“ Budget hotel in Istanbul, Turkey. „
When the Air Miles scheme announced that they were merging into the Avios scheme and flights without taxes would disappear, my parents decided to use up all the Air Miles they'd been saving up and take us all away and the collective decision was to go to Istanbul. I may well have misled everyone with tales of what great value the city was based on several earlier visits. With our parents picking up the flights, I offered my sister and her partner two hotel nights as part of their Christmas present. The last time I had actually booked a hotel in Istanbul (rather than being there on a tour or for work) was about 8 years ago when my husband and I spent Easter weekend in the city. If memory serves me right, we paid about £50-60 a night for a rather garishly decorated room in a beautiful old Ottoman house with a fabulous roof top restaurant and bar that overlooked both the Blue Mosque and the Hagia Sofia. I hadn't realised how much prices had increased in the mean time.
When the time came to start hunting for accommodation, I got a heck of a shock. I knew that we should try for a place in the Old City in the Sultanahmet area, close to the major historic attractions and I also narrowed down the area to try to find somewhere not too hilly as my mum's not too good on steep slopes. The £60 to £80 a night price range that I'd targeted turned out to have very little choice and none of it in the area where I wanted to stay. Most of the good prospects were around £100 or more and I really didn't think they'd be worth it. I tried looking at hostels but they were all pretty disgusting and not even very cheap. I found a hotel that looked great and was cheap and then discovered it had 'shared bathroom' and ruled it out. I worked my way through all the B&Bs listed on Tripadvisor for the old city and eventually came up with the Sevila for around the £40 per night mark.
At that price level my sister wouldn't be embarrassed by not being able to find the money for the other two nights and I had a suspicion that when the time came, I'd just give in and pay for the whole lot for her and my parents. The Sevila had a pretty good rating on Booking.com (7.2 out of 10 if I recall correctly) and I didn't have to pay upfront which was a bonus. I also saw that we could potentially cancel up to 48 hours before we were due to arrive which (sadly) was an important factor as both my sister and her partner were having operations in the run up to the holiday and my poor step-father was waiting for the results of some tests that might show serious health issues. This really did look like it might be the most potentially doomed holiday of all time.
~ Arrival Arrangements ~
A few days before we were due to fly I started trying to get in touch with the hotel. I took an email address off their non-website. By that I mean it's a 'holding page' with very little information. I also tried the email address given by Booking.com but neither seemed to be getting me anywhere. In fact the Booking.com details were totally wrong. By this point I was starting to wonder if I'd booked a fictional hotel but I found a phone number and gave them a ring. The guy I spoke to was absolutely lovely. He thanked me for letting them know we'd be really late, joked that they might have sold our rooms if they hadn't known, and agreed to get back to me about the costs for an airport pick up. Within half an hour he'd emailed me to confirm that the pick up for six people would be Euro35 - about a fiver per person - and I replied to confirm we'd take it. Since the instructions were that we should pay the hotel on arrival, it was pretty unlikely that we'd turn up and find the doors locked.
Our pick up was a bit muddled but that was caused more by Heathrow delaying our take off so we arrived 45 minutes late. Then to add insult to injury the bags took forever to come through so by the time we stepped into arrivals we were about an hour later than we should have been. Although there was a guy standing there with my name on a piece of paper, it took about another 20 minutes before we were actually into the minibus and on our way and another 20 to 30 minutes to get to the hotel. On the plus side, there wasn't any traffic.
The guy I'd been speaking and emailing with was there, looking a little bleary eyed but relieved to see us. When we'd not showed up he'd called a travel agent friend (in the middle of the night) to check what might have gone wrong. Normally Turkish hotels want all the passports at check in but he said he'd already sent off the police report with the guests details so he just wanted one to start with and would deal with the others the next day. He asked me to pay up front which seemed fair enough given that most hotels had wanted pre-payment but at the same time had me thinking "Is this a ploy to get my money before we see all the cockroaches?" Hey it was 2 am - I'm not claiming all my thought processes were entirely rational. I paid Euro540 for three rooms for four nights.
~Lilliputian Lodgings ~
He took the three room keys and laid them on the counter. I asked which was the best of the three rooms and I gave that key to my parents and then put them into the tiny lift and sent them up to the third floor. He then said the other two rooms were a double and a twin and I decided that it was our turn for the double after getting the twin beds last time we all went away together (and getting the damned blow-up camp bed at Christmas) and gave my sister the twin room on the first floor.
We headed up to the room and it was just as tiny as I'd expected it to be. With a certain degree of fear I tapped on the door of the parental room next door to check my mother wasn't racing cockroaches round the bathroom and she popped her head round the door and said their room was "small but very clean" and she was more than happy with it. My husband realised that none of us had water for cleaning our teeth and headed back down to reception to ask if they had any bottled water. They guy said he didn't and then disappeared for fifteen minutes to run around the city trying to find water. How's that for service?
Despite my parents' room allegedly being the best, I think we actually got the best of the three rooms as ours was on the corner and had windows on two sides. This meant by leaving all the windows open we could generate a heck of a through breeze. The room was probably only about seven feet (two and a bit meters) wide and the double bed was placed against one wall. At the time we thought this was due to the tiny size but when we went to the Dolmabahce palace a few days later, we found that every bed in the palace was placed against the wall - even the Sultan's enormous sultan-sized bed. I did wonder if this was a way of ensuring that nobody ever got out of bed on the 'wrong side'.
Of the three rooms, ours was the only one where the wardrobe doors both opened fully. In mum's room only one side could clear the bed and open and in my sister's they didn't need to worry too much as the door fell off. In addition to the wardrobe which we didn't use, we had a small chest of drawers which I used to stand my suitcase on, a small desk and a small cupboard underneath. My husband commented that this room was in desperate need of IKEA. We had a small fridge which wasn't plugged in, a small flat screen TV with lots of crackle and an air conditioning unit which didn't work, and most likely wasn't plugged in. We hate air con so we didn't investigate further but if you're planning to stay in Istanbul in the height of summer you should double check the air con will be working.
The walls and ceiling were painted in light colours and the floor was laminate. The curtains were a real muddle with a mass of sheer fabric, a bit of standard curtain and a bit of black out curtaining. Bright, white, fluffy towels were provided and the bedding was clean though the duvet cover was a bit 'bobbly' in places. There was water damage on the ceiling which turned out to be a characteristic of all the rooms and clearly someone hired a tiler who didn't know that he needed to waterproof the floors.
This brings me neatly to the bathroom which was shabby and very small. Nobody too fat should book this hotel as they'll struggle to get into the tiny lift and have to squeeze to get through the bathroom door since it only opened part way before it collided with the base of the shower. The loo was fine and the sink too although there was absolutely nowhere to put anything and the remnants of what must have been an over-sink shelf stuck out from the wall but with no shelf. On the plus side there was plenty of hot water and the shower pressure was very good - but don't shower too long or you might need to call the lifeguard to rescue you from the flooded bathroom.
One morning the bathroom door managed to lock itself with the two of us on the wrong side of the door. This was discovered when hubby got up to pee at about 6 am and couldn't get in. He went to tell reception then knocked on my parents' door and used their loo. I then sent him back to see if they had a pen knife and he then managed to get it open with my mum's metal nail file. You might think it's pretty awful to knock up two pensioners at such an early hour but the muezzin from the Blue Mosque had already serenaded them shortly before and they were awake.
Breakfast is served on the roof in a small breakfast room or on the open air terrace. I'd been careful to book a place with a lift because my mother had a hip replacement last year. What I hadn't realised was that the lift only went to the 4th floor and then there were two more sets of stairs still to climb. These were grey marble stairs that had been skilfully constructed by a builder who was a stranger to the concept of a spirit level. I have not seen such strange steps since my grandfather proudly showed us the steps of his village's Methodist church which he'd built - not one of them was the same size or height. I would suggest that anyone who can't 'do' stairs (and these are not easy stairs) should probably avoid this hotel or send their partner up to the roof to bring down a plate of food for them.
Breakfast was basic but good and exactly the same as you'll find in almost every Turkish budget hotel. Cheese, boiled eggs, olives, cucumber and tomato, lovely thick yoghurt, cornflakes and bread. My mum was shocked one morning to watch two Russian couples arrive, pack almost all of the food into their backpacks and then head off without the slightest sign of shame. When we arrived shortly after the Russians, all the eggs had been pinched and all of the cake.
The best thing about the breakfast was undoubtedly the view - it's absolutely astonishing. This cheap little hotel has a fantastic view of the Hagia Sophia, the beautiful church-turned-mosque-turned-museum. The Blue Mosque was hidden behind the neighbouring building but we got full benefit of the call to prayer every few hours.
The location is both fabulous and a bit noisy. You'd struggle to find a more convenient spot in the old city with all the main sights very near to the hotel. The Hagia Sophia and the Blue Mosque are less than 5 minutes walk away, and the Topkapi Palace and the Grand Bazaar are around 10 minutes away. The Istanbul tram service passes along the road that runs perpendicular to the road where the hotel is, just 2 minutes away. The tram service is quite possibly the best bargain in Istanbul.
There's some noise caused by the road outside being cobbled so although there's not a lot of traffic, what you do get makes a quite a rumble. My sister had the joy of a gobby Russian couple in the room next door - he was prone to growling and she did lots of door slamming, stomping, and then returning and whimpering. During business hours, you can also expect to hear the carpet shop owner next door sitting out on the street playing backgammon with his buddies and cajoling people to go into his shop. We shouldn't of course forget the call to prayer which personally I love but which pisses off a lot of people. Mind you, pretty much anywhere in Istanbul you'll get this. By comparison with your average Indian city hotel, the noise is pretty mild - nobody is honking their horns all night long - but my country dwelling sister and her partner and my small town but triple-glazed parents found it noisy.
If you look at Tripadvisor or Booking.com for reviews of this hotel you'll find a real mixed bag of ratings. Those who assess it for what it is - a very inexpensive, very well-located, bargain budget hotel offering rooms with bathrooms for less than most of the hostels offer shared accommodation or facilities tend to give it great feedback. Those who seem to have thought that £40 a night would get them the Ritz or who are Russian are very scathing in their reactions. If you've taken the time to check out the prices of hotels in this area, then you will probably be impressed at what you get for the money. I also cannot fault the kindness, helpfulness and great sense of humour of Behzat, the owner's son and front desk 'main man' who really went out of his way to make our stay good. He gave us advice on the local trams, how to get to various places and offered various tours which were rather expensive but no more so than those available in all the other tourist outlets.
I've stayed in some awful hotels over the years and this is very acceptable by comparison. It doesn't offer you much more than a small clean room and a breakfast with a view. There's no bar, no restaurant, and just a small reception area. We used the park next door as the place we met up each morning after breakfast and before we set off to see the sights. We probably wouldn't go back if it were just for my husband and me as we'd happily pay a bit more, but since I picked up the bill for all three rooms, I can't help but think I got a real bargain at the Sevila.
If you can get the Sevila for less than £50 and you aren't too freaked by things like damaged plaster on the ceilings and having to get our of bed to turn the lights off, then Sevila is a great little place. But book early - it has only 10 or 12 rooms and it fills up quickly.
I'm giving this 4 stars based not on the absolute quality of the rooms but on the value for money, the fabulous location and the lovely staff. It's not luxury but if you're there the see the city and not to hang around your room, it's great.