During my travels I stay in lovely hotels all over the world, but none lovelier than the opulent Ciragan Palace Kempinski in Istanbul. After a 12 hour Turkish Airlines direct flight from Houston I am taken to the hotel by a representative of KD Tourism & Travel.
The hotel reception area is charming and beautiful, but, as I will soon find out, only the tip of the iceberg.
Shortly after I arrive in my room with its balcony overlooking the Bosphorus (a narrow strait connecting the Black Sea and the Marmara Sea, and separating Asia and Europe) I am invited to take a tour of the property. I will soon understand better its historic significance and its 5 star reputation.
The property is the only Ottoman Imperial Palace and Hotel on the Bosphorus that once hosted sultans; its history dates to the 17th century.
“After a complete restoration and with the addition of a modern hotel building including elegant rooms, restaurants and meeting venues, the hotel reopened in 1991,” hotel literature says. “Since its opening, the royal-born continues to be the symbol of luxury and impeccable service combined with legendary Turkish hospitality.”
As I walk past museum-like exhibits and take in the rooms and their luxurious beauty, I have to agree. The hotel has 313 rooms, including 20 suites in the hotel and 11 suites in the historical palace. All the rooms reflect a blend of history, service and hospitality.
I am invited to also see the Sultan Suite. Located at the palace side, the suite is more than 4,000 square feet and offers 24-hour private butler service and absolute privacy, including a private entrance and a lounge.
Above and below: the Sultan suite and its unusual bathroom.
As I wander from room to room I am amazed at the detail of the suite’s interior and the service offered to its occupants. I am told it is often rented for a week at a time or even a month. Guests of the hotel include government delegates, royal families, world stars and celebrities. Guests arrive by limousine, yacht or helicopter.
One of the last places we visit is a small dining room where the "Sultans’ Dinner" is served. Here guests are welcomed by fasil, a suite in Ottoman classical music, and sherbet service, a popular beverage during the Ottoman Empire.
The reception is followed with a banquet of royal delicacies which are prepared with recipes from the Ottoman era, each with a unique story and presentation. Antique candelabras, vases, carafe from 19th-century and imperial silver coffee set with the monogram of one of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire are used to enhance the experience.
“Flamboyant flowers, laced plates, cutleries, napkins, glasses, special embroidered uniforms which the experienced banqueting team will be wearing, have also been designed exclusively for this experiential Sultans’ Dinner concept,” hotel information reflects of the experience. “…a magical journey in time.”
It has been a long day. First arriving in Istanbul late in the afternoon and then the tour, but the day isn’t over.
I am invited to have dinner at Tugra Restaurant, located on the first floor of the historical palace, offering its guests “the ultimate Ottoman dining experience.”
I am seated on the balcony overlooking the Bosphorus and a wedding reception below in the expansive garden. I choose “Sebzavat Aşı - Vegetable Casserole with Stewed baby artichoke, shallots, garlic, almond, cherry tomato, green and broad beans, eggplant, pepper, carrot, chickpeas, saffron, currants, pistachio, clove, fresh herbs served with crispy onion and baldo rice.” The dish was historically prepared with seasonal vegetables and eaten a great deal in Ottoman Palaces especially during the era of Fatih Sultan Mehmet in the 15th century.
Sitting on the balcony having a lovely dinner and watching the boats make their way along the Bosphorus and wedding guests dance the night away, I reflect on the hotel; a treasure to the city and to the country.
It is the perfect ending to my first day in Turkey.