By Patricia Keegan
It's impossible to imagine a more perfect introduction to Turkey than as a guest at the Ciragan Palace, on the shores of the Bosporus, where the mystical, magical aura of this ancient culture begins to unfold. Once the residence of the Ottoman sultans, the Ciragan Palace was rebuilt in marble for Sultan Abdulaziz in 1857, but was damaged by fire in 1910 and, for 76 years, lay abandoned.
Finally, in 1986, it was rescued and restored to its original splendor by the Kempinski Hotel Group. Renowned for their dedication to continuing a European heritage of quality lifestyle, which has set their standard of hospitality for the past century, Kempinski was a perfect match for developing the potential of this grand site.
From the moment you walk through the palatial front door, you enter a world of relaxed elegance and refinement. The Palace’s gracious, efficient concierge staff appear to really enjoy being of assistance.
The hotel’s 295 rooms and 15 suites have private balconies and magnificent views of either the Bosporus or the Palace gardens. Guestrooms, with their own separate hallway, are spacious, with marble bathrooms, rich fabrics, and beautiful Turkish carpets surrounded by parquet floors.
Few hotels in the world can recreate the palatial atmosphere with as much authenticity as has been achieved in this reconstruction. The process took six years, and was overseen by the Turkish curator of historic monuments, who insisted on finding and using original materials. The Ciragan Palace is actually two buildings; one is the restored sultan’s palace and the other, connected by lavish corridors, is the hotel itself. Upon exploring the silken carpeted halls and corridors of this royal hotel and the adjoining palace, you discover the Turkish legacy from the era of the sultans. It includes an extraordinary collection of art, artifacts, jewels, precious metals, fabrics and a myriad other manifestation of opulence.
Guests can sample the culinary riches of the hotel’s four world class restaurants. In the evening you may thread the silken halls to the palace to dine under chandeliers. With regional specialties from Italy, the Bellini was my favorite. The elegant, but relaxed, atmosphere, the creative original touches and the excellent quality of each selection, including the wine, combined to make it a memorable evening. Not only did it restore my nutritional balance, but I seemed to immediately recover from jet lag.
The Tugra restaurant, across the marble hall from Bellini, specializes in traditional Ottoman cuisine. To enjoy the Tugra’s unique and opulent atmosphere, and a cuisine created from genuine Palace recipes, is truly an evening well spent.
After dinner, a stroll along the promenade by the edge of the Bosporus, is another way to capture the atmosphere of the days of the sultans at the height of their glory. With the scent of flowers from the palace gardens, a full moon above, and the lights from boats moving along the Bosporus, the Ciragan Palace is, without question, one of the most peaceful, romantic settings the world can offer.
Surrounded by lush gardens, the hotel features a casino, three meeting rooms, a snack lounge, several intimate bars, a gallery of exclusive shops, hair salon, travel agency and a Business Center always available with a secretary.
The well-equipped Fitness Club includes an indoor/outdoor swimming pool, a Turkish bath, 9-hole putting green, gymnasium and jacuzzi. The Palace is a short taxi ride to the business and cultural sections of Istanbul.
The Ciragan Palace is a member of Leading Hotels of the World.