The Shangri-La Bosphorus is a luxurious base from which to explore the hustle and bustle of this beautiful city
Words: Jonathan Whiley
Istanbul is not for the faint-hearted. The cradle of civilisation – home to Roman, Ottoman and Byzantine empires – is not somewhere that one goes gently into that good night. The city – with the Bosphorus Strait neatly dividing Asia and Europe – is a place of kaleidoscopic colour, evocative charm and cultural crossover. Embrace the organised chaos and lose yourself amid the labyrinth of stalls in the centuries-old Grand Bazaar. Haggle for an intricately decorated ceramic or antique pocket watch as Turkish coffee – famed for its strength and viscosity – scents the air (one family-run kiosk here opened some 114 years ago). Marvel at the ambition and scale of the Hagia Sophia, an architectural masterpiece dating back to 537 and now a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
While many of the city’s premier attractions – including the Blue Mosque – are inescapable from the hustle and bustle, there are neighbourhoods to enjoy a gear change. Karaköy, one of Istanbul’s oldest, has become one of its most talked-about recently. A haven for artists, it has become the epicentre of ‘cool’ and a popular place to take in one of the many hip coffee shops and effortlessly Instagram-worthy cocktail bars.
Respite is perhaps best sought at one of the several luxury hotels dotted along the waterfront on the European side of the city. Shangri-La is located in the Beşiktaş neighbourhood, a short walk from the regal Dolmabahçe Palace.
This is far from a sleepy terrority – bars and restaurants remain on your doorstep – but the hotel rotates on its own calm and soothing axis. The glamour and generous bling – think Paris meets Dubai – belies its past as a former tobacco factory, while service throughout is exceptional.
Rooms are uniformly elegant with beautiful, spacious bathrooms – the best suites have private terraces with waterfront views – and staff have a welcome, light touch. One evening at restaurant IST TOO – where sprawling breakfasts are served on a stunning alfresco terrace – the general manager appears in chef’s whites at the counter to assist with dinner and interact with guests (a unique experience that can be requested during a stay).
Elsewhere, Shang Palace delivers faultless Cantonese dining and there are excellent spa facilities with a large indoor pool and treatments based on centuries-old Turkish traditions (a private hammam experience is a must). Beyond the hotel, a sunset boat ride on the Bosphorous is another showcase of the city’s vibrancy and a reminder to rage against the dying of the light.