With its grandiose Ottoman imperial influence and consummate dedication to service, Çırağan Palace Kempinski seamlessly echoes traditional Turkish heritage and style. This new social epicenter is the most extravagant palatial masterpiece on the Bosphorous, perfect for discerning luxury connoisseurs who would like to explore the sights, culinary, art and nightlife of Istanbul
By: Niyoshi Shah
Posted on: November 28, 2017
LF Says: ★★★★★
The Çırağan Palace Kempinski, one of the most prestigious additions to the Kempinski chain, reflects the finest traditions of European hospitality. The hotel is special in a way you can only understand once you take it all in. Everything about the property enamoured me in a purely magical way, right down to its intuitive hospitality, fantastic location, delectable cuisine and hard-to-forget experiences.
The property enjoys a terrific location in the bustling, European side of Turkey’s cultural and financial epicenter, nestled in the heart of Istanbul, between Beşiktaş and Ortaköy. A mere 40 minute drive from the Istanbul Atatürk Airport, the palace created a magnificently daunting sight for my sore, jet-lagged eyes. Majestic marble arched gates opened to an even grander front lobby. The property wowed me in a way only a few hotels do.
History and magic
In a previous life, the magnificent Çırağan was a residence for Ottoman sultans. A treasure of Turkish heritage, it was almost lost at one time to fire and another time to thoughtless renovation. The Palace, as we see it today, has been restored to its former glory and is now a proud member of the Leading Hotels of the World.
As I walked into the sumptuous reception lobby, I was instantly enamoured by a spectacular glass chandelier, composed of hundreds of intricate glass panels that are pieced together to create an enormous sculpture, that enveloped the entrance in a warm shimmering glow. Another aspect of the entrance that caught my attention was a high-gloss wall adorned with portraits of global dignitaries, ambassadors and royalty who had chosen the Çırağan as their residence in Turkey.
The hotel is spread across over 11 acres of land, including 313 rooms, with 20 suites in the hotel and 11 suites in the historical palace. The charm of staying here is waking up in a spacious room with a view of one of the most exciting waterways in the world (avoid the cheaper 'park side' rooms which have no views to speak of).
My most significant experience at the Çırağan was on my first night when I was given an authentic Turkish Hammam bath. I reveled in the age-old custom of giving a luxurious spa-bath to kings, queens and royalty, which is managed by Sanitas (women who give the bath). It was also my favourite architectural feature of the hotel - a marble bath placed in the middle of cascading water, flowing from antique bronze taps onto marble basins, intricately carved walls with a labyrinth of hand painted motifs in turquoise hues along with sleek silver linings and exquisitely carved wall trimmings. The spa also included a 24-hour fitness centre, indoor pool, sauna and whirlpool, as well as a heated outdoor infinity pool which seems to flow directly into the Bosphorus - an illusion that took me some getting used to!
The regal feeling was most pronounced during my tour of the Palace suites the following day led by the ever-charming Neslihan Sen. The vaulted ceilings, elegant antiques and textiles evoke the opulence of the Ottoman Era. Guest rooms overlook either the Bosphorus or Yıldız Park, formerly a hunting forest for sultans. The exclusive Palace Suites have up to three bedrooms, include some awe-inspiring interiors, perks like personal butler service, spacious kitchenettes, antique telescopes and various other collectibles along with an enviable view of the Bosphorous.
Avant Garde suites have been the royal residences of eminent guests, who have been loyal patrons of the Çırağan, such as John F. Kennedy Jr., Robert De Niro, Donna Karan, Michael Schumacher, Sophia Loren, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia, Kofi Annan, Queen Beatrix of Holland, Oprah Winfrey, famous singers Bono and Sting, U2 and Madonna to name a few. The palace serves as a perfect setting for lavish fairy-tale weddings on its spacious terrace, its splendid ballroom, and several smaller banquet rooms. The high-profile Mittal wedding, along with several prominent Jordan and Arab weddings, have taken place at the Çırağan in the recent past.
Experiences to cherish
Of course I love to eat healthy throughout the year and make wise, mature travel decisions every day. But while my intentions are true, my love for carbs is truer. On my second day at the Çırağan, I indulged in a hearty breakfast at the Gazebo Lounge. The best part? Turkish cheese selection served with green and black olives, tomatoes, cucumber, beef braised meat (cold) and clotted cream with honeycomb, and Turkish style cooked eggs with tomatoes and green peppers called “Su Börek”.
While gorging on honey a.k.a fat laden food, I enjoyed a truly memorable afternoon sipping cocktails on a yacht at the Bosphorous, organised by the hotel management. A breath-taking view of the city that never sleeps, my windswept self was absorbing the stunning sights of this Minaret filled city. It is a great way to get a glimpse of Istanbul’s main points of interest. We sailed past the Dolmabahçe Palace, the Rumeli Ruins, the Maiden’s Tower, and innumerable mosques, mansions, and picturesque gardens along the way. We also celebrated our gallant captain’s 60th birthday on-board with a boisterous cake-cutting session and danced to the tunes of some pop music. The staff, as expected, was most accommodating and attentive.
My choice for on-site dining was none other than the globally acclaimed Tug˘ra. Their classic Turkish cuisine is considered among Istanbul’s finest (the terrace is a favoured spot for romantic meals and has seen a record number of marriage proposals). I savoured the Turkish Mezze platter which included İskenderun prawns, olive marinated anchovy “mastave”, fresh broad fava beans with dill, Lentils with Yedikule lettuce and sauteéd Aegean greens ‘haydari’. Their “Sac Oruğu” Flattened Kibbe and Traditional “İskenderun” Prawns Casserole is famous amongst their loyal diners.
Six restaurants provide an impressive range of cuisines, including modern Turkish and classic Ottoman, and the waterside Le Fumoir Bar has an extensive wine list and excellent cocktails.
It’s no surprise that Istanbul is one of Europe’s most visited cities. Bursting with art and culture, it also has a great climate, fantastic architecture, lively nightlife and of course, iconic architecture including the famous Hagia Sophia, which is an absolute must-see for anyone on their first trip here.
LF Says: ★★★★★
Coordinates: Çiragan Caddesi 32, Besiktas, Istanbul, Turkey