The Peninsula needs no introduction. The family run luxury hotel brand has been at the peak of holiday perfection since its beginning in 1928: the first year it opened its doors to the public on the Kowloon river in Hong Kong. Over the decades, the Peninsula hasn’t been looking for world domination. They don’t open hotels on whims. They curate spaces down to the finest detail, with each location bringing a cultural significance alongside the classic five star service of any Peninsula stay. The Istanbul location fits that mission. It’s nothing short of monumental.
Upon entering the lobby, the space opens to reveal ceilings so high they’re hard to find. There’s ivory overtones and gold notes accented on the chandeliers with original Turkish art placed proudly throughout. The space holds its historical significance in tact: this was once Turkey’s modern cruise terminal in 1940. Now it’s a heritage building and the first steps you take inside the newest addition of the Peninsula collection. While it may no longer be beckoning boats through the door, I couldn’t help but feel like a yacht had set up shop on the shores of the Bosphorus strait. The boat themes are buoyant throughout. (sorry) But it’s true. We’ll get back outside later, but for now let's look around.
The hotel is broken up across four buildings, three of which are protected historical landmarks. The only new addition is the building on the far right - the one that looks like a copper submarine. It has rooms and suites just like the rest, but the shining new feature here is their Peninsula Ballroom, which occupies the first floor. A big, beautiful space with its own security entrance for weddings and events. I’m not even Turkish and I was dreaming of saying ‘I do’ in those halls.
Each part of the Peninsula Istanbul looks like it’s own unique architectural expression, yet seamlessly strung together through internal corridors that flow through each. An achievement awarded to the unmatched abilities of interior designer Zeynep Fadilioglu—the world’s first female mosque designer—who pulled the whole thing off in one masterful swoop. There’s Turkish luxury unfolding behind every door. Speaking of which, let’s head behind the one you’ll be staying in.
The rooms keep their classic Peninsula feel with vault like doors, and glossy exteriors that spill throughout the space. Things shine in there. But it’s never overdone. You can expect comforters as thick as the mattresses, with only the finest Turkish linens. The carpets are plush and the closet space extensive. Everything in here is built for privacy. There’s a 24 hour concierge chat service, for those that would rather not do the phone calls. You can book tours, set up reservations, or request any services that would your stay more serene. Don’t worry, we’ll get to the spa in a minute.
They’re gone the extra mile with the in house tech. The toilets are heated with built in bidet’s. There’s a valet closet next to the door so you’re not disturbed by requested items, or want to get some laundry turned around during your stay. There’s a small and large tablet to control the curtains, lighting and air temperature. Secret wireless chargers in drawers, and my personal favorite: spa mode. You can control the music in the bedroom and bathroom to fit whatever mood you’re in. It’s an adult playground.
Every bed will bid you a good night, but if you’re looking to splurge then head to their Peninsula Suite to sleep like a sultan. It’s a two-level, 5,920-square-foot suite with it’s own outdoor pool, indoor gym, and personal hammam. If you’re travelling solo or in a pair of two, I understand if that’s a too big for you. I’d book the deluxe Bosphorus room, anything that has that view. Now, before we head outside to soak in the sights let’s go down to that aforementioned spa.
The Peninsula team have truly outdone themselves with this one. As I was escorted through the underground oasis they’ve built below the buildings, I quite shockingly found what was downstairs rivaled what was up top. It’s like walking through a crypt. There’s no windows or doors, only arched layers of Maramara marble in a maze of rooms and wonders waiting for you to explore.
The center of the space is the 82 foot indoor pool, and state of the art 24-hour fitness center with a personal trainer always on site. There’s steam and saunas in both male and female changing rooms. All treatments begin with freshly pressed juice. Just don’t leave without going through the hammam experience. If you don’t know the treatment, I’ll walk you through.
It starts with heat, your choice of steam or sauna. Then you’re escorted to one of the hammams, and asked to lay on warm white marble as hot water is poured over your skin. You’re scrubbed of dead skin, and then, I kid you not, layered in bubbles. You disappear into a soapy suspension. It’s a step by step, handmade bubble bath brought to you by a professional masseuse. Words fail when trying to describe the experience. You’ll wonder why you ever bathed alone.
Once you’ve been spiritually scrubbed, you’re ready to take a step out onto the terrace for afternoon tea. A Peninsula staple is bubbly and bites. Only here in Istanbul, you get to do it on the Bosphorus strait. They’ve perfectly positioned themselves to take in the sights of the city. No need to book a boat tour when you have a front row seat to history: the Hagia Sophia, Blue Mosque, and Topkapi Palace are all lined up for you. Nothing beats that view.
Lucky for us, it’s not limited to the terrace. Let’s head up top to their fourth floor fine dining restaurant, Gallada, to see what’s cooking.
The Peninsula has paired with Turkey’s only two-star Michelin chef Chef Fatih Tutak, to create Gallada: the Turk-Asian inspired dining experience. A combination that calls upon the river it cooks upon. There is a Silk Road theme throughout the menu, with contemporary takes on the historic flavors of Eurasian trade routes. It's Turkish ingredients with Chinese cooking techniques, and it couldn't be more delightful. Let's set the scene.
The restaurant serves both inside and outside, but where you should be sitting is no question. Follow the skyline. The decor is smooth in here, and never over done. The menu’s are leather books with gold lining. There’s lounge jazz, with light beats in the background thanks to the DJ on site. The floors are a grey stone, and tables a light wood. There’s particular attention paid to geometry here at Gallada, with circular details dispersed throughout. It’s in the glasses, the plates, the table lights, and even some of the food. Pomegranate trees line the skyline and small purple shrubs pop some color on your table. Everything has that open air feel, and the moon watches over you while you eat. All the attention to detail combined with the richness in service and taste adds up to give you an experience which — if it was your last — would leave you satisfied.
The menu is more like a to-do list. The question isn’t what to order. It’s how do you leave without over-indulging. Fortunately, they have a shared plates concept which helps to ease some of that over-indulgence. For starters, make sure not to miss their wood fired potato pide with smoked bone marrow butter. It’s some of the best bread you’ll ever have and it makes a perfect addition to any of the flavors in the starter section. If fresh and flavorful is your thing - pair the pide with the tomatoes. It’s a bed of skinned tomato’s sat in a sauce of soy, tamari, and smoked tomato. There’s onion’s on the sides and a small jalapeño placed on top. They bite like grapes, and oh my do they pack a punch. I didn’t even know flavor like that could fit into something so small.
Now let’s settle into some of the bigger things. Do not leave without trying at least two of the dumplings. If I had a bigger stomach, I would have had them all. My picks are the steamed shrimp topped with caviar and the crispy beef with spicy butter. You can do no wrong with dumplings, but Chef Tutak takes them to a whole other level. There a delicacy, and look so delicate I didn’t want to even eat them. The food is plated so perfectly, I could have come all this way just to watch it.
If you’re here with four or more, there’s no question you should get there signature tandoori duck which takes them 72 hours to prepare. It’s recommended for around four to six guests, so do bring friends. If it’s just two, surrender to the seafood: they have lobster, crab, monkfish, seabass and prawns. Everything is cooked to perfection. If you want to add some meat in there, the lamb shashik kebab was a stand out. If you have the time, try everything. Or come back the next night and finish the menu. This is a place worth returning to every time you are here.
Just make sure you head one floor higher once you’re done: the Topside Bar awaits.
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Karaköy, Kemankeş Karamustafapaşa Mahallesi, Kemankeş Caddesi No:34, 34425 Beyoğlu, İstanbul, Türkiye; The Peninsula Istanbul