Built in 1875 on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, Istanbul's Akaretler Row Houses were once regarded as a symbol of change and modernity. The 33 elegantly neoclassical dwellings were designed by a Paris-educated, Ottoman-Armenian architect as accommodation for military staff based in the nearby Dolmabahce Palace. Modern Turkey's founder and onetime army officer, Mustafa Kemal Ataturk, lived for a time in No. 76 with his mother.
Some 134 years and a $75 million face-lift later, the buildings remain an extremely desirable address, inhabited this time by upmarket fashion labels such as Marc Jacobs and Chloe, and a hotel, W Istanbul, tel: (90-212) 381 2121. One of the boutique chain's two European properties (the other is in Barcelona), W Istanbul is a curious mix of bling crystals and ambient pink lighting feature heavily and classic Ottoman design elements such as sleek marble hammam-style bathrooms and colors of rich chocolate, cream and dark red.
Guests can choose from 134 rooms, which start at about $300. The Spectacular Rooms come with their own private cabanas, linked to the room via a pebble path, and there are several categories of suite, with the superstylish, 170 sq m Extreme Wow Suite topping the list. Mood lighting, iPod-docking stations, 350-thread-count linens and Bliss amenities come as standard.
For dining, the hotel offers the Spice Market (a branch of Jean-Georges Vongerichten's New York eatery, serving dishes inspired by Asian street food) or W Kitchen (another Vongerichten creation), but the neighborhood is packed with good, cheap eateries. You'll definitely want to skip the overpriced and frugal hotel breakfast and head instead to nearby Besiktas Market where Kaymakci Pando, a popular hole-in-the-wall, has been serving up a traditional Turkish spread of buffalo cream, honey, fresh bread, olives and eggs for nearly as long as the Akaretler Row Houses have been around. It's good to know some things don't change.