Hotel Empress Zoe, Istanbul $$$$
Concierge.com's insider take:
Set alongside the glut of cheaper hotels, guesthouses, and hostels in Sultanahmet, the Empress Zoe is one of the rare places in the area to display any spark of creativity in its concept and design. Named after a female ruler of Byzantium (and an infamous polygamist), it occupies a number of old wood-and-brick town houses, resting partially on ancient Byzantine walls and vaulted passages that are visible in the lobby. The charming garden (whose few tables serve as a fair-weather breakfast venue) is bordered by a disused 15th-century hammam. The 25 rooms come in a variety of shapes and sizes, with a lived-in feel that might lead more exacting hoteliers to freshen up with a change of curtains (rooms are being spruced up a few at a time). But they are quaint, with an overriding Anatolian style—black-stained oak, terra-cotta tiles, kilims, embroidered upholstery—that spills over into a number of the bathrooms, some of which are marbled mini-hammams. The Penthouse Suite in the main building has a private terrace with Blue Mosque views, and the Deluxe Garden Suite in the Chez Zoe annex has a platform bed framed by a harem-like screen. The location is great for sightseeing but is diminished by the adjacent Akbıyık Degirmeni Sokak, a street that's invariably a beer-drinking backpackers' haven.