By Babbie De Derian, www.travelbeyondexpectations.com
THE RITZ-CARLTON ISTANBUL REVISITED
A stay at any Ritz Carlton Hotel or Resort is the ultimate in exceptional hospitality and impeccable service; every guest is treated as the hotel’s most important guest. The Ritz Carlton Istanbul lives up to that reputation with rave reviews; from the moment I pulled up to the entrance, the doorman made me feels he was waiting just for me.
On my first visit, my friend Lucette sent a car and driver to meet me at the airport. Unfortunately he did not speak English so it was a struggle to get him to identify the sights as we crawled through traffic. My first impression of Istanbul was overwhelming; the wail of the call to prayer from the mosques competes with the impatient honking of taxi horns.
This trip, I arrive in port on the Aegean Odyssey, at the end of an amazing Voyage to Antiquity, and have the luxury of touring in an air conditioned bus with a knowledgeable guide before checking into the Ritz Carlton.
Istanbul remains a city in perpetual motion; the traffic, no less daunting, more than rivals New York; it is a complex city with many layers, intriguing neighborhoods, fifteen thousand taxi cabs and a population of 15,000,000 creative and energetic people. It is a colorful tapestry woven with threads of history, art and culture, from the splendors of the Roman, Greek and Ottoman Empires. It is also the only city in the world divided into two continents … Europe and Asia. I will have to work hard and move fast in the next five days to devour another taste of its endearing flavors.
The Ritz Carlton Hotel and Residential Condominiums, overlooking the Bosporus Straits, in the heart of Istanbul’s prestigious Dolmabahce quarter, is the epitome of Ottoman splendor. Built by the famous Turkish architect Doruk Pamir, the interior reflects the timeless tradition of Turkey’s historic legacy with a distinctive sense of Ritz Carlton tradition. Luxurious fabrics and marvelous works of art grace the lobby, restaurant and accommodations. Oil paintings by the modern artist Timur Karim depict scenes from Ottoman life, historic Istanbul landmarks and images of the Bosporus. My oversized room, with a view of the water, is reminiscent of medieval times, decorated in the motif of the Ottoman tulip with handcrafted furniture and carpets.
The Ritz Carlton has not changed since my last visit, three years ago. It is a hotel that not only remembers and appreciates its loyal guests, but also one that values their well-trained staff who has mastered the art of pampering and pleasing with imperial yet friendly service.
The LAVEDA SPA is a sanctuary you don’t want to miss. Here they make the world revolve around your needs . . . then gently slow it down, using nature’s intelligence to replace the stresses and strains of everyday living with serenity, beauty and skin enhancing products. Holistic massages like the “Sultans Royal Six Hands Massage”, applied in synchronization by three trained therapists . . . the “Traditional Turkish Massage” that energizes inactive muscles . . . and the “Hot Chocolate Seduction” are just a sampling of the spa menu.
The afternoon of my arrival, thanks to the thoughtfulness of the Public Relations and Spa Director, I am booked for a Traditional Turkish Bathing Hammam . . . a full head to toe invigorating and purifying exfoliation and cleaning ritual that dates back to Byzantine and Roman times. The spa’s marble Ottoman style octagonal shaped authentic Turkish Hammam, modeled after the 18th Century Baths of Roxelana, is a most welcomed refuge after a week aboard the Aegean Odyssey, with daily tours to ancient Greek, Roman and Ottoman civilizations
Fatima greets me wearing a bathing suit; she will get very wet scrubbing and washing my naked body and hair with buckets of soapy water; she sends me into a eucalyptus steam room for five minutes to open my pores then leads me to the marble hammam room. She places a huge bath towel and a neck roll on the scrubbing altar in the middle of the room; I am not sure if I am going to be sacrificed or beautified. She begins by dosing my body with pans of water, then wearing somewhat abrasive hammam gloves briskly scrubs my body from head to toe; there is no time for modesty as she lifts one leg and then the other resting them on her shoulder; layers of skin flake off.; she dowses me with pans of water to wash away dead cells. When this ritual is complete, and she is satisfied with her work, she lathers my body with a mixture of lavender massage oil and bubble bath . . . more dowsing. I move to another ledge to have my hair and face washed. It leaves my skin and state of mind ten years younger and smoother. Even a few furrows in my brow have miraculously disappeared, along with my dead cells and jet lagged state of mind. Towel dried, the best is yet to come … an amazing deep tissue Turkish massage.
The spa director is anxious for me to experience their new signature sea shell hot massage, and we book an appointment for the next day. I watch as my therapist pushes a poultice filled with special tea leaves into a small hole in the top of each shell. He then adds oil and closes the holes. Somehow the mixture heats up and keeps the shells hot for thirty minutes. One is held in each hand, and when passed over my body with light kneading strokes, my weary- from- traveling body relaxes and succumbs to the calming effects.
Lunch is served on the Guney Park Terrace Restaurant, and I order a chicken wrap and an icy glass of Turkish rose. I have developed a taste for this light local wine which compliments all the fresh fish. The evening grill menu features a variety of lamb and beef (which I did not have a chance to sample) that are spit roasted on an open fire.
Since my last visit, a rooftop oasis has been created with a small swimming pool, a hot tub and a bar offering drinks and refreshments. The sweeping views from here are breathtaking; magnificent Mosques glitter like gold in the afternoon sun.
High Tea at the Ritz is a sweet treat; platters of meat patties and rich pastries invite tasting. I sit in the window of the intimate Rc lobby bar watching fishing boats troll; a cruise ship makes its way slowly out of the harbor headed for its next port; ferries chug across the straits; a female violinist and a pianist play a melancholy tune.
The staff, the spa, the cuisine and the ambiance of The Ritz Carlton Istanbul continues to rate an A+ in my book of “Unforgettable Places and Memorable Moments”. I leave behind a hotel and a city that welcomed me into its embrace, and treated me like an Ottoman Princess.
For The Ritz Carlton Hotels and Resorts reservations: www.ritzcarlton.com
For Turkish Airlines Reservations: www.tky.com or 1-800-874-8875
For info on Turkey: www.tourismturkey.org
© October 2011 LuxuryWeb Magazine. All rights reserved.