Georges Hotel Galata, Istanbul Turkey: Tremendous Potential but Ultimately Disappointing
What this hotel has: rooftop views; stylish well-appointed rooms; great location
What this hotel needs: more informed staff; a plumber
It feels good to root for the underdog– to be optimistic about the chances of the smaller, lesser-known team when matched against the bigger, established team. So it was with Georges Hotel Galata, a one year old, 20 room boutique hotel located in Istanbul’s Beyoglu district—a charming old part of the city with narrow cobble stoned streets and fantastic views. We wanted to believe in Georges Hotel and our wisdom in selecting it from amongst several more well-known, branded luxury hotel options offered through the Visa Signature hotel booking site. Perhaps we put too much faith in the reviews on Tripadvisor, which were almost uniformly positive. In the end, it wasn’t all bad; Georges Hotel both amazed and disappointed.
The Front Desk
We had emailed the hotel to arrange a car service to pick us up from Istanbul Ataturk Airport upon arrival. A day came and went with no reply to our email, so we thought maybe email isn’t their forté and called. We were reassured. A friendly voice told us they would be happy to arrange a car service and that they would follow up with an email. The email never came. At this point, I was nervous; if the hotel was having difficulty following through with a routine request, what else could they not do? A second phone call again brought reassurance, however. The car would be there.
It wasn’t. While there were 80+ white placards and accompanying drivers to greet us upon arrival at the airport, none of the drivers were there for us. Since we did arrive early, we waited until our scheduled arrival time before calling the hotel. Another reassuring voice told us the driver would be there shortly. More waiting and 2-3 more phone calls to the hotel ensued. After more than hour waiting around, and minutes away from ditching the car for a cab, a young man showed up and escorted us to the car. Success? After an hour-long ride in rush-hour traffic through a city teeming with people and vitality, we arrived at Georges Hotel Galata.
Arrival at the hotel was perfect. Hotel staff came out to our car to greet us and take our bags. Check-in took moments.
A segway is necessary here to describe the hotel. It’s a tall hotel (8 stories) with a small footprint—only 2 rooms wide. I had done enough research to know the higher floors had great views but the lower floors mostly looked at the wall of the next building. When I booked, I had upgraded the room to the Deluxe room with balcony hoping we might score a view. Though we asked for a higher floor at check-in, we were were informed that rooms with views were very limited in number and they were all unavailable. I shrugged and we headed to our room.
Some advice here: when I booked the hotel, there were only two categories available (Superior and Deluxe). I did not know then but there are actually several more categories of rooms that are upgrades (Terrace [not an upgrade; more on that below], Deluxe King- Sea View, and Deluxe King-Terrace View). If you desire a view, which are fantastic, I recommend an upgrade to a Sea View room.
I knew it probably wasn’t a good sign when we were escorted down two sets of winding stairs rather than up. Our room was on the ground floor (though given that the lobby is two floors up at street level, it felt a little like a basement) and the view was non-existent. The room felt a little like disappointment. In place of our promised balcony, we had an enormous, but sparsely furnished, terrace. Based on Georges Hotels’ room categories in terms of price, we had in fact been “upgraded” from our balcony room; the terrace room is more expensive presumably because it’s larger.
Tempering our disappointment was the fact that our room was very large and well appointed. We were told it was the largest room in the hotel, which seemed plausible as it stretched the entire width of the hotel. Obvious thought and care had been spent on the design of our modern and stylish room, which included a king bed, leather sectional sofa, and small flat-screen TV. The bathroom had dual sinks, a walk-in shower, and glass walls (privacy is provided by levered blinds but gaps remain) and a nice selection of L’Occitane products as well as nearly every toiletry item imaginable. The room also had a Nespresso machine, a well-stocked mini fridge, and a safe. The bed, with down pillows and duvet, was very comfortable. Minor quibbles with the room included a TV with very poor sound quality, a bathroom door that noisily scrapped across the bathroom tile floor, and terrace chairs that were so small we could barely sit in them without feeling like we might tumble out. A major flaw with the room was at least partially attributable to being in an old city and on the ground floor—a distinct sewer gas order emanated the room, an odor which was not masked by a heavy dose of potpourri scent. In short, the room had tremendous positive qualities but was also flawed.
Contemplating our options, we stopped by the desk to inquire about switching rooms the next night. The answer we received was polite but equivocal—stop by the next morning and we’ll see if we have something (ultimately, no upgrade became available). It was not reassuring, but we weren’t about let a less-than-perfect room ruin our trip. We quickly headed up 6 stories (there is a very small glass elevator) to the rooftop terrace for a glass of wine. Here was the view we wished our room had! We drank up the wine and the expansive views of the city lights and Bosphorus River with relish. This was the Istanbul we had hoped for.
After drinks, we asked the front desk for a restaurant recommendation that was within walking distance of the hotel. The recommendation—a forgettable café, which catered to tourists was underwhelming. The food was ok, but the service was rather neglectful. We stopped asking the front desk for recommendations.
As part of our Visa Signature booking, we received complimentary breakfast daily. Here, the hotel surpassed expectations. The breakfast is served on the rooftop terrace, which has a sophisticated feel. Our polite and responsive server was smartly dressed in white shirt and skinny tie. With seagulls flying overhead, we drank fresh orange juice and coffee while taking in the sights of the city below us. The food was excellent. I enjoyed muesli with organic yogurt and honey, while Brian enjoyed a brioche roll and hardboiled egg. Perhaps due to our height and the narrow Beyoglu streets with very few cars, it was surprising that a city of 13.5 million people could be in this moment so eerily quiet. We watched the boat traffic on the Bosphorous as the sun reached higher and the sealayer evaporated. It was a sublime moment.
The bill was somewhat of a struggle. I anticipated the hotel would not properly credit $25 toward our food and beverage bill (a feature of booking through the Visa Signature website). The manager did not seem at all familiar with the Visa Signature program and was skeptical. He brought out his booking sheet; I brought out mine. Mine showed the $25 credit; his did not. After a few moments, he agreed to deduct $25 from our bill but made sure to disclaim any responsibility for the billing foul-up.
For the price (279 euros/night), Georges Hotel fell a bit short. While the room had the potential to be spectacular with its décor and features, the ground floor location and sewer gas odor significantly degraded the room. The hotel itself, and particularly the rooftop terrace were lovely, and I can easily imagine that had our room been even one floor higher, that the overall quality of our stay would have been much improved. The hotel staff, while polite and friendly, did not meet our expectations concerning the car service, the restaurant recommendations, or the bill. Ultimately, the underdog, boutique hotel lost this one. On a future trip, I may check out the branded EDITION Hotel.
Visa Signature Hotel Collection
After our imperfect experience, I have a few doubts about this booking service. The balcony upgrade we paid for did not materialize. The ground floor terrace should not have been considered an upgrade. Hotel management was not familiar with the Visa Signature program and we had to be firm to get our bill corrected. I would expect that our experience with a larger, branded hotel with the Visa Signature booking site would have been better for a few reasons. One, there’s more rooms to upgrade to, and second, the hotel is more likely to have experience with the program. Smaller hotels like Georges Hotel may be unfamiliar. To the hotel, your reservation may appear like any other. In fact, rooms are booked through Kiwi Collection.