Istanbul is The Bosphorus. And The Bosphorus, Istanbul.
Few straits bind a metropolis the way it does the Turkish cosmopolis – its soul, its beating heart.
With one shore in Europe, and the other, Asia, it also is what has long given this, the only major city on two continents, its indelibleness.
“Istanbul – the constant beating of the wave of the East against the rock of the West,” as writer Susan Moody once described.
Things, predictably, are always changing – churning – on the waters that defined what was once the capital of both the Byzantine Empire and the Ottoman Empire, and in hotel land, at least, here in 2023, a fresh flurry of allure has arrived with the opening of The Peninsula Istanbul.
Right on The Bosphorus! And, of course, I had to check it out, when doing a jaunt to the city recently.
My first thought, when strolling into the soaring, Bauhaus-ceilinged main lobby (one of a quartet of buildings that once comprised a former ferry terminal) was that this hotel – built on the European side of the Golden Horn – not only functions as a spiffy look-out, but is also in sync with both past and present.
Second, that I could immediately see why the 177-room Peninsula Istanbul has been widely considered one of the most anticipated hotel openings in the world, this year.
Location, location, location (naturally). But, also, because, as the latest jewel in what the Financial Times recently called “the oldest small hotel chain in the world,” it is only the 12th hotel in the prestigious Peninsula portfolio.
One that started in Hong Kong in 1928 – by a family of Iraqi Jews who had moved there, no less.
Since then, it has grown only with caution and purpose. Peninsulas in Tokyo and Chicago, among them.
That they chose this space, in this city, in this moment – Istanbul, which just saw the opening of a glittering new opera house, and also anticipates a new, Renzo Piano-designed modern art museum in walking distance of the Peninsula, this Spring – demands attention. As much of a jet-set indicator as any other!
No place to skip breakfast
Some more musings from my stay:
Even in a city with close to 20 million people, my mornings on the Bosphorus-facing terrace gave me more calm than any Zen phone app ever could.
In fact, if I could have breakfast every day right here – where savoury Turkish specialties share space with perfectly rendered standards like avocado toast – I would probably not skip the Most Important Meal of the Day as much as I do.
The whole thing: basically, a postcard come to life. And a means of capturing the expanse of Istanbul without going anywhere.
Sitting there, watching the light dance with the water, I could, for example, clearly identify Hagia Sofia, one of the finest architectural feats in the world, playing off the brilliant blue domes of Suleymaniye Mosque, designed by Mimar Sinan, the Gaudi of the Ottoman Empire.
Laid out right before us, too: the extraordinary Topkapi Palace. The entire scene is a blaze of minarets, actually, as water taxis and ferries to and fro – the same view you get, no doubt, get from a hot new rooftop restaurant also in the hotel named Galada, courtesy of two Michelin-star chef Fatih Tutak. (It was not open yet when I visited in April, but debuted shortly after).
The female touch
Part of the buzz that this Peninsula has been getting – and which I quickly learned while making myself home there – is that Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu was the interior designer brought in for the project.
Best known as the designer behind Şakirin Mosque, she is the first woman to design a mosque in modern Turkey!
Delivering some of historical flair to this hotel project, but without turning into a cliche-filled mausoleum, she has succeeded in effortlessly merging local Turkish craftsmanship with modern accents, and even a dash of what struck me as Art Deco.
See: polished black lacquer doors, luxurious Tai Ping rungs. It helps, too, that there is also lots of original art work sprinkled through the hotel!
The spa itself – complete with hammam, and 25-metre swimming pool with ceiling fixtures reflecting Evil Eyes amulets into the water – also gives major oomph.
Did I mention a lush green space at the hotel, designed by Swiss landscape pro Enzo Enea (who has designed gardens for clients like the Queen of Bahrain, among others)?
A sense of place
Unlike some other luxury hotels in Istanbul, which can often feel self-contained and disconnected from the street life of the city, it is striking that the Peninsula backs into the lively neighbourhood of Karaköy. One of the oldest in Istanbul!
That is to say, as much as the hotel is a true oasis – complete with state-of-the-art in-room technology, and touchscreen wall panels for everything your heart demands in your rooms – just steps away lies the beautiful cacophony of the city.
You can literally walk to Galata Tower, a watchtower built by the Genoese in 1348, and, also, waltz through a maze of streets lined with restaurants, bars and restaurants.
Fish markets and bakeries vied for attention with contemporary art galleries and fashionable boutiques in Ottoman-era buildings as I strolled one night, for instance, to Murver, a buzzy restaurant that scored a Michelin in the first such guide published for Istanbul recently.
Being able to walk home after a blurry night? Equally a delight. A Turkish one.
Turkish Airlines, which flies direct from Toronto to Istanbul six days a week, has a flyer-friendly stopover program – a free layover in Istanbul en route to a myriad of destinations on any ticket fare.
For more on The Peninsula Istanbul, click here.
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