Food & Wine Lifestyle Travel Wellness & Spas

Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul

The gal loves bathrobes that nearly cover her gold toe nails like the one at Ciragan Palace in Instambul

The gal loves bathrobes that nearly cover her gold toe nails

Yesterday started with a bathroom shot (the rubber duck that squealed when it was trodden on).  Here, today, is the thoughtful robe provided by Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul – a Leading Hotel.

Look how long the robe is.  The gal’s Man always complains he does not like his knees showing below hotels’ typically-minimalist robes. This one is so long it would cover the knees of any basketball player, even Kobe Bryant, a spokesman for Turkish Airlines so quite appropriate to mention him here.

This luxury hotel is unique in so many ways.  Right on the shores of the Bosphorus, its history goes back to a wooden villa built waterside in 1719 by Grand Vizier Ibrahim Pasha, son-in-law of Ahmet III who had given him the land.

Facing east, over the heated outdoor pool to the Ciragan Palace Kempinski

Facing east, over the heated outdoor pool to the Palace

This was a highlight period of flowers, especially tulips, and music.  In 1834 the villa was replaced by a stone palace with 40 imposing columns, and this in turn was replaced in 1871 by Sultan Abdulaziz’s current stone edifice (they could not resist meddling, those sultans..).

In 1909 the palace was chosen as site for the Turkish parliament, but in January 2010 a fire destroyed its interior, including invaluable art and literature collections.  The French used the ruined palace during World War I, and much later the Besiktas football team played in its gardens.

In 1987, thanks to the help of architect Sedat Hakki Eldem, the Kumagai Gumi and the local Yuksel Insaat started restoring it, and building an adjacent E-shaped hotel, which opened in 1990: the restored Palace, which also has hotel suites, opened 1992.

A giant chandelier hangs down over a Palace stairwell

A giant chandelier hangs down over a Palace stairwell

Now, owned by Abu Dhabi, Ciragan Palace Kempinski is more than a national treasure – it is a symbol of Turkey.  This is where top VIPs stay (they can helicopter in direct to a landing pad next to the Palace, where they find a private lift and some of the best security in the world.

Since the President of Korea was in town last week to sign a business deal with Turkey, it is quite clear he would have stayed here as this is where the Turkish authorities put their Important People. Every Middle Eastern royal family also moves in at some time or other.  But even for the normal guest, it is fabulous staying here.

Because of its E-shape, nearly every one of the 322 rooms in the six-floor main block looks out at the Bosphorus.  End room 358, with polished wood flooring and lots of hints of the Ottoman Empire on its walls, has a balcony, like all the other rooms. From there, look down at the incredible 100-foot outdoor pool, heated to 28 degrees by surplus energy from the hotel’s co-generation plant.

Individual carafes of many fresh juices - breakfast buffet at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski

Individual carafes of many fresh juices - breakfast buffet

Swim here in the dead of winter, heat swirling around you.  Look up to the Palace ahead (as you swim west), to the new block to your right and, to your left and only five yards away, boats from ferries to full-sized container giants plying the 30-mile Bosphorus, Mediterranean to Black Sea.

Fortunately there is a heated, glass-sided conservatory a few yards from the pool.  I dashed out of the water, rushed into the heat and picked up one of the neatly-folded white robes, which resulted in the photograph.  Then I dashed back home for a shower, and down to breakfast.

The buffet in Laledan (tulip) has to be seen to be believed, and up to 170 are partaking of this belief at any moment.  The buffet stations go on and on – one is only fish, another is only smoothies and so on, and all the time you look out, over the Bosphorus.

Modern mezze at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski hotel in Instambul

Modern mezze at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski

We had dined in the Palace, at Tugra, which offers classic and modern Turkish cuisine. You feel special as the Champagne trolley is presented, and the waiter offers a small silver tray bearing a lily-scented hot towel that seems to perfume the whole table, where the setting includes tall glasses with black-centre stems.

From suede-lined leather menus, you can choose Classic Ottoman from 1910, say Lebeniye (lentil) soup followed by Charcoal-grilled lamb kebabs with smoked mashed eggplant.

There is also, currently, a special Valentine’s menu, one labelled for  Gentlemen and another labelled for Ladies. But, back to the main menu, I went for Contemporary Ottoman.  I started with a Modern mezze, with salmon baklava, stuffed zucchini flower, dried fig and apricot and baby calamari.

Main courses come under silver cloches that look like pashas’ hats.  Under mine was a pastry-sealed earthenware pot.  This was broken by the waiter and inside were three pieces of long-braised lamb cheek, slowly cooked with white beans and juices.

Luxury hotels - Mary Gostelow is ready to leave Ciragan Palace, Istambul, Turkey

Ready to leave - sadly

There was no space for the all-Turkish cheese trolley, or for the desserts, with dozens of traditional sweet baklavas as well as modern rose-scented yoghurt. Go for one of Turkey’s best of its now-excellent red wines, Corvus Corpus 2007, made by architect Resit Soley on Bozcada Island in the Aegean.

When it was time to leave what is undeniably one of the world’s tiptop luxury hotels, a whole posse of eager-beaver concierges were there to see me off, as was one of Kempinski’s brand-standard Ladies In Red, a young woman from Ukraine.  So off I set, for the next stage of this 21st century journey.