In the lap of Ottoman luxury

Kalpana Sunder | Updated on January 09, 2018 Published on November 24, 2017

Seat of beauty: A bird’s eye-view of the Ciragan Palace, situated on the Bosphorus

Vintage glory: Istanbul has several cafes and restaurants that serve sumptuous local delicacies in art nouveau settings

Creature comforts: Attend a baklava making master class, and that end with aromatic Turkish coffee sessions

A guide to a luxury holiday experience in Istanbul

Istanbul, the Ottoman city at the crossroads of two continents cleaved into two by the Bosphorus, is a potent mix of the East and West — a city of domes and minarets, baths and spice markets, with stunning architecture and sights as well as a glamorous nightlife. My pick of luxury experiences in this city.

Living like the royals

Splurge at the Ciragan Palace Kempinsky — a member of the Leading Hotels of the World (LHW) a consortium of 375 luxury properties around the globe. The hotel (whose name means ‘source of light’) is the only Ottoman-era palace on the Bosporus to run as a hotel. Think polished marble, Turkish carpets, exotic flower arrangements, elegant tapestries and a manicured garden with palm trees. The showstopper is the Sultan suite, sprawled over 1,000 sq ft, accessed by a private entrance and helipad. The hotel offers a special Royal Escape package with first class/business class round-trip flight tickets for two and specially curated experiences such as photography tours, a night tour of the historical Hagia Sophia and a helicopter tour. For more information, visit

A visit to Museum Pera and a look at the Biennale

What’s a luxury experience without stimulating the senses? Visit Museum Pera, an art museum in a beautifully restored building from 1893, and one of the main venues for Istanbul Biennial which concluded on November 12. Catch a glimpse of the artworks revolving around the theme of different notions of home, made by artists from 32 countries. It also houses some permanent collections — don’t miss the porcelain collection comprised of over 800 remarkable pieces from coffee cups to tiles. One painting that particularly stayed in my memory from its Oriental collection is the Turkish artist Osman Hamdi’s ‘The Tortoise Trainer.’ For more information, visit

Cruise the Bosphorus on a luxurious yacht

One of the best ways to get a unique perspective into this city straddling two continents is by water. While there are all kinds of cruise options from a touristy day cruise to a dinner cruise, the most opulent one has to be a private yacht cruise — High Tea on the Bosphorus. This two hour cruise on a private craft with champagne, an assortment of finger eats and personalised service, offers panoramic views of waterfront mansions, white marble façades of the palaces, the iconic Galata Bridge, and domes and minarets.

Enjoy a Turkish coffee and baklava masterclass

Baklava is a Turkish pastry made up of as many as 40 wafer-thin layers of phyllo dough, filled with cream or chopped nuts or pistachios and sweetened with syrup or honey. There are many baklava making master classes that you can book yourself in for, including one at the palace. The chef, apart from of course making baklava, brews thick and aromatic Turkish coffee. The session concludes with a coffee break in the lovely Iznik room filled with ceramic plates. I watch the chef sprinkle melted butter on each delicate layer and sprinkle pistachios, cut the sheets and then bake it before dunking it in sugar syrup.

Soak away your cares

A must-do is the traditional Turkish hamaam or bath- house. “It’s more than just a spa experience — it feels like a cleansing of the soul,” says Neslihan Sen Director of PR, of Hotel Ciragan Palace. I have a Pasha treatment. I first sweat it out in a hot sauna after which I am thoroughly scrubbed, covered in fragrant foam, washed and massaged on a marble platform. The thoroughly indulgent session ends with a Turkish tea.

High-end retail therapy at Nisantasi

Ditch the touristy Grand Bazaar and head to the upscale shopping district of Nisantasi on the European side, which offers international and Turkish designer labels, swish cafés and restaurants in art nouveau buildings and even hotels and malls.

Abdi Ipekçi Street is the high street with everything from Burberry and Salvatore Ferragamo, to Turkish leather store DESA. Check out Arzu Kaprol’s store — she’s a leading Turkish fashion designer. On Vali Konagi Street check out the Turkish brand — Yargici sells clothing, footwear, home accessories and furniture with great design sensibilities.

Getting about

Don’t miss down time at the CIP lounge at Istanbul airport, which has been voted the best Business Class Lounge with food counters, a library, movie theatre, a pool table and even a simulated golf corner.

Get a peek into Asia

Most people miss visiting the Asian side of Istanbul, which is actually green with walking trails, wooden houses and less crowded than the European side. The best way to get a panoramic sweep of the city is from Camlica Hill, lined with gardens and benches. Sip on hot chocolate sold by small stalls, and take in the views of Sultanahmet, Besikatas, the gleaming Bosphorus, domes and minarets. For a place with some great energy head to Kadicoy, with its lineup of cafés, bars, cinemas and shops.

Go underground

For an offbeat experience, avoid the crowds and head to the subterranean Basilica Cistern, located near the Hagia Sophia. It was built in 532 AD by Emperor Justinian. Its columns were built from recycled material garnered from ruined temples.

At one point of time, this aqueduct supplied water to the royal palace. Today you can walk through this atmospheric, dimly-lit space under vaulted ceilings, and 336 columns arranged in rows, with water dripping from above. Don’t forget to check out the Medusa heads, carved on two pillars!

Kalpana Sunder is a Chennai-based travel writer

Published on November 24, 2017
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