Modern-day Istanbul is a city where high-rise buildings punctuate the skyline, seamlessly coexisting with tall, slender minarets, creating a unique blend of the contemporary and the traditional. This urban development, perceived as a revival of the property and hospitality sector in Istanbul, is attributed in part to foreign and domestic investment. BLG Capital, established by Serdar Bilgili, a former president of a Turkish football club, stands as one of the leading private equity firms in Europe, specialising in strategic property developments.
Once known as Byzantium and later Constantinople, this city thrived as a vital Silk Road hub, absorbing the influences of Romans and Ottomans into its architecture, cuisine and cultural heritage. This rich historical tapestry is intricately woven into the city’s fabric of luxury hotels, apartments and private clubs. Food enthusiasts can savour Michelin-starred restaurants and rooftop dining, while chic districts offer a shopper’s paradise — some also serving as a port of call for ocean liner cruises. The city also has a thriving art scene with museums and art fairs.
As I press the button on my armrest, the leather seats in my limousine gracefully recline as we navigate through traffic. I ponder what the Ottomans would have thought of the city’s congestion problem. Still, with a television, a sound system blaring some Turkish rap tunes and of course, a humidor — because nothing says ‘luxury’ like contemplating life while puffing on a cigar, this ride is perfectly equipped for what might be a long journey ahead.
While you might not be familiar with the private equity firm, BLG Capital, chances are you’ve heard of some of the luxury brands that are part of BLG Capital’s 21 properties. These include The Peninsula Istanbul, Soho House, The Ritz-Carlton and W Istanbul.
BLG specialises in property investment, asset management and high-quality, complex development projects. Leveraging its well-established local and international relationships, along with internal market research, BLG Capital identifies unique off-market investment opportunities in luxury real estate and the hospitality sector. The firm then presents these prospects to institutional investors through specialised platforms, facilitating their participation in the property market.
BLG Capital has made a substantial financial commitment, with a total equity investment of $2.5 billion and a capital responsibility of $8 billion. In addition to its properties in Istanbul, the firm boasts an international portfolio that includes cities like New York, Los Angeles and Miami.
The Peninsula Istanbul was launched earlier this year with a celebration echoing the pomp and ceremony of The Peninsula’s recent opening in London’s Belgravia. The ritual was overseen by a Feng Shui master; every detail of the building was designed according to the principles of this traditional Chinese practice. The hotel, comprising four buildings, includes the former Karaköy passenger terminal designed by Rebii Gorbon in 1937 in the Bauhaus style, featuring the iconic square clock tower. The repurposed terminal building is flanked by two structures from the late Ottoman era; one boasts a distinctive tiled façade in the Art Nouveau style dating from 1910, while the other is a white-stucco design in the Belle Époque style from 1912.
Designer Zeynep Fadıllıoğlu has created a contemporary hotel decor using pale grey Marmara marble, neutral-coloured fabrics and dark-wood furniture. The impressive glass ceiling resembles a Mondrian painting; a grid of horizontal and vertical lines is adorned with rectangular blocks of vibrant colour. In fact, the details inside the former passenger hall draw inspiration from the traditional designs seen in mosques, particularly those by Sinan Agha, the Grand Architect of the Ottoman period. Further historical influences can also be found in the spa and wellness centre on the lower level; take a look inside the indoor pool where the light fittings evoke the carvings of muqarnas domes found in religious monuments and palaces.
If you’re eager to bask in the sunshine and take a refreshing swim, an outdoor pool awaits you, surrounded by meticulously landscaped gardens. Walk over to the terrace adjacent to the pool where you can enjoy a delightful alfresco lunch.
Alternatively, you can indulge in the ambience of The Lobby Restaurant, enjoying the elegant view from both the main and mezzanine levels. Chef Alessandro Santi offers an international menu; the burrata with tomatoes, basil and aged balsamic, along with the signature mezze selection, were among my favourite dishes.
If you’re looking to elevate your fine dining experience by a couple of notches, take the exclusive lift to Gallada on the fourth level. As Turkey’s first and only two Michelin-starred chef, reservations for Fatih Tutak’s restaurant are highly sought after. The menu draws inspiration from Tutak’s journeys along the ancient Silk Road, spanning the Uyghur city of Kashgar in China to Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan. Our Turk-Asian fusion evening begins with a glass of champagne on the terrace as we enjoy panoramic views over the Bosphorus Strait. The fading daylight casts hues of violet-blue across the sky as dusk approaches, signalling that dinner will shortly be served. We make our way to the private dining room.
The first course features wood-fired potato pide with smoked bone marrow butter; beef tartare with fenugreek, carrot and tendon chips; fried eggplant with burnt yoghurt, Tokat onions, drizzled with Sichuan pepper oil; tuna with tahini, tomato and Yuzu. Moving on to the second course: wok-fried eggplant with snow mushroom and green peppers; a steamed shrimp dumpling with Oscietra Caviar; and an Adana kebab dumpling. For the main course: wood-fired monkfish with squid ink and yoghurt; and wood-fired beef short rib with tomato, yoghurt and burnt butter. Finally, we indulge in the dessert — a delicious frozen chocolate mousse. We drink Kavaklidere Cotes d’Avanos Sauvignon Blanc and Chamlija Felix Culpa Mutlu Hata Red.
Within a short stroll from The Peninsula lies Galataport Istanbul, home to the world’s first underground ship terminal. Galataport is BLG’s largest development in Istanbul and is a key part of a major landmark project transforming the historical city harbour into a world-class cruise liner port. The development also features a shopping district and an art museum.
Furthermore, it holds the distinction of being the largest project in Europe to receive the LEED rating for sustainable development. It was also named “Port of the Year” by the SeaTrade Cruise Awards.
The sheer scale of this project becomes apparent when you observe a docked cruise ship. These colossal ‘floating hotels’ provide a unique visual perspective. Passengers enter the port through the lower decks using an innovative hatch system that activates a temporary customs area when a ship has berthed. This ensures that the promenade area remains open for public use at all other times. Every detail of BLG Capital’s project has innovation at its heart – even the way the air is purified at the lower levels through aesthetically designed ceilings is a technological feat of engineering.
Nearby, you’ll also find the Istanbul Museum of Modern Art. It’s Turkey’s first museum of contemporary and modern art and houses some of the finest works of art by both national and international artists. The building is designed by Renzo Piano, internationally renowned for his work in museum architecture.
When checking into Soho House Istanbul, I faced the dilemma of choosing between a room with a view of the Golden Horn and one featuring a freestanding bathtub by the foot of the bed. I opted for the former and was pleased with my decision. The view of the sun setting over the Bosphorus was sublime, even with a crane partially obstructing it. Both members and non-members of Soho House can book rooms; however, members enjoy discounted rates. The room, spanning 27-35 square metres, is adorned with the signature house style, enriched by Turkish influence achieved through beautifully carved wooden headboards, vintage rugs, patterned tiles and luxurious fabrics. It includes a comfortable king-size bed, a bathroom with a walk-in rain shower, a makeup table, Cowshed bath products, a flat-screen TV and free Wi-Fi. The hotel has 87 bedrooms and guests have access to the members’ club, a gym with hammam, a spa and rooftop.
This evening, we’ll be dining at the Apheleia Terrace restaurant, which offers a delicious Mediterranean mezze menu with a Mexican twist. It’s located in a grand 19th-century Italianate palazzo that once served as the US Consulate and is now part of Soho House. The building was originally designed by Giacomo Leoni to create a palatial residence. Marble from Carrara was imported, while Piemonte rosewood was used for the doors and window frames. Original elements, including 18th-century frescoes and oak-panelled walls, have been meticulously preserved.
If you’ve ever stayed at a hotel and thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to own the actual apartment?’ Well, now you can — sort of. The Ritz-Carlton Residences in the much sought-after Nisantasi neighbourhood are the first branded apartments in Europe by the prestigious hotel brand to be offered for sale. The building comprises 121 residential units, including sophisticated penthouse triplexes featuring private pools, gardens, and views of the Bosphorus. With a total area of 400,000 square feet, it comes with an equally large list price of €18 million; concierge services and amenities such as a gym, indoor pool and spa are also included. Additionally, you have the option of renting an apartment in the building for family or friends. Property investment, particularly among foreign buyers is high, due to the attractive yields and long-term growth prospects. Istanbul’s strategic location on two continents and its rapid economic expansion make the city an alluring investment proposition.
The Akaretler Row Houses is BLG’s regeneration project and comprises 98 offices and residences, 42 shops and restaurants and a luxury boutique hotel. The 19th-century houses, located in Besiktas, one of the most distinguished and historic districts of Istanbul, lay derelict for decades. Originally built to house the high-ranking officials of Dolmabahçe Palace, these properties have been painstakingly restored by BLG Capital.
The W Istanbul is part of the project and features 140 rooms, meeting and conference rooms and a spa; the luxury hotel’s interior combines Ottoman influences with a contemporary style. For instance, a row of cabanas by the terrace offers a relaxing spot in the shade while enjoying your cocktail. And if you’re looking to embrace the spirit of joie de vivre, you might consider booking a suite for that luxurious getaway, complete with a circular bed that adds a touch of whimsy and indulgence to your stay.
The project has enriched the community with its art galleries, chic bars, restaurants and shops, recently earning recognition with the Urban Land Institute (ULI) Awards for Excellence.
‘A City at the Crossroads’
The saying ‘all roads lead to Constantinople’ holds true for modern Istanbul. It’s a city at the crossroads of trade, commerce and cultural exchange, connecting Europe and Asia. Istanbul’s strategic location enhances its appeal to investors. The ever-changing skyline bears witness to this. The rapid ascent of contemporary architectural wonders and the repurposing of historic buildings reflect the city’s prosperity — a transformation influenced in part by BLG’s role in developing these exciting projects. Explore these modern masterpieces that redefine luxury living and lifestyle in present-day Istanbul.
To discover more, visit: blgcapital.com
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All imagery courtesy of BLG Capital and Unsplash.