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Thu 28 Feb 2008 04:00 AM

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Prison break

After visiting Istanbul, four seasons style, First Class writer Bryan Mayes decides life in prison has never been so good.

After visiting Istanbul, four seasons style, First Class writer Bryan Mayes decides life in prison has never been so good.

Writer, graphic designer, shop assistant, narcissistic egomaniac.

I've had a few titles bestowed upon me during my life so far, but hardened criminal is not one of them.

The grounds of what was formally Sultanahmet Prison is now home to the Four Seasons Hotel, Istanbul

Yet, there I was, a week before my 25th birthday resting my weary bones under the roof of what was, up until 1970, the Sultanahmet Prison in Istanbul. If I had known that doing time was this luxurious I would have turned my back on art school and headed for a life of crime a long time ago.

Of course the guests that were accommodated here from the 1920s right up until the late sixties weren't reaching for Bvlgari soap when they hit the showers and ‘lights out' wasn't activated by electronic curtains powered by the touch of a button. We, of course have the Four Seasons to thank for the wonderful contemporary transformation that creates the luxurious paradise that stands before me today.

In 1994 the decision was made that the former prison, located on the cobbled streets of Old Town Istanbul, would be converted into a luxury hotel. Preserving the original exterior of the southwest wing, work started on converting the interior into contemporary five-star accommodation. The restoration was finished in 1996 and the grounds of what was formally Sultanahmet Prison is now home to the Four Seasons Hotel Istanbul.

With 65 magnificent rooms, this boutique style deluxe hotel can boast ‘Best European Hotel' and ‘Fourth Best Hotel Worldwide' among its credentials.

The room I was accommodated in was more than sufficient for my four-night stay. Huge widescreen televisions in both the bedroom and lounge area and a decent variety of DVDs to choose from, meant that if I wanted to I wouldn't have had to leave the hotel the whole time I was there. With an aptly sized television in the bathroom I was very tempted to do just that.

Watching ‘The Weakest Link' from the tub is something you rarely get a chance to do, however next time chaps, try putting the taps at the other end of the bath. It makes for a more relaxing experience.

As far as location choices go, The Four Seasons has got it spot on. Like a lot of great cities, Istanbul is split right down the middle by a big winding river - the Bosphorus, which acts almost as a border between Europe and Asia. The European side represents a more modern Westernised culture, while the Asian side has a traditional old-town Eastern flavour.

The hotel is located in Old Town Istanbul, roughly five minutes walk in one direction to the Hagia Sofia Mosque and the Grand Bazaar, and five minutes in the other to the Bosphorus. It is on the coast of this, one of Turkey's biggest rivers, that the Four Seasons is due to open its second hotel in Istanbul this summer.

Stepping back in from the cold January air, evidence that this was once a prison has been tastefully preserved, not enough to make one feel frightened or uneasy, but just enough to make you appreciate the history that this hotel is steeped in. Right in the centre of the grounds is a large ornately decorated garden which is home to the beautifully decorated dining area with both inside and outside tables.

It's obvious to see that this was the ‘exercise yard', and I'm sure guests here today will appreciate and treasure this area just as much as, I'm sure the inmates once did. Add to this the narrow arched windows and the long straight hallways that dominate this hotel and childish thoughts of plotting to escape from this place enter my head.

But then I just think, "oh come on Bryan, just use the front door like everyone else, it hasn't been a prison for 38 years".


Service: 5/5


Accommodation facilities:5/5

Leisure facilities:3/5

Outside attractions: 5/5

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