Story and photography by Melanie Votaw
Çirağan Palace Kempinski Hotel
Çirağan Çaddesi No. 32
Besiktas 34349 Istanbul
The Çirağan Palace Kempinski Hotel is true to its name in more ways than one. Not only are the building and grounds palatial, but so is the ambience and the service. Of all the fine hotels I have had the good fortune of experiencing across the world, the Çirağan Palace is the finest. The property is allowed to call itself “5-star luxury,” and it is far superior to most 5-star hotels.
Of its 302 rooms, 75% of them face the Bosphorus and 25% face the park behind the hotel. My room was larger than the size of a normal suite and had a view of the Bosphorus and the outdoor pool below from a private balcony. It also had a living room and hallway with a couch, chair, dining table, desk, television, and bureau. The bedroom had another television, chairs, and a pillow menu, and the beautiful bath contained a separate shower and bathtub, as well as a bidet. The Ottoman décor was in deep red and green velvets and brocades, with a faux brocade canopy over the bed. The lights were operated by push button on the telephone, along with a “do not disturb” button. WiFi was complimentary throughout the property.
The Çirağan Palace is on the opposite side of the Bosphorus from the historical areas of Istanbul. You can take a taxi across the bridge or take the tram part of the way and a taxi the rest of the way. When traffic is heavy, it’s actually faster to take the tram.
“Çirağan” is a word derived from Persian, which means “a special light source,” and the name was borrowed from the torchlit “Çirağan Festivals” that were held on the grounds in the 1700s. The word is not pronounced as it looks in English, however. So, when you tell a taxi driver to take you to this hotel, it’s important to get the pronunciation right. The “ag” in the name is silent, and the “c” has a “tsh” sound, which means you pronounce it as “tsheer-an.”
Security is exceptional in the hotel – you have to go through a metal detector each time you enter. This is both a bother and a comfort. The lobby is expansive with large vases of fresh flowers and several luxury shops. The grounds of the hotel are also expansive. You can watch the boats go by and look at the other part of Istanbul across the water. There is ample room for lounging outside, whether by the heated infinity pool or in the gardens among the four ornate gates. The property consists of two buildings, one of which is technically called “the palace.”
More than one actual palace had been built on the site throughout history, but the last one burned almost entirely in 1910. Finally, in 1987, a Japanese company teamed with a Turkish Company to restore the palace and build the hotel next to it. The hotel opened its doors in 1990, and the palace reopened in 1992. Another renovation took place in 2006 and 2007.
Çirağan Palace Kempinski Hotel has 282 rooms and 20 suites, and the palace contains 20 ultra-luxurious suites with butler service. The largest suite in the palace – the Sultan Suite – is considered to be one of the best three suites in Europe. The palace is so upscale, in fact, that it caters to royal families and people like Bill Clinton, Sting, and Elton John. The palace includes Tugra Restaurant, which serves both contemporary Turkish cuisine and Ottoman cuisine from 1910. This makes for a very interesting (and award-winning) menu.
The waterfront Gazebo Lounge on the grounds serves breakfast and high tea with live music, and there is also an open air cigar bar called Bar Le Fumoir. The breakfast buffet in the hotel’s Laledan Restaurant is extensive with very fine eggs, meats, fruits, salads, breads, pastries, cereals, and more.
The property can arrange for airport transfers by limousine, boat, luxury van, or helicopter. Of course, as you would expect, there is a fitness center on the premises and a spa with a traditional Hamam.
The Çirağan Palace awards a scholarship to a young artist every two years. Monthly exhibitions are held in an art gallery on the ground floor of the palace, and discussions are free and open to the public. Readings and classical music concerts are held regularly as well, where they serve free coffee, tea, and food to anyone in the city who wants to attend.
I can’t imagine staying anywhere else while in Istanbul, nor can I imagine that there is a finer hotel in the city. The Çirağan Palace Kempinski was truly an exquisite experience that I will never forget.
© January 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.