It could only be Istanbul. I’m lying in bed in Europe, staring at Asia through opened curtains. This unique luxury is afforded by a stay at the Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, an exclusive, uber-luxurious addition to the ancient metropolis that’s famously split across two continents.
The five-star hotel sits on the European side of the Bosphorus, the strait that slices through the city, dividing it into Europe and Asia and linking the Black Sea with the Sea of Marmara.
It’s an incredible privilege to be on the Bosphorus, my guide, Serhan Gungor, tells me when we meet. I can see why. It’s a constant stream of activity – cormorants dive below the surface on the hunt for food, migrating birds glide overhead, and locals often spot dolphins vaulting through the waters. Serhan, who lives on the Asian side of Istanbul, says that he frequently sees submarines move through the passageway.
This rolling spectacle is best witnessed from Mandarin Oriental, where 80 per cent of rooms and suites boast Bosphorus views. While contemporary and pared-back, the hotel’s exterior is inspired by the ornate palaces and ‘Yali’ mansions that line the banks of the strait.
Ailbhe MacMahon checks into the Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, above, which sits on the European side of the Bosphorus, the strait that slices through Istanbul, dividing the city into Europe and Asia
Ailbhe’s Deluxe Bosphorus Room, which looks out over the Bosphorus
As a brand, Mandarin Oriental has been synonymous with next-level luxury since its inception in 1960s Hong Kong, and its Istanbul outpost delivers high-end flair in spades, combined with subtle motifs of Turkish design.
Tulip prints – an emblem of wealth in the Ottoman era – dance across the wallpaper and furnishings in my Deluxe Bosphorus Room. Turkish rugs in muted shades of blue and caramel soften wooden floors, while a pair of cloud-like slippers are arranged next to the bed, ready for stepping into once you wake. A tree-of-life patterned wall panel leads to the glossy marble bathroom, which is stocked with fragrant lotions from the cult-favourite French brand Diptyque. The room’s showpiece, however, is the glass balcony, which brings Bosphorus views inside.
This panorama is front and centre in the hotel’s top-tier suites, which have hosted Hollywood stars and famous musicians, presidents and royalty since the hotel’s opening in the latter half of 2021. Naturally, they don’t come cheap. One glowing example is the Naile Sultan Bosphorus Suite, priced at around £20,000 a night, which has a private entrance so that security teams and chefs can slip inside unnoticed.
Above is the hotel’s Bosphorus lounge. Ailbhe describes the hotel as ‘an exclusive, uber-luxurious addition to the ancient metropolis’ that is Istanbul
Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus has been decorated with subtle motifs of Turkish design
Above is the Bosphorus-facing Naile Sultan Bosphorus Suite, priced at around £20,000 a night
The Naile Sultan Bosphorus Suite has a private entrance so that security teams and chefs can slip inside unnoticed
A pair of cloud-like slippers are arranged next to the bed in Ailbhe’s room (left). Her bathroom is stocked with fragrant lotions from the cult-favourite French brand Diptyque (right)
It’s no surprise that the urban resort is drawing in the elite, as the service is as considerate as can be, down to the smallest detail. Case in point – when I leave for the day, a bookmark shaped like the Mandarin Oriental fan is thoughtfully placed on top of the dog-eared novel I’ve left on my bedside table.
This impeccable service is detected across the board, from the moment you’re welcomed into the lobby to when you’re ushered to a seat in the hotel’s two main restaurants.
Olea serves flavourful Mediterranean dishes such as saffron risotto and a hedonistic black truffle pizza, while Novikov offers clever Asian-Italian fusion plates.
Tables are filled by Istanbulites and socialites every evening at Novikov (above)
The Olea Bosphorus restaurant serves flavourful Mediterranean dishes such as saffron risotto and a hedonistic black truffle pizza
The hotel’s cake shop, serving Turkish confectionery
Each restaurant overlooks the Bosphorus, so you can admire the eastern skyline as you dine. The views, as well as the excellent food, are proving a lure for locals, with tables filled by Istanbulites and socialites every evening.
The same stellar vista can be enjoyed from the heated outdoor pool, but when the weather is cooler, the indoor pool in the subterranean spa is the place to be. Post-swim, there’s a ‘zen garden’ for relaxing with herbal tea, and a steam room and sauna.
The icing on the cake is the Turkish hammam, a serene marble space crowned by a geometric white ceiling. As part of a traditional hammam experience, I’m laid on a heated stone platform and lathered with suds and warm water, only to emerge with silken skin.
Stellar views of the Bosphorus can be enjoyed from the heated outdoor pool, above
After spa treatments, guests can relax in the hotel’s ‘zen garden’ (above) with a herbal tea
‘When the weather is cooler, the indoor pool in the subterranean spa is the place to be,’ Ailbhe writes
The hotel’s serene Turkish hammam
A morning spa treatment is a perfect prelude to a day on the Bosphorus – known as ‘Bosphorising’, Serhan tells me.
Guests can charter boats to explore the city at their leisure, docking at the hotel’s pier when they return.
Removed from the touristic centre, the resort is flanked by quieter neighbourhoods populated by true Istanbulites, giving you a more authentic sense of the city.
To one side, there’s the upscale Bebek neighbourhood, home to reams of chic boutiques and cafes, as well as some of Turkey’s most expensive real estate.
To the south, there’s the Ortakoy neighbourhood, a former fishing village that’s renowned for its stalls selling ‘kumpir’ baked potatoes, a Turkish dish stuffed with olives and pickles that’s a curious cousin of the humble British jacket potato.
Beside the Ortakoy Mosque, I watch a group waiting to catch the next departing ferry. Road traffic tends to build up quickly in this city of 15million people, so travelling by ferry is the quickest way to get around.
The upscale Bebek neighbourhood, pictured, is home to reams of chic boutiques and cafes, as well as some of Turkey’s most expensive real estate
The Ortakoy neighbourhood, which lies near the hotel, is a former fishing village that’s renowned for its stalls selling ‘kumpir’ baked potatoes. Above is the striking Ortakoy Mosque
Ailbhe tries the locally-caught bluefish at Ismet Baba (above)
Giving ‘Bosphorising’ a try, I stop for lunch at the restaurant Ismet Baba on the city’s Asian side.
The place dates back to the 1950s, and its frilly curtains open up to showstopper Bosphorus views. Serhan, who has taken actress Meryl Streep and celebrity chef Rick Stein here in the past, recommends that I try the locally-caught bluefish.
It’s paired with raki, a strong liquor that’s known as ‘lion’s milk’, because it ‘looks like milk and makes you feel like a lion’.
Further south on the Asian side is a lesser-known attraction, the Haydarpasa Cemetery. A poignant piece of British history in Turkey, it served as a burial ground for the British military who fought in the Crimean War. An enormous obelisk built at the request of Queen Victoria looms over the tombstones.
The Haydarpasa Cemetery, above, served as a burial ground for the British military who fought in the Crimean War
The following morning, I explore the labyrinthine razzmatazz of the Grand Bazaar, one of the world’s oldest covered markets. Special tours can be arranged to access the bazaar’s cinematic rooftop, which served as the setting for a high-adrenalin chase scene in the James Bond film Skyfall.
Another 007 filming location can be found nearby – the underground chambers of the Basilica Cistern, which appeared in From Russia With Love. Built by a Byzantine emperor in the 6th century, the chamber recently reopened after five years of restoration works, with edgy new art installations and light shows making the ancient site all the more enchanting.
A short walk away, a rug shop holds an unexpected secret. Beneath the Nakkas store lies another Byzantine cistern, an echoing space supported by 18 marble columns. Private visits can be arranged, and the shop’s owners occasionally host atmospheric exhibitions in the space.
Ailbhe explores the labyrinthine razzmatazz of the Grand Bazaar (above), one of the world’s oldest covered markets
Special tours can be arranged to access the Grand Bazaar’s cinematic rooftop, which served as the setting for a high-adrenalin chase scene in the James Bond film Skyfall
The underground chambers of the 6th-century Basilica Cistern, above, appeared in From Russia With Love
The Nakkas rug shop, above, holds an unexpected secret – it sits atop a hidden Byzantine cistern. On the right are jewel-coloured rugs on display on the shop’s roof terrace
The Nakkas rug shop’s cistern is an echoing space supported by 18 marble columns. Private visits can be arranged
In a city with such a chequered history, it seems fitting to stop for a meal within the walls of a historic establishment. The Michelin-recommended Lokanta 1741 is such a spot. It’s housed inside the 18th-century Cagaloglu Hamam, where black-and-white photographs by the entrance reveal the celebrities who have visited in years gone past. Kate Moss, John Travolta, Oprah Winfrey and Edward VIII are among them. To reach my table, I climb a staircase to a romantic, open-roofed space with leaf-laced trellises. With elevated takes on Turkish classics, the food is just as striking as the setting.
As dusk falls, I board a boat back to the Mandarin Oriental. The sun is going down over Istanbul, a cocktail of pinks fanning behind the minarets of the hilltop mosques.
A welcoming sight, the hotel is aglow with lamplight as the boat docks at its pier. It certainly is a privilege to be on the Bosphorus, I think to myself. Istanbul is the city where east meets west, and in the Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, you can watch this mesmerising communion from the comfort of a deluxe bed.
The 18th-century Cagaloglu Hamam, pictured, has been frequented by stars such as Kate Moss, John Travolta, Oprah Winfrey and Edward VIII
Ailbhe dines at the Michelin-recommended Lokanta 1741, above, which lies within the historic Cagaloglu Hamam complex
Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus as dusk falls. ‘Istanbul is the city where east meets west, and in the Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus, you can watch this mesmerising communion from the comfort of a deluxe bed,’ says Ailbhe
Ailbhe MacMahon is hosted by Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus. A Deluxe Bosphorus Room is priced from £1,500 per night. Visit www.mandarinoriental.com.
Turkish Airlines fly to Istanbul International Airport from London Gatwick daily. Go to www.turkishairlines.com.
PROS: It’s the place to go for personalised luxury in Istanbul. The location is ideal, the views of the Bosphorus and Istanbul’s skyline are magical, the design ethos is elegant and rooted in Turkish history, the spa is standout and the service is impossible to fault.
CONS: Though it’s heated, the outdoor pool is closed to guests during the winter months, which is a pity. It’s also very, very expensive – but you pay for what you get.
Rating out of five: *****