Taste a pasha’s life at the Ciragan Palace Hotel – World Meanderings (n°32)
By Annick Dournes & Frédéric de Poligny
The Ciragan Hotel is a true palace in two ways. Today it is one of the best renowned luxury hotels of the world but long before that it has been the most beautiful ottoman palace built on the western bank of the Bosporus. In spite of a tumultuous history it has always been an exceptional place to live in, until the early 90’s when it was turned into a 5-star hotel. The Kempiski hotels group achieved this challenging transformation.
With undisputed expertise and demand for quality the Ciragan Palace has been turned into one of the most deserving member of the “Leading Hotels of the World”.
Ciragan is a Persian origin word evoking a light source that was given to a summer palace built by grand vizier Damat Ibrahim Pasha for his wife in 1719. She used to have big parties in the palace and its gardens at a time when the Ottoman Empire lived a cultural golden age. Later in 1834 Sultan Mahmut II demolished this first Ciragan palace and had a new one built in its place. Mainly built with wood, its long classical Ottoman façade was mirrored in the Bosporus’ waters.
However it is not yet the palace we know today. A few years later in 1857 the new sultan had the palace demolished again. Abdulmecid was an art lover and he wanted a palace big enough and sumptuous enough to shelter his art collections. Only the best was good enough to build his palace: rare marbles, mother of pearl, tropical woods, gold, silver, crystal…When it was finally finished in 1863 the palace had swallowed up 2.5 millions gold coins, a colossal sum that did not take into account the precious sultan collections. Unfortunately all this went up in smoke in 1910 when a fire ravaged the whole place except the marble Turkish baths (that still exist today) and the outside walls looking like an empty shell.
Afterwards the palace suffered a long purgatory. By the end of WW I it was used as a barrack for a French occupation regiment, then later its gardens were turned into a football pitch for the Besiktas team and a municipal pool was built next to it. Glorious days were long forgotten! But like a phoenix the Ciragan was to rise from the ashes. In 1988 it was decided to rebuild and restore the palace and in the same time build a brand new 5-star hotel next to it. Both were to be managed by Kempiski. Works were over in 1992 and the Ciragan regained all its splendour. Ever since it’s been the secluded hideaway for crowned heads, international stars, businessmen, the Istanbul good society and the lucky travellers who can afford staying in this unique place.
It truly is a unique stay in a place steeped in history. There are only 11 suites in the restored palace. A private butler available 7/24, welcomes and shows to their room the happy-few who get here by helicopter or getting off their yacht. The suites, from 50 to 400 sq m, smartly mix classical and modern styles with a touch of orientalism. Of course they have a wonderful view over the Bosporus and the never-ending sight of all kinds of boats going up and down the strait towards the Black Sea or the Sea of Marmara.
You will find the same quality of service in the new building. Its smart E shape allows 80% of the 282 rooms and suites to enjoy a spectacular view over the Bosporus view and the big infinity pool. Luxury without ostentation, a caring staff without obsequiousness, stylish amenities, will make you feel comfortable and cared for. It all begins at the airport and a private transfer to the hotel. Without waving an indiscreet sign with your name written on it, the driver just materializes next to you, takes care of your luggage and leads you to the limousine. How did he know you were the one? That will remain a mystery…
Since the opening in 1991 the Ciragan Palace’s restaurants have been the place to be and the meeting point of many Istanbul inhabitants and it is easy to understand why they are so successful. Experiencing the wide range of menus, the spectacular or intimate atmosphere and the attentive staff will make it hard to have dinner elsewhere in Istanbul. The hotel iconic restaurant is the Tugra set on the second floor of the historical palace. What could be more romantic than having dinner on its terrace, enjoying sunset over the Bosporus. Chef Huseyin Ulas has updated classical Turkish recipes and the impressive wine menu will give you a wide choice.
A big buffet breakfast is served at the Laledan restaurant. You will have to make a choice from the 280 different options to fill your plate, of which 80% are organic products. Smoothies and fruit juice counter, oriental, Turkish or western dishes, all kinds of pastries and breads, cakes, baklavas, sushi, gluten free corner, a wide choice of teas, coffees, detox drinks, Champagne… What a great way to start your day! Believe it or not it is even more pantagruelian for the Sunday brunch.
The Fumoir (the Smoking Room), is the meeting point of many trendy people from Istanbul and hotel’s guests. A small pavilion built in the middle of the gardens welcomes them in an intimate and quiet atmosphere. It’s the perfect place to have an old rum or brandy, a cigar or a shisha comfortably seated in a low sofa, feeling like a pasha of bygone days.
It might seem commonplace to go to the Turkish baths in Istanbul but if you do it at the Ciragan Spa you will experience something far from being commonplace! Once again the staff is kind and smiling and you feel at once ready to be pampered.
It will leave you “scoured” from head to toes after a delightful massage immersed in a scented cloud of foam… Your skin will then be ready for the “Turkish coffee body scrub” or the oil massage with Turkish rose essential oil or any other treatment of the spa menu.
The Ciragan Palace Hotel Kempiski is like an island of luxury and peacefulness in the middle of the hectic pace of Istanbul life. Its history, its architecture, its discreet luxury make it one of these special places that you will leave with great memories.
And join us next Thursday to discover the best flight option to get to Istambul.
More information: https://www.kempinski.com/en/istanbul/ciragan-palace
Text © Annick Dournes
Photos © Frederic de Poligny