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September 2, 2009

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WHERE'S JOHNNY JET?                    Ciragan Palace Istanbul

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On the plane ride over, I read in my Frommer’s Turkey guidebook and in a Conde Nast Traveler article that The Çiragan Palace Kempinski Hotel is one of, if not the, nicest places to stay in Istanbul. What makes it so special, besides its long history, service and amenities, is its location. It’s the only hotel located directly on the European shores of the Bosphorus.

The Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul is actually two grand deluxe hotels featuring five-star luxury. They are both members of the Leading Hotels of the World group and the newer building was built in 1987 and remodeled in 2007. This one has 313 rooms and is lovely but it doesn’t hold a candle to the restored palace next door. The palace first opened its doors in the 17th century and was the residence of the last Ottoman Sultans. This historic building that’s open free to the public as a national landmark has 11 out-of-this-world suites.

I was fortunate to get a private tour of the building. I admired the artwork, rugs, staircases, Swarovski crystal chandeliers with 500 energy-savings light bulbs, the enormous banquet room, the original Hammam and of course, the jaw dropping main suite, which apparently the Turkish government frequently rents out when they are hosting heads of states and need a brilliant backdrop for photo-ops.

This suite is so luxurious that it goes for – get this – €30,000 a night. Not too many people can afford this place unless they have deep pockets like Oprah. In fact, Ms. Winfrey spent the night here this summer when she took her staff on a European cruise. President Bill Clinton has also spent the night, though not with Oprah. Even if I had that kind of money I wouldn’t throw it down like that but it sure is nice to dream, isn’t it? The two-bedroom suite, both with four-poster beds, are straight out of a fairy tale and the two marble bathrooms are seriously drool-worthy.

When I pulled up to the main hotel, I was expecting something much grander like the palace. It was close to the road and there was nothing special about its appearance – it was actually kind of blah. But the moment my taxi driver popped the trunk, my impressions began to change. I was attacked by a bellman and two beautiful clerks, dressed to kill in red uniforms and armed with cordless phones and mini Louis Vuitton bags that concealed their papers and portable credit card machines, all needed for check-in, which took place in the comfort of my room. Another crew had refresher towels.

The rooms are nice but ours was missing something and I’m not entirely sure what … but I think it needed another window. Looking back, it was kind of dark with its lone sliding glass door. But dark is good for sleeping, which it really does get since there are three curtains to ensure a virtual blackout.

What I really liked about the room was its size and how solidly it was built (you don’t hear the neighbors at all). There’s plenty of closet space, a working desk with free wireless internet (no prompts or access codes but the government blocks YouTube), a comfortable bed, soft, high thread count sheets and maids that are pretty much flawless. In fact, every time I went in the room it had been mysteriously tidied up and they always replaced the bottles of water.

I don’t watch a lot of TV on the road or at home, for that matter, but the hotel definitely needs to replace the prehistoric boxes they’ve got with modern flat screens. It would’ve made flipping through all of its multi language channels before going to bed that much more enjoyable.

The bathroom was absolutely beautiful with its white marble walls, grey marble floor, teak sink and seldom-used bidet. However, the bathtub/shower system required a Master’s degree to figure out. On top of that, the water pressure wasn’t all that great and the water temperature suddenly changed once in a while. The maids are free with the toiletries but they don’t seem to encourage people to use the same towel since they replaced my hanging one each day. Rack rates for a park view room begin at $505. But of course you can get that cheaper by going through the internet or a tour operator. What was surprising to me is that the hotel’s number one clients are the Turks., followed by the British and then Americans. The Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul, Ciragan Caddesi 32 Besiktas, Istanbul, Türkiye; Tel: + 90 212 326 46 46.

The entrances of both lavish lobbies have a metal detector, which I didn’t see used very often nor did I ever feel unsafe. In the main entranceway, there was always a bevy of beautiful representatives waiting for new arrivals and eager to answer any questions or point guests in the right direction, especially to one of the hotel’s half dozen signature restaurants.

The Gazebo Lounge & Restaurant is their main restaurant—it’s right off the lobby overlooking the pool and Bosphorus and has live music. They serve breakfast, lunch, tea and dinner there. I visited twice – once for a late afternoon snack (pizza) and the other for a late-night dinner when Natalie first arrived. We sat outside and I’m not sure why they have the glass partitions up in the summer, since it really diminished the beauty of the setting and sort of blocked the view, too. The food (I had chicken for 28 TL) and friendly service were really good and the prices weren’t as steep as in the other two restaurants. FYI: Turkish High Tea features local specialties such as baklava and 'su böregi', baked layered pastry with cheese.

The one hotel restaurant I really wanted to go to was the Ciragan Bosphorus Barbecue. It’s open only during the summer and it has one of the nicest looking displays I’ve seen. But I couldn’t justify the 125 TL price for food only or 140 TL with drinks, especially when Natalie and I weren’t even that hungry.

Equally as impressive is the breakfast buffet in the Laledan Restaurant. Oh my gosh – they have everything you can imagine from Turkish, Japanese, European and American specialties to fresh fruit, infused juices, pastries, honeycomb, waffles – you name it. The €48 (yikes) price tag also included a main entrée from the menu and we only ate here since our rate included breakfast.

One of my favorite things to do at the hotel, besides gorging myself at the breakfast buffet, was walking around their private grounds and admiring the panoramic views. It was amazing. Of course, it was hot and humid out so there was no better place to cool off than in one of their three pools; one was an indoors and another the adult-only lap pool.

The pool area was immaculate and there was never a dirty towel lying around or room service tray. The moment I sat down in one of the poolside chaises ready with two fluffy towels, a pool boy came by with a complimentary bottle of water in a mini ice holder. If that wasn’t good enough, a few minutes later another pool boy came around offering to clean my sunglasses.

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Pictures From

The Trip


The Ciragan Palace Kempinski Istanbul


The Palace


Ciragan Staff


My Room


Another Angle


My Bed


Free Flip Flops


Welcome Treats




Complicated Shower


View From Room


Palace Entrance


Inside the Palace


Palace Hammam


Many Presidents Have Sat Here


Bedroom # 1


Bedroom # 2


Bathroom #


Music In The Restaurant


Pasta From The Gazebo Restaurant


Friendly Staff


1/8 of Breakfast Buffet


Turkish Breakfast


Hotel Gardens





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