildings. Enjoy Bosphorus views and green surroundings that reconnect you with yourself and your loved ones.

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And a Platinum New Year

Celebrate the most wonderful time of the year at Six Senses Kocataş Mansions, Istanbul and make it a New Year to remember!

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