My first two-week visit to Turkey included the thrilling opportunity to stay at the iconic Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, the only Ottoman Imperial palace and hotel where Sultans once lived. It served as the Ottoman Empire’s first Parliament from its completion in 1871 until 1910, when it burned to the ground. After a meticulous reconstruction, Kempinski — Europe’s oldest luxury hotel group — opened the exquisite Çırağan Palace Kempinski in 1991.
The concierge arranged Meet & Greet escorts for my friend and I. From the concierge desk, we were escorted by golf cart to the Palace Building, a historic landmark which houses 11 extraordinary suites; ours was a grand corner suite where the large living room featured six enormous windows overlooking the Bosporus. The room included a large, square coffee table topped with a myriad of glass-domed jars and platters filled with traditional sweets. The ceilings are so high, they accommodate a second-floor loft, where the amazing waterscape is on view through the bedroom’s glass walls.
This vast palace building with its glorious architectural details is the venue for fine dining and extravagant events. Notably, it’s where the country’s most prestigious people host gala events in private rooms surrounding a striking staircase with crystal railings under an enormous crystal chandelier; the original hammam Sultans once used is even available for private functions. The palace’s two waterfront restaurants are open to the public: the opulent Tugra, with its authentic, gourmet Ottoman cuisine; and Italian eatery Bellini Pasta.
Outdoors, palm-tree lined paths and gardens, an imposing arch, swimming pools, outdoor dining and a seafront helipad line the waterfront promenade and lead to the adjacent contemporary, six-story waterfront structure constructed with similar proportions. This main building houses grand public spaces including lounges, a promenade lined with fine specialty shops featuring bespoke clothing, fine and fun jewels and authentic carpets, and all-day dining outlets. Most of the 310 accommodations are on its upper levels.
At our first elaborate Ottoman-style breakfast, our table was set with a bevy of items even before the server took our order for dishes: slow-cooked, dried fruits; charcuterie; Anatolian cheeses; tomato; lettuce and cucumbers; honey; and a variety of breads and pastries. The next day, we indulged in an extravagant breakfast buffet, where glass vitrines showcased freshly squeezed fruit juices; vegetables; olives; smoked fish and sushi; hot dishes; meats; pastries; and typical Ottoman-style delights, such as roasted walnuts, cashews, almonds, pistachios and a large square of raw, pure honey on the comb.
Some Turkish fare was brand new to me: freshly squeezed pomegranate juice; sesame and salt-topped, braided, bagel-shaped, Simit breads; and a spicy dried-tomato and walnut pesto. At lunch, the Meze Platter included appetizers from hummus to stuffed grape leaves — and Pide, a meat-topped, pizza-like pie served as a double-decker.
I had time for a swim in the indoor pool before our scheduled Turkish Bath Ritual at Sanitas Spa. Two Thai therapists — each wrapped in oversized, Turkish-cotton towels and wearing Croc-like rubber shoes — ushered us into the hammam and on to twin mattresses. The service began with neck-to-toe loofah scrubs followed by a soft, warm foam massage. A full-body massage, using oil, followed. At the end, we were led to a bench in an ante-room, where two therapists stood side by side and flipped large white towels up and down, to cool us.
The most seasoned travelers I know adore Çırağan Palace Kempinski; obviously, so do I.
Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul
Yıldız, Çırağan Cd. No:32
34349 Beşiktaş/İstanbul, Türkiye
tel 90 212 326 46 46
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