“Where East meets West”, “the crossroads of the world”, “a city of contradictions” – all the clichés that revolve around the city of Istanbul, you’ve either heard from others or seen firsthand. But therein lies the city’s relentless charm. It never ceases to balance its quaint riverside culture and the traditions of yesteryear with widespread gentrification and urban-development projects aplenty, both of which greet you at every turn.
And, like the city, one hotel quietly straddles Europe and Asia with finesse and splendour: Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul. The palatial property boasts an enviable waterfront location on the European bank of the Bosphorus Strait, overlooking Istanbul’s iconic minarets and ever-evolving skyline. But that’s just the beginning of its story.
Need to Know
Shangri-La Bosphorus is located in Beşiktaş, Istanbul’s financial and entertainment district, and housed in a former tobacco warehouse dating back to 1929 – hence the rather boxy exterior with a neo-classical façade. Step inside, and you’ll be greeted with a strong whiff of opulence and “hospitality from the heart”, true to the signature offering of Shangri-La Hotels and Resorts, which – as a Hong Kong-based entity – is well-versed with all things East meets West.
The hotel plays host to 186 guestrooms, most offering front-row views to the perpetual flurry of activity that takes place on the historic waterway. In contrast to the grandeur exuded by the lobby, the rooms feel more understated in nature – think: soothing tones of blue, beige, and gray accented by beautiful Asian touches such as marble vases and silk cushions.
While the 17 suites generously clock in at roughly 100 square meters, the ‘Shangri-La Suite’ – the only one of its kind at the property – is the one to save up for. Occupying a staggering 366 square meters, it features three private terraces, two lavish bedrooms, and a dining room complete with antique silver cutlery. This is stuff that (suite) dreams are made of.
What You'll Like
If creature comforts are what you crave, creature comforts are what you’ll get, regardless of the guestroom you end up in. To begin with, the bathrooms are veritable sanctuaries, chicly clad in black marble and rife with little luxuries such as Bulgari toiletries, heated floors, and deep soaking tubs complemented by complimentary bath salts. The one detail, however, that I’m unlikely to forget is the TV-embedded vanity mirror – who wouldn’t want to catch up on the news or plan the following day’s itinerary from inside a bubble bath, should the opportunity present itself?
Over in the bedroom, delightful touches take the form of a Nespresso ‘Essenza’ coffee machine, a plush bed layered with impossibly soft linens, fresh fruit and flowers, and a drawer packed with stationery items so that the days of calling room service for a scissor or tape are firmly in the past. Exceptional service is part and parcel of Shangri-La properties worldwide, and it’s a trait I experienced when I gushed about the copy of 1933 novel Lost Horizon in my room – and got to bring it home as a wonderful souvenir of my stay. The presence of this particular title was no coincidence; it’s best remembered as the origin of mythical sanctuary Shangri-La, a fictional utopian monastery located deep in the mountains of Tibet.
What You'll Love
In one word? The décor. Picture what would result if an Ottoman sultan ordered his palace to be revamped in a manner of chinoiserie, and there you have it: the luxurious aesthetic of the public spaces at Shangri-La Bosphorus. Here, you can expect to see a glittering Bohemian-glass chandelier, gold detailing, silk panelling, decorative Oriental vessels, light fixtures inspired by whirling dervishes, and acres and acres of marble.
Be sure to glance up from your cell phone while awaiting your room key; the Chinese lacquer-craft carving behind the reception desk beautifully depicts a Bosphorus water scene and is definitely worth a closer look, as is the stunning 18-meter silk painting that was specially commissioned for the hotel and adorns the atrium. Legend has it that over 1,000 pieces of European and Asian art are interspersed throughout the property, so you’ll want to keep your eyes peeled while meandering around.
You’ll undoubtedly hear of the decadently equipped health club upon check-in, but it’s at CHI, The Spa that you’ll want to spend your downtime. Rest assured, making it all the way to Turkey and not booking in at a hammam would be nothing short of sacrilege. And while plenty of people will advise you to visit one of the historic Turkish baths such as Çemberlitaş Hamamı, a stay at Shangri-La Bosphorus means experiencing the traditional Turkish ritual with no more effort than an elevator ride.
Reflective of the city it resides in, the hotel’s world-class spa offers both Asian and Turkish treatments in eight private spa suites that are embellished with intricately patterned tiles, water features, and an abundance of marble. You’ll have worked up an appetite once your body has been sloughed and buffed to a squeaky-clean state, which means choosing from one of three on-site dining venues comes next.
Light bites, live entertainment, and a traditional afternoon tea comprising house-made pastries and over 100 varieties of Chinese tea can all be found at Lobby Lounge, while IST TOO offers a combination of Asian and Mediterranean favorites against the backdrop of the Bosphorus. Both, however, pale in comparison to the hotel’s culinary pride and joy: Shang Palace. A destination in its own right, this high-end Cantonese eatery elegantly proves wrong the stereotype of Chinese cuisine as greasy comfort food, so the kadayif-wrapped shrimp, dim sum, roasted Peking duck, and hand-drawn noodles are menu highlights not to be missed.
With Shangri-La Bosphorus seated between the glitz and glamour of Dolmabahçe Palace and recently renovated Istanbul Naval Museum, sightseeing is a mere paces away. The relaxed suburb of Ortaköy – where hookah, tea houses, and loaded potatoes await – is easily accessible via a 20-minute walk along the river. Meanwhile, a short taxi ride away is Istanbul Modern, a privately owned contemporary art museum that showcases some of the country’s boldest, most thought-provoking works.
While you’re in the area, be sure to walk over to a hidden gem by the name of The Museum of Innocence, which can best be described as author Orhan Pamuk’s 2008 novel of the same name come to life. You’ll want to wrap up the day in the ever-so-hip neighborhood of Karaköy thanks to the many cafés, art galleries, upscale boutiques, and restaurants that attract both locals and tourists alike. For dinner, try your luck and nab a spot at the beloved and beautifully tiled Karaköy Lokantası to sample over 30 types of Turkish tapas.
Think back to when the words “Seat 1A” on your boarding pass granted you bragging rights. Or that time you indulged your inner child at an X-Box zone in an airline lounge while attempting to kill time in transit. Or dined on an inflight meal with salad fresh enough to crunch. Or sipped on freshly brewed ginger-lemon tea because a member of the cabin crew sympathized with your flu-induced misery. Or actually felt disappointed at the prospect of crawling out of a fully flat bed and leaving the airplane upon arrival.
If all of the above sounds absolutely foreign, no judgement. As a frequent traveler perpetually on the lookout for hefty flight discounts, I’m all for affordable direct flights – until Gulf Air invited me via Manama on a “Falcon Gold” ticket (which essentially entails the many benefits of first class, but at a business class fare) and I got a chance to experience those perks. Connectivity is a non-issue, considering the airline currently serves 42 cities in 25 countries spanning three continents – including double daily flights or more to ten cities within our neck of the woods.