In Istanbul, a city with a long legacy that has seen constant reinvention, nothing and everything is new. Citizen Femme checks into Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul to explore this captivating capital, a place grounded in history but with an eye firmly on the future.
As you lay back on the perfectly-placed bed in one of Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul’s water-facing rooms and watch the boats migrate back and forth, ferrying people to their destination for the day, it’s hard not to consider all the lives and history that have been a part of Istanbul, long before you.
The Bosphorus, a natural strait that cuts through the heart of the Turkish capital, separates the European side from the Asian side, and has been a central part of Istanbul and wider Turkey’s history; perhaps the very making of it. Shangri-La Bosphorus, with its prime location on the European waterfront, gives guests a front-row seat to all the action.
This is a city that has reinvented itself countless times. It’s seen Roman, Byzantium, and Ottoman rule, each of which has added a flair to the place we see today. Everything here, from the architecture to the food, seems to carry a little of its past with it.
Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul is no exception. The building which is now home to the hotel has transformed with the times and undergone many iterations of itself over the years; it was first a 1920s tobacco warehouse, has had a stint as a TV factory and was left abandoned for a few years before opening as a hotel. Like many places in Istanbul, this building is a part of the city’s interweaved and complex history.
WHAT TO PACK
The size of this hotel is one of the first things you’ll notice as you enter the lobby – a space with high ceilings and adorned in lavish marble, lacquered-finish furnishings and various statement chandeliers. In true Shangri-La style, you’ll also notice the delicate scent being pumped through the airways; a fragrant bouquet, worlds away from the building’s former persona as a warehouse for tobacco.
This is a welcoming space with just the right amount of comfy sofas and low-lit lamps to make you feel welcome, yet with an elegance that confirms you’re somewhere special. Stand out features include the views across the Bosphorus, the impressive chandelier towards the back of the large lobby, its crystal beads hung from a glass-domed roof trailing two floors of the 12-storey hotel, and the 1000+ pieces of artwork dotted around the property including pottery, Chinese carvings and unique paintings. A blue-hued, mixed media on canvas piece by acclaimed Turkish artist, Devrim Erbilm, hangs in the lobby and caught our eye.
With 186 rooms across 11 categories, you’ll be spoilt for choice as to where you stay. If you’ve got cash to splash then one of the seven suites may make for the perfect place. The Shangri-La Suite, spread across 366 square metres – almost half of the hotel’s top floor – comes with two en-suite bedrooms, an expansive living room, a dining room, and floor-to-ceiling windows leading to three balconies that offer sweeping, 180 degree views across the Bosphorus. These are the best views in the hotel.
If suites are a little too extravagant, choose from the remaining 179 rooms, many also with hard-to-beat Bosphorus views. We stayed in a Premier Bosphorus Room (pictured) on the fourth floor and found it an ideal space for morning and evening gazing across the waters, which could be seen from most angles in the room but were best viewed from the bed or window-side chair. Trust us when we say it’s worth getting up 20 minutes early to sip your coffee from here as the sun rises over the morning waters outside.
The Food + Drink
Shang Palace, the Shangri-La’s signature restaurant with outposts across the globe, is another example of how the hotel is contributing to the city’s reinvention, this time its fine-dining scene. This is a restaurant setting the standards for Chinese dining and is the place to be for fans of Cantonese cuisine: not only in the hotel, not only in Istanbul, but in all of Turkey. The menu is extensive, must-tries include the varied dim sum and the crispy shredded beef or, for a vegetarian option, the deep-fried eggplant with garlic.
A more relaxed option is IST TOO, with indoor and outdoor tables serving Turkish and international dishes. Watch the world go by with a water-front seat as you taste-test the lunch and dinner menus which include sandwiches, soups, pastas and fish-based dishes alongside local favourites such as kebab and pide. A considerable breakfast buffet is also served here with a healthy (and not-so-healthy) Turkish, Chinese, and continental spread to choose from.
The wine list across both restaurants is extensive and offers French, Italian, Australian and German varieties alongside bottles made with Turkish grapes. Or head to the hotel bar – simply named Le Bar – for a nightcap. Its modern, design-led features, large drinks menu and talented mixologists make it a fun place to visit. Prop yourself on a bar-side stool to watch the cocktail-shaking maestros at work (if you’re into spicy cocktails you must try the Red Hot Chilli Margarita), or settle into one of the luxe velvet sofas in the surrounding atmospheric, dimly-lit area for a glass of the local wine, the Sarafin Sauvignon Blanc is a good place to start.
The Little Extras
From Aqua Di Parma bathroom products to fresh flowers and complimentary cake, macarons and biscuits brought to your room, the little extras go a long way here. Rooms come with a Nespresso coffee maker alongside a well-stocked mini bar and a writing desk with notepad and pen for when inspiration strikes, while the en-suite bathrooms boast a rain shower, heated floors, and a stand alone tub with a discrete TV to watch your favourite series on, as you soak.
Head to Chi, The Spa for Asian-inspired massages, invigorating body scrubs and cleansing facials, or book an appointment at the luxury hamman for the very Turkish experience of a semi-naked body scrub, massage, water-therapy, hair wash and moisturising treatment, offered as a public or private treatment.
While service in a hotel is never really an extra, the staff and concierge here aim to please and their beyond five-star service proves time and time again that nothing is too much effort.
The To-Do List
On your doorstep are the Naval Museum and Dolmabahçe Palace – both sharing and showcasing a proud history – and take a five minute walk across to the Beşiktaş Bazaar for a true insight into local life.
Fifteen minutes inland is the hip district of Nişantaşi, an area dotted with independent designers elevating the Turkish fashion scene. Here, Begum Khan’s showroom flaunts her unique, Ottoman-Chinese inspired jewellery – bejewelled, oversized animals and contemporary adaptations of the evil eye. Next door, pop into the Nackiyé sister’s showroom for handmade, Turkish-Mediterranean inspired kaftans, harem trousers and dresses.
In the more central Karaköy, visit Karaköy Güllüoğlu. This go-to baklava shop opened in 1949 and has proved itself the master of reinvention by reimagining the traditional pastry in a myriad of different flavours and styles; try the pistachio or walnut version for something classic, or experiment with their carefully-adapted vegan, diabetic-friendly and gluten free versions.
No trip to Istanbul is complete without a tour of its historic centre to visit the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia (a cathedral turned mosque turned museum turned mosque again) and the ancient Basilica Cistern which today displays modern art installations in its ancient underground labyrinth. A few minutes walk from here are the Spice Bazaar and Grand Bazaar. Inside the latter, one of the oldest markets in the world, head straight to Şark Kahvesi – the first café from Timothy Oulton of The Chelsea Pig and Barnsley House fame – and shop for jewellery at Artghetto or leather goods at Modaheybe.
Not to be outdone by its neighbours, Shangri-La plenty of innovative takes on entertainment, too. In the spirit of old-meets-new, ask them about their art classes led by Kubilay Eralp Dincer who shares the 13th century wisdom of ebru – or marble art – with a new prowess. In the early afternoon, treat yourself to afternoon tea alongside their talented piano player in the lobby-lounge, or delve into the world of baklava using their Baklava Butler service – the world’s first butler dedicated to baklava, and a wonderful way to sample the historic dessert in a truly modern style.
Lastly don’t miss the chance for a sunrise yacht cruise along the (relatively) quiet neighbouring morning waterways. Shangri-La can organise a breakfast sail on the Bosphorus serving up traditional Turkish tea alongside breakfast staples such as cold cuts and olives, honeys and jams, as you cruise. A wonderful way to observe all that is old – and new – in this intriguing city.
Legend has it that any wish you make while sailing on the Bosphorus will come true, ours was that we’ll one day own a house on its graceful banks. Until then, Shangri-La Bosphorus, Istanbul is the perfect place to wait and watch as Istanbul’s ever-evolving story unfolds.