To say my journey to Istanbul was testing would be something of an understatement. After a two-hour delay due to a cabin crew stuck in traffic (yes, really) we arrived in Istanbul during a downpour so biblical our landing had to be aborted. Twice. This, naturally, left my companion fretting over missing a pre-booked taxi. She needn’t have worried: said downpour had caused a landslide across the main artery between the airport and Istanbul meaning neither our taxi, nor any other method of transport, was able to reach us for another two hours.
I tell you this not because my travel woes are especially interesting or unusual (although if anyone from Istanbul city planning happens to be reading this, a train from the airport wouldn’t go amiss) but merely to underscore the fact that, five minutes after arriving at Shangri-La Bosphorus, I’d forgotten all about them.
It’s a masterful trick. The Shangri-La Bosphorus celebrates a decade in the city this year but, housed in a grand European-style mansion built on the banks of the river in the 1930s, it’s hard to believe it hasn’t always been there. The hotel sits between the Istanbul Naval Museum and the busy Beşiktaş ferry port, with the restaurants, shops and bars of one of modern Istanbul’s liveliest nightlife districts just across the road, but once inside its hedged-trimmed estate, you’d never guess at the hustle and bustle going on outside.
This is, of course, a signature of the Shangri-La hotel group, which excels at bringing a serene Eastern zen to its major urban hotels. If you’ve ever visited its London location in The Shard, you’ll know that from the second you exit the lifts, the only reminder that you’re in a skyscraper in one of the world’s busiest cities is the incredible views. Beyond that, it’s all fresh seasonal flowers, soothing interior design palettes and elegant fine dining.
It’s a formula which translates successfully at the Shangri-La Bosphorus. Spread across six floors, the hotel packs in 186 rooms and suites, four restaurants and bars, a spa, gym and indoor swimming pool yet, from the friendly service to the immaculate facilities, there is an air of complete and utter calm about the place.
Completely unruffled by our (extremely) late arrival, we were shown to a Deluxe Bosphorus room which, without the merest hint of hyperbole, can only be described as enormous. I’ve stayed in enough city hotels to spot the estate agent-style euphemisms from a mile away (‘cosy’: barely bigger than a single bed; ‘executive’: sleeps two but there will only be enough wardrobe space for a lone suit bag) so was genuinely surprised to learn that our room didn’t even qualify as a suite.
Spanning around 60 square metres – larger than most one-bed flats in London – it was equipped with two oversized twin beds, a walk-in wardrobe, marble bathroom with rainfall shower and vast bathtub, a desk and a lounge-style seating area with views over the gorgeous Bosphorus Strait. Decked out in soothing ivory and silver tones with proper blackout curtains and plush carpets (a dream to sink your feet into after a long day of sightseeing), with rates starting at just shy of £350 per night, this is a genuine bargain.
But if you can tear yourself away from the down pillows and 300-thread count bed linens, the Shangri-La Bosphorus has plenty more to offer. The hotel is home to the group’s signature Cantonese fine dining restaurant, Shang Palace (outposts of which, some with Michelin stars, you’ll also find in Paris, Hong Kong, Singapore and Abu Dhabi), but for a taste of something a little more local head to Ist Too.
Offering an all-day menu of Mediterranean classics and Turkish delicacies, breakfast, lunch and dinner here are best taken on the terrace against a backdrop of river cruises leisurely chugging their way up and down the Bosphorus. Like all good five-star hotels catering to an international clientele, the menu is vast and varied and, while the sushi shouldn’t be overlooked, I recommend you bypass the chicken salads and steaks in favour of Ist Too’s upscale take on traditional Turkish fare.
Skip past the pizzas and instead opt for one of the restaurant’s moreish pides – a topped flatbread offered in cheese, spinach or minced beef iterations – which prove to be ideal fuel for a day wandering the Grand Bazaar. Alternatively, order a mezze platter brimming with hummus, stuffed vine leaves, aubergine and artichoke to share, before tucking into a Çiğ Köfte – a Turkish take on beef tartare which sees the meat mixed with pepper paste, spices, tomato, lemon and a pomegranate reduction.
Of course, if you’re operating a hotel whose main clientele is weary sightseers, a full-service spa is an absolute must – and Shangri-La Bosphorus’ Chi spa more than delivers. This serene subterranean space, where you’ll also find a swimming pool decorated with murals of the Bosphorus Strait, promises a series of private treatment rooms along with a large Turkish bath and hammam area. Emerge from the latter cleansed, refreshed and relaxed before submitting yourself to the care of the spa’s therapists, who use traditional Asian healing techniques to deliver a strong and properly effective massage that will work out all your aches and pains.
All of which, of course, is to say nothing of Istanbul itself – a truly magnificent city full of culture and history – which Shangri-La Bosphorus offers a fantastic base from which to discover. The only trouble is, once ensconced behind those hedges, it becomes incredibly difficult to find a reason to leave.
Rooms at Shangri-La Bosphorus start from £300 per night, visit shangri-la.com