Some top-end hotels don’t like to exploit the names of their famous guests for privacy reasons, while other hotels don’t hesitate and are proud to let us know just who they’re used to brushing shoulders with. At Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul, dozens of photos of celebrity visitors are displayed all over two facing walls at Reception.

As far as we know, there were no royals in residence during our recent visit to the luxurious five-star establishment, or even minor royalty many times removed from their countries’ thrones. But nonetheless we much enjoyed studying the gallery of snapshots of monarchs, emirs, sultans, presidents, prime ministers and world-renowned artists, designers and business people who have all graced – and been graced by – this outstanding award-winning hotel.


Looking at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski’s massed colour photos, royal guests were not difficult to find, and we discovered distinguished representatives from Norway, Luxembourg, Thailand, India, Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, Romania, Monaco, Morocco, Sweden, Jordan and more.

Royals tend to like rather long names and titles to bolster their elevated positions, and one of the better ones to be enjoyed here is Her Serene Highness Princess Alexandra Rosemarie Ingrid Benedicte of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Berleburg, Countess of Pfeil and Klein-Ellguth, Denmark, whose stately presence at the Kempinski was duly recorded in a photo in 1998.

In the impressive-name stakes, we also appreciated His Majesty King Willem-Alexander Claus George Ferdinand, of the Netherlands (2009). Mum, who abdicated in his favour in 2013, is simply labelled “Queen Beatrix of the Netherlands” on the photo of her stay at the Ciragan Palace Kempinski in 2007.

The British royals have had a fairly strong presence at the hotel, and on the wall we spotted His Royal Highness Prince Charles (1996), his father HRH Prince Philip (1997) and HRH Prince Michael of Kent, a cousin of Queen Elizabeth II (1999). Leading the charge of the Brits though was Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, photographed on arrival in 1994, unfortunately looking frail and supported by the arm until she can find the hotel bar to prop her up.


Before leaving the gallery of snapshots, among the entertainers we were interested to see British guitarist Eric Clapton (undated, but certainly since he slipped from “God” status to becoming inconsequential musically), French actress Catherine Deneuve (2006), American singer and actress Jennifer Lopez (2012), Irish singer Bono (2010), American singer Natalie Cole (2007), American actor Adrien Brody (2013), some bloke called Sting and English actor Michael Caine, whose “how’s yer father” Cockney accent must have been a challenge for the courteous Turkish hotel staff.

The politicians on display include ex-Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev, deservedly enjoying some post-communist Kempinski luxury in 1995, former French president Francois Mitterrand (1992), German Chancellor Angela Merkel, just last year, and, in 2007, Vladimir Vladimirovich Putin, the second and fourth President of the Russian Federation (a nice political trick, that one. We trust in the efficiency of the Ciragan Palace cleaning staff and know that they would have quickly cleaned any traces he may have left on the door handles and taps).

Gary Kasparov (1997), Cristiano Ronaldo (2013), Liza Minnelli (1995), assorted “super models” (as they are known), Formula One siblings Michael and Ralf Schumacher in happier times (2003 and 2005), self-made tycoon Sir Richard Branson (2016) and 66 per cent of the Three Tenors also stand out among the known and not-so-known faces. Before leaving them and heading to our room, we recall the doleful words of the Kinks in their song “Celluloid Heroes”: “Some that you recognise, some that you’ve hardly even heard of . . . ”

Ciragan Sarayi (Ciragan Palace) was voted Europe’s Leading Hotel 2017 at the World Travel Awards in St Petersburg in September, defeating 20 other nominees. It won the award in 2013, 2014, 2015 and 2016, making it five in a row. “The Wall Street Journal” described the World Travel Awards as the Oscars of the travel industry.


The hotel is a legacy of the Ottoman Empire, being the only such imperial palace and hotel right alongside the Bosphorus, the waterway that separates the European side of Istanbul and Turkey from the Asian part, while also connecting the Mediterranean to the Black Sea.

The palace was built by Sultan Abdulaziz to the design of an Armenian palace architect between 1863 and 1867, at a time when all Ottoman sultans apparently built their own palaces rather than using those of their ancestors; Cıragan Palace is the last example of this tradition. The construction and the interior decoration continued until 1872. Sultan Abdulaziz did not live long in his magnificent palace, being found dead inside on May 30, 1876, shortly after he was dethroned. His successor, his nephew Sultan Murad V, moved in but reigned for only 93 days. He was deposed by his brother Abdülhamid II due to alleged mental illness and lived there under house arrest until his death on August 29, 1904.


In 1908 Sultan Mehmet V. Resat allowed the parliament to hold their meetings in the building but in January 1910 a great fire destroyed the palace, including its precious art and books. Only the outer walls were left intact, and for many years the derelict site was a football stadium of sorts, Seref Stadı, for the club Besiktas JK.

In 1989 the ruined palace was bought by a Japanese corporation and restored to its former grandeur by the Kempinski Group, opening its doors in 1991. The palace was renovated again in 2007, now resembling more the authentic palace in baroque style and soft colours. Tiles throughout recall the Tulip Period of 1718-1730, which was characterised by a passionate love of flowers and music.

This year is the 120th anniversary of the Kempinski Hotels group, the oldest luxury hotel group in Europe, having been created in 1897. Kempinski now manages a portfolio of some 76 five-star hotels and residences in 30 countries, including Budapest, and continues to add properties in Europe, the Middle East, Africa and Asia. The latest additions are in Havana, Cuba, and Riga, Latvia

Ciragan Palace has 313 rooms, including 282 rooms and 20 suites in the main hotel and 11 suites in the imperial palace section. Our room is only 30 metres or so from the Bosphorous and has a balcony facing up the strait, from where we can see the waterside Ortakoy Mosque, built between 1854 and 1856, and the huge and high Bosphorous Bridge, now renamed the 15 July Martyrs Bridge in honour of civilians who died resisting last year’s coup attempt, and which links the two continents.


We like to think that, from the gallery of photos, His Imperial Highness Crown Prince Naruhito Kotaishi of Japan, who stayed in 2009, may have enjoyed a similar room and, like us, sat out on the balcony at dawn watching the rising sun appearing over the Asian side. At the other end of the day, the bridge lights up red and blue, and the water and buildings on the banks take on a pink glow.

A steady stream of boats of all sizes plies the Bosphorous, including, one day, a submarine going past on the surface. Five times a day the call of the muezzin is clearly heard from the minarets of the Ortakoy Mosque.

A nice touch in this well-appointed room are the blue curtains in the bathroom on each side of the bath-cum-shower, giving it a stagey appearance. Drawing upon the photo gallery for inspiration once again, we imagine the delectable Italian actress Sophia Loren (2005), disrobed and stepping in, between the curtains . . .


The amazing thing about the main portion of the five-star Ciragan Palace Kempinski is that if you think it’s luxurious, with its photo gallery, parade of brand-name shops, Bosphorous-side swimming pool, exquisite food and furnishings, afternoon high tea, et al, the separate but adjoining 11-suite imperial palace takes things to an even higher plane. Here private entrances with red carpets, a 24-hour butler service and such fripperies as the second-largest crystal chandelier in Turkey and the original marble hamam – the only thing to escape the fire – await guests.

The top-end Sultan’s Suite comes at EUR 30,000 a night, a tab that did not frighten away Madonna (2012) or Oprah Winfrey. “No discounts,” warns our hostess, in case we are tempted.

Perhaps, as a bargaining tool, we might have mentioned the possibility of occasional noise from the proximity of the hotel’s helipad, the Cıragan Palace Kempinski being the only hotel in Istanbul accessible by car, yacht and helicopter. But we keep mum, and, after all, it was voted Turkey’s Leading Hotel Suite at those latest World Travel Awards.

Nearby, on the other side of the hotel from the peaceful Bosphorous, the very high garden wall protects the palace from the traffic and rush of the outer world. True, a certain kind of wealth is required to enjoy a stay at such a lavishly appointed hotel, but such is the way of the world. You’ve either got it or you haven’t.


PS: An undated photo of actor Robert De Niro hangs on the wall of fame, but in our imagination we feel that perhaps this is a mistake and he was not a guest at all. Instead, we see him sitting brooding behind the steering wheel of his yellow Istanbul taxi as he ferries in the rich and famous, who try not to stare at his challenging Mohawk haircut.

Çırağan Palace Kempinski Istanbul
Çırağan Cad. 32, Beşiktaş 34349, Istanbul, Turkey
Tel.: (+90) 212 326 4646

A member of Global Hotel Alliance,
A member of Leading Hotels of the World

A member of Traveller Made

A member of Virtuoso Hotels & Resorts
A member of Signature Travel Network
A member of Historic Hotels Worldwide by Preferred Hotel Group

World's Leading Heritage Hotel: World Travel Awards

World’s Most Luxurious Hotel Suites, Sultan Suite: “Forbes”

Most Romantic Hotels in Europe: “Travel + Leisure”

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