Named Europe’s Leading Hotel by the World Travel Awards for the fourth consecutive year in 2016, this Leading Hotels of the World member was taken over by Kempinski in 1991, opening a hotel next door to Ciragan Palace, a 19th century summer mansion built by the Grand Vizier for his wife, the daughter of Sultan Ahmet III. The palace today serves as an event venue, offering a mix of regally decorated spaces and suites, alongside a spectacular infinity pool overlooking the Bosphorus.
WHAT’S IT LIKE?
The hotel is a clear favourite among Istanbul’s summer tourists – when I checked in at noon in late July, the lobby was teeming with families and couples making their way either to lunch at one of the hotel’s many restaurants, or to top up their vitamin D by the pool. The lobby is decorated ostentatiously with sprawling rugs, gilded mirrors and oversized vases spilt over with pampas grass and flowers, with reception on the left after a luggage and body scan at the entrance.
I was warmly welcomed at reception and told that my bags would be taken up separately after. Next to the guest lifts, the corridor walls are covered with framed photographs of the hotel’s most celebrated guests, of which there have been many, from the likes of Madonna and Sir Richard Branson to Zaha Hadid, and Putin. Ten minutes after I arrived in my room, I called down to reception to ask after the luggage – it had got lost somehow – and was delivered shortly after.
There are 313 rooms including 20 suites in the hotel and 11 suites in the palace, the largest of which is the Sultan Suite, which measures 458 sqm and includes a 24-hour butler.
In the hotel building, four room categories range in size from the 32 sqm entry level Park View rooms to the 50 sqm Grand Deluxe Bosphorus View, though suites measure up to 156 sqm in the main hotel. All come with a balcony, a large TV, mini-bar and work desk, with marble bathrooms that feature a combined tub and shower. Smoking rooms are available on request.
I stayed in a Superior Bosphorus View room, which offered river vistas and a blend of classic European fittings with a Middle Eastern influence, such as the deep mahogany desk and TV cabinet, offset by splashes of imperial colours in the upholstery and bedding such as the royal blue skirting and cream and silver bedding.
Framed on the walls are elaborate prints and sketches of scenes of day-to-day life when Istanbul served as a trade hub on the Silk Road. The colour scheme was a little garish for my taste ie. the striped green and blue armchair and dark wood throughout but otherwise the room was very comfortable.
Wifi is included and was relatively quick, and a turndown service is provided after 6pm. Bathroom toiletries are Kempinski-branded. The room had a spacious balcony with a 45-degree view of the Bosphorus, and was a lovely spot to share a bottle of wine before dinner while watching tankers and cruise ships glide past.
RESTAURANTS AND BARS
Five restaurants make up the hotel’s dining offering, ranging from fine dining Tugra, which offers classic Turkish cuisine with a lovely terrace, to Le Fumoir bar where guests can sample colourful cocktails and exotic hookah flavours late into the night. Breakfast is served in Laledan, where a good selection of local and international dishes are on offer, though the a la carte menu’s eggs Benedict and French toast were irresistible.
Al fresco dining is one of the hotel’s USPs, with most of the restaurants offering an outside seating area overlooking the river. The Bosphorus Grill is one of the hotel’s more low-key options, where we were offered a table right on the water’s edge one evening.
We started with a selection of mezze dishes, which included stuffed vine leaves and homemade hummus, followed by a salad of plump tomatoes, olives, charred octopus and calamari. This was fresh and appetising, dressed lightly with extra virgin olive oil and lemon juice.
Next up was an assortment from the grill with shavings of Turkish kebab, accompanied by sliced tomato, gherkins, red onion and chopped parsley with a healthy dollop of sour cream, all filling but flavoursome.
Fish was up next, with a dish of seared squid, salmon and dorado marinated with lemon mustard – a plate piled high with seasoned and succulent cuts of fish. The service was excellent, and the atmosphere relaxing with gorgeous views across the water at dusk.
Ciragan Palace has 16 event spaces, with a further 4 event rooms in the hotel. The palace is spectacular, the interiors retaining their classic design with an abundance of marble, gold and embellishment in every corner of every room.
A private hammam, painstakingly carved from white marble, can also be booked out for private use. The palace terrace and gardens are also popular for cocktails, able to host up to 2,500 people for a standing reception outdoors.
The 33-metre infinity pool is the hotel’s main attraction, joined by a slim children’s pool on a deck below. Cushioned love seats hang under the shade of palm trees nearby, and padded loungers are dotted in secluded corners around the gardens, should you want to relax in privacy.
The 833-sqm Sanitas spa has a gym and an indoor pool, along with separate steam and sauna rooms for men and women. There is a private hammam for individual and couples treatments, including the Turkish hammam treatment where guests are scrubbed down with a textured mitt, covered in a frothy layer of soap and washed down, before being massaged with aromatic oils.
A lovely hotel with great facilities and beautiful views. The variety of restaurants is impressive, with a high standard from those I tried, and plenty of space to relax across the hotel’s expansive grounds. Service was exceptional.
Internet rates for an overnight stay in October started from €360 for a Park View room.