Living A Dream: Çiragan Palace Hotel Kempinski
When it comes to fantasy places, high among mine is the city of Istanbul, which has a foot in Europe and another in Asia. It’s a place that’s rich in tales of sultans and hareems and, most of all, in history. When I had an opportunity to visit this city of my imagination, I was excited by all I hoped to see and experience: the historic sites, the great palaces, the archeological wonders, the food. High on the list was my hotel, Istanbul’s luxurious Çiragan Palace Hotel Kempinski.
The photos I’d seen online were simply gorgeous, and when I arrived, the reality was just as breathtaking as I had imagined it would be. Istanbul is a city of many palaces, but the Çiragan is the only one that has morphed into a five-star hotel. Located on the shores of the Bosphorus, it was once the residence of Sultan Abd laziz. According to one story, Empress Eugenie of France was in love with the sultan and stopped to visit the palace on her way to open the Suez Canal. Since those long ago days, the hotel has housed many royals, heads of state and Hollywood stars; these have included Queen Beatrix of Holland and Jordan’s King Abdullah; Bill Clinton and George Bush; and Uma Thurman and Annette Benning.
The Palace hotel has 11 sumptuous suites with private butler service; recently the starting price for one of these live-like-a-sultan suites was €2,000 per night. The two-bedroom Sultan Suite, at €25,000, is 4000 square feet, with a full kitchen, a dining room, Ottoman antiques, and a marble master bath with steam shower and gold-plated taps.
The newer hotel, the Çiragan Palace Kempinski, has 313 rooms and 20 deluxe suites; several dining rooms, and 14 elegant boutiques. Rooms start at €472. (Please note: better prices can often be found on the online discount sites; a recent search on hotels.com found a starting price of $343 per night.)
I stayed in the newer hotel, in a spacious and very comfortable room with a Bosphorus view. This proved to be a wonderful bit of serendipity because my last day in Istanbul (October 29th) happened to be Turkish Republic Day, which ended with a glorious parade of boats and fireworks right under my balcony. Though unplanned, it was a night to remember.
There were, in fact, so many things to remember about this extraordinary property, not the least of which was the breakfast buffet, the most lavish I’ve ever seen at any luxury hotel. Table after table is laden with the best of every cuisine, from Asian specialties like kimchi to American pancakes and everything in between. The pastry table dazzles with local delicacies and exquisite baklava. Breakfast here set me up for a full day of sightseeing with only the occasional pause for rest.
There is so much to see and do in Istanbul, and I tried to visit most of the places I’d read about: Ayasofia (Hagia Sofia), the Blue Mosque (Sultan Ahmet Camii), the Hippodrome the Hippodrome, the Topkapi Palace, the Dolmabah e palace, the Istanbul Archeological Museums, the Mosaics Museum, the Galata Tower. Looking back I’m amazed that I managed to do all that and to stroll the Istiklal Caddesi, looking for souvenirs.
Yet I often found myself torn between the city’s wonders and the attractions of the hotel. High among these is the dramatic infinity pool, where I could gaze out at the Bosphorus while enjoying a leisurely swim in the silky water (the pool is heated year round). Some guests like to rent the private cabanas; service includes bottled water, fruit and complimentary cleaning of eyeglasses (well, it is those little "extra" touches that make a five-star hotel).
The splendid full-service Sanitas Spa offers massage therapies from the world over: Shiatsu, Thai, Bali, Reflexology and several Indian variations, either with two or four hands. Facials are performed with the Ligne St. Barth’s products; several body treatments are done with Thalgo Marine products. For me, a must-have treat was the traditional Turkish hammam (€150 for 60 minutes), which is the bath ritual to end all bath rituals, beginning with steam and an exfoliation so vigorous, it feels as if dead skin was literally melting away. Then came the dramatic part: my esthetician dipped a lacy bag into the water, filled it with air until it puffed up, then blew into it to create bubbles which soon came cascading over my body until I was covered in a blanket of fragrant suds. A lovely massage followed, which might well have lulled me to sleep until the treatment finished with a rush of icy, cold water. It was yet another experience to remember.
Though I never made it into the fitness center, it, along with the indoor pool, is open 24 hours a day. Personal training is available.
There’s always some sadness in leaving a place that has offered so many pleasures, but as I climbed into the taxi that would take me to the airport, I was also glad that for a little while, I had lived my fantasy.
For more information, visit www.kempinski-istanbul.com.