Located at the crossroads between East and West, Turkey has welcomed visitors for millennia. Just three and a half hours from the UK, Turkey’s largest city, Istanbul, is a haven for culture lovers (even more so when summer’s crowds of tourists depart), whilst Bodrum, on its southern coast, is renowned for its stylish beach resorts, which are still balmy in the first flush of Autumn. Here’s why you should bookmark a trip to both these must-see Turkish delights.
Istanbul: ‘the Queen Of Cities’
This ancient capital of the world straddles both Europe and Asia, cleaved by the waters of the Bosphorus, its beating heart. Nestled within a 200-metre stretch of the European shoreline, near the charming Bebek and Kuruçeşme districts and several leafy parks, Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus is the ideal starting point from which to explore this bustling metropolis.
Built to resemble the neighbourhood’s yali mansions (traditional wooden villas from the 18th and 19th centuries), this luxurious retreat is close enough to all the action (it’s a short drive into town and you can walk to some of the top restaurants and clubs in the area) but still feels like a peaceful oasis. Indeed, it’s one of the only hotels in the city that boasts its own pier and catching a boat downstream is a fabulous (and traffic-free) way to reach famous sites such as the Hagia Sophia, Topkapi Palace or Basilica Cistern, cruising by painted palaces as you go.
DESIGN & DECOR
The elegantly understated five-star resort has been popular with both well-heeled travellers and locals since it opened in late 2021. Mirroring the city itself, Ottoman heritage merges with international influences here. Thoughtful details abound, with many underlining the location’s proximity to the water. The spectacular French chandelier and the curvaceous panels of Australian wood in the lobby, for example, have been crafted to recall bubbling water and rolling waves, whilst the blue carpet that lines the marble-inlaid corridors is a nod to the Bosphorus. There’s even a softly aquatic signature scent – a blend of jasmine and white tea that acts as an olfactory reminder of the hotel group’s own Asian heritage.
There’s something of a ‘plush ocean liner’ feeling to the hotel’s 100 lavishly appointed rooms and suites, too, with their polished wooden floors and gleaming wall panels. The enormous, crisply made beds are divinely comfortable and oval baths are deep enough to wallow in with a fragrant array of Diptyque amenities. Subtle tulip motifs can also be found throughout, a tribute to the ‘Tulip Era’ of the city and the floral symbol for Allah. And as 90% of rooms overlook the river, it’s perfectly possible to fall asleep in Europe and wake up to watch the sun rise over the water in Asia.
CULTURE MEETS CUISINE
Istanbul is a city that loves to eat well. The serpme kahvalti (‘breakfast spreads’) at local cafés are legendary – think plates of eggs, olives, cheeses and pastries served with hot tea. At the Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus’s Novikov restaurant, breakfast is on another level entirely, with an opulent buffet that spans the entire length of the room. Olea, another of the hotel’s four restaurants, serves Italian-inspired fare, with excellent truffle pasta, oven-roast lamb and seabass with lemon and capers, plus a tempting menu of cocktails at its bar.
But it’s the all-new Hakkasan, the first Turkish outpost of the Michelin-starred Chinese restaurant, that has been garnering rave reviews since it opened earlier this year – its steaming baskets of dim-sum, black cod and slices of roast duck are every bit as sumptuous as they are at the London flagship, and its special Heritage Manhattan, made with whiskey and poured over a giant ball of ice, is smokily, gloriously moreish.
Billed as Istanbul’s first destination spa, the Mandarin Oriental Bosphorus’s 3,500-sq m wellness centre is a daylit temple to sybaritic pleasure, with its own Eden-like garden. The treatment menu blends state-of-the-art facials by Biologique Recherche, MLX and Aromatherapy Associates with modern rituals such as a ‘Digital Wellness Escape’ (to un-kink computer-weary shoulders) and an ‘Inner Strength’ massage to calm anxiety.
Stars of the show, though, are the male and female hammams, where you can experience the Sultan Hammam treatment, in which you are softly kneaded beneath pillowy mounds of soapy lather, then rinsed, masked and treated to a restorative head and foot massage. Just the thing after a day in the labyrinthine Grand Bazaar or antique shopping in the hilly streets of the Bohemian Çukurcuma district.
Next: The Turkish Riviera
Where Istanbul is all about action and the Bosphorus, Bodrum is all about playtime by the sea. This glittering hangout on the ‘Turkish Riviera’ is just over an hour’s flight from Istanbul, so it’s easy to combine both in one trip. And you should. Home to one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, this sweep of rugged Southern coastline, where the Aegean meets the Mediterranean, is replete with secluded sandy bays, clear waters and gorgeous sunset vistas.
Once populated by sleepy fishing villages, Bodrum became a glamorous escape for creative, discerning urbanites in the 1970s and now its exclusive marinas harbour the art-filled yachts of the super-rich, who anchor here all summer, their jet ski trails frequently streaking across the turquoise sea. Later in the season, though, a mellower vibe descends, and Bodrum becomes the perfect place to soak up a touch of early autumn sunshine.
RELAXED VIBES AND REJUVENATION
Just 20 minutes’ drive from the centre of town, Mandarin Oriental Bodrum is open between April and November, allowing for sunshine breaks long after British leaves have started turning. Sympathetically designed as a series of low, interconnected buildings, it stands well apart from many of the other ultra-luxe (read: flashy) resorts in the area, blending seamlessly into the surrounding landscape.
Stepping into the hotel’s dramatic, open-air lobby, with its panoramic view over the aptly named Paradise Bay, feels akin to being transported to another world. One where each of the unbelievably lovely 128 guestrooms, suites, apartments or villas (yes, you can rent an entire villa) benefits from its own terrace or balcony with sun-loungers for topping up your Vitamin D (many also have their own private pools). One that even boasts its own haute shopping experience – Chanel, Burberry, Chopard, Louis Vuitton and Hermès all provide seasonal pop-ups – so you can shop to your heart’s content without leaving the resort.
The water rules here: when you’re not scuba diving, water-skiing, dipping into the pool or sailing off to explore an ancient shipwreck or heritage site, swimming at one of the hotel’s two private white sand beaches is the order of the day.
This year, the hotel’s Blue Beach Club played host to a Louis Vuitton takeover, with tastefully branded towels, flags and even a volleyball court lending an extra allure (there are plans for further fashionable collaborations to come). And if an idyllic palm-fringed parasol won’t satisfy your lounging needs, book into one of the hotels exclusive beach cabanas, which have their own changing areas, daybeds and mini fridges full of chilled drinks, plus their own access to the water.
It’s entirely possible to stay for several days at this resort and not dine at the same restaurant twice. There are ten top-class options to choose from, plus a bijoux Vakke L’Atelier ice cream parlour, which dishes up sweet treats by a bougainvillaea-strewn terrace. Highlights include Lucca By the Sea, a waterside restaurant specialising in incredible seafood (you can even pick your own at the fish bar and have it cooked as you like), and Kurochan by IOKI, where Japanese and Peruvian flavours meld with delicious results.
For more relaxed fare, the Blue Beach Club & Bar serves beachy favourites such as burgers, calamari, and fries alongside spectacular kebabs, fresh from the bar’s own grill (and when it comes to pudding, the club’s cheesecake is second-to-none). There’s a Hakkasan here, too, in case Istanbul’s offering doesn’t quite fulfil all your dumpling desires.
Of course, this otherworldly haven is equipped with a breath-taking 2,700-sq m spa, with six therapy rooms and four secluded outdoor cabanas for bodywork and facials en plein air. At its core, a vast marble-lined hammam is the site for scented heat treatments, in which your skin is scrubbed, masked and massaged with heady oils until it gleams.
Afterwards, while away the hours on the shaded veranda, sipping herbal tea or watching the more active guests perform downward dogs in a yoga class. Contemplating your impending departure here isn’t recommended and only leaves you wanting more. Well, there is always next autumn.