Living Life Sultan-size At The Opulent Ciragan Palace Kempinski, Istanbul!

There’s a certain je ne sais quoi about Istanbul, or erstwhile Byzantium and Constantinople, in the Republic of Turkey, that’s as enchanting as it is enigmatic, given its artistic and regal antiquity. Right by the shore of the Bosphorous Strait on the European side, overlooking Asia across the blue ribbon, stands the majestic Çırağan Palace Kempinski hotel, the last residence of the Turkish Sultans from the glorious Ottoman era.

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Ciragan Palace Kempinski Bosphorous view | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The architectural magnificence and royal grandeur of the Çırağan (meaning “spreading light”) Palace is captivating – glittering chandeliers, Ottoman and Baroque style interiors, high ceilings, plush Turkish carpets, luxuriant gardens lined with palm trees along the waterfront – all befitting of a sovereign, serenading his harem of alluring women amorously on these very grounds, so much so, that you start walking around with an arched stance, like a Sultan yourself, surveying your transient kingdom!

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Heritage Palace Wing of the Caravan Palace Kempinski that houses the Imperial Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

And if anything exemplifies opulence, it is the Sultan Suite in the heritage palace wing of the hotel. It is one of the most expensive suites in the world (€ 30,000 a night) and the largest in Europe, with a handmade marble Hamam (Turkish Bath) attached to its master bedroom, replete with gold plated and crystal faucets, a private steam room and rain shower and your own Hamam attendants! Italian operatic tenor, Luciano Pavarotti was the first guest of this luxurious suite once the palace was restored and opened to the public as a Kempinski hotel in 1992, followed by U2’s Bono, Madonna and Oprah Winfrey, amongst many other global luminaries as its guests in residence.

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Sultan Suite | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The Turkish Hamam is a culturally significant bathing ritual that harks back hundreds of years to the Ottoman empire when the custom began in Anatolia and it was not just for the privileged or the imperial classes. The Turks built communal bathhouses where men and women, belonging to any rank or strata of society, could enjoy a Hamam, albeit at separate times, given the Islamic way of life. The Hamam was an extremely important inclusion in people’s lives, from the beginning of life to the very end. The word Hamam simply means a Turkish bath, but nothing about it is simple; it’s a self-indulgent and leisurely bathing ceremony. Back then; Hamams were used not just for cleansing and relaxing the body, but also for celebratory events with song and dance, food and drink, akin to a party, but in a bathhouse! The Sultans, along with their wives and harems of beautiful girls, indulged in Hamams in their palaces that went on for hours. Interestingly, the emperor as well as his wife or wives, were both addressed as Sultan.

 

The hotel’s Sanitas Spa recreates the magical ambience, reminiscent of the Ottoman Hamam times in the palace, with the 40-minute Pasha / Sultan treatment (€130) being the most popular. In the serene environs of the spa, a glass of refreshing apple water is brought to you, as your Hamam attendant gently washes your feet. She then helps you disrobe and wraps a hand-woven, thin, but highly absorbent, cotton wash cloth (Peştemal) around your waist and takes you into the exotically aromatic and heated Hamam. It’s almost minimalistic in its white marble design, with a massive marble slab in the middle of the bathhouse, but for the ornate wall carvings and designs like the original palace Hamam.

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Sanitas Spa Hamam

As you lie down on the warm marble slab, called “göbek taşı” in Turkish, the heat begins to envelop your body and soul, and as you relax and give in to the soothing sounds of the Turkish music, the outside world ceases to exist. The attendant then scrubs your body with a specially textured mitten that exfoliates and cleanses the skin, improving blood circulation, making your skin exceptionally soft to the touch, like silk. She then covers your person in a fragrant soap foam, making you float away on a dreamy white cloud, as she massages your head and body with aromatic oils, revitalizing your muscles, with special attention to your hands and feet. Then she shampoos the oil off your hair with an exceptional amalgamation of a head massage and rinse. Big metal cauldrons of water, first hot and then cold, are then poured over you to rinse off the soap and just like that, the most sensual bath experience of your life comes to an end with a cup of tea or the very sweet Turkish sherbet.

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Pestemal

At no point during the ritual do you want to open your eyes and especially when the Hamam is over. You’d think getting bathed by another human being in a manner so intimate would be odd and somewhat embarrassing, but it surprisingly isn’t; it feels absolutely natural to renew your body and soul, in a bath session as indulgent and spiritual as this. The oriental Haman ritual eclipses any kind of spa experience you’ve ever had and spoils you for life. The Sehrazat (55 minutes / € 165) and VIP Hamams (80 minutes / € 500) on the menu are amped up, more indulgent versions of the Pasha / Sultan Hamam to spoil your body and nourish your soul. The Çırağan spa has male Hamam attendants for men and female ones for women, like in the Ottoman era, but in today’s times, if a man requests for a female attendant or vice versa, the spa complies. Who knew water, soap suds and magical hands could come together in such exotic harmony?

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Turkish cuisine at Tugra from the kitchens of the Sultans of the Ottoman Empire | Photo: Rubina A Khan

From eating authentic Ottoman cuisine at Tuğra, their signature restaurant, with recipes straight from the kitchens of the Sultans like the incredibly delicious Testi (Turkish for clay pot) Lamb Casserole to bathing like the Sultans in the Hamam, to savoring a cup of Turkish coffee in the gazebo, watching the ships go by, living life Sultan-size in the Çırağan Palace is undeniably a hedonistic affair, with the Hamam ritual being the most momentuous, and unforgettable aspect of it all.

©Rubina A Khan 2015

London’s Top 5 Luxury Hotels

“What good is money if it can’t buy happiness”, questioned British author Agatha Christie, in the thriller The Man in the Brown Suit and rightly so. London’s most luxurious modern hotels swear by that very question, albeit discreetly. The olde order of luxury in London is being challenged by a new league of modern luxury hotels where it’s all about whetting your desires and going to unimaginable lengths, realizing bespoke experiences for you. While it’s not decorous to talk about money, it’s fashionably cool to spend it in London where your money can buy you total exuberance, not just happiness!

Rubina A Khan reviews the top five hotels in London that are redefining luxurious living, irresistibly:

Rosewood London – A historical 1914 Belle Époque building on 252 High Holborn that used to be the Pearl Assurance insurance company, has shifted shape in a manner most luxurious under the direction of Tony Chi to give way to the Rosewood London, that has even the most seasoned jetsetter enthralled with its relaxed elegance and vintage charm. The central carriageway entrance and dome open into a grand Edwardian courtyard, that lead you into the hotel. Through the contemporary rose-bronze doors, you take in live finches and budgerigars chirping contentedly, inanimate British bulldogs that don’t bark, the exquisite art on the walls that’s set off with seductive lighting and staff walking about in Saville Row suits, making for a theatrical first impression of the Rosewood. The value of the seven kinds of rare marble like Swedish Green and Statuary, used on the seven-storey Renaissance staircase is £40million! The interiors of this Grade II listed heritage hotel are fitted out with Cuban mahogany and the 262 rooms and 44 suites reflect High Holborn’s history, culture and sensibilities, in line with the Rosewood philosophy of “A Sense of Place”.

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Rosewood London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

The shower rooms, yes rooms, are heavenly and designed to make every bathing ritual a sensual one, even more so after a Swedish massage by Yarmila at the Sense Spa. The champagne breakfast, with Baked Eggs, Asparagus and Truffle at the Mirror Room is the most delicious way to wake up and seize the day. Cabaret performances, held every alternate Sunday evening at the Scarfes Bar, lined with illustrations of artist Gerald Scarfe, including an adorable one of Prince George of Cambridge, over endless flutes of Perrier-Jouët Grand Brut and Lobster Momos are an excellent way to enjoy some risqué British culture after a day at the British Museum close by. The most memorable feature at the Rosewood is sheer excellence with the staff and butlers exuding genuine warmth, bereft of the faux made-to-please smiles. Nightly rates for a Deluxe Room here are upwards of £360 (Rs 36,000) and a Grand Premier Suite costs about £1,800 (Rs 1,80,000). If money is no object, then the Grand Manor House Wing, with its six bedrooms, three living rooms, a private elevator and entry, and the only suite in the world to have its very own postcode, should be your choice at £25,000 (Rs 25,000,000) at the Rosewood London!

45, Park Lane – The grandeur and exceptional service of the legendary Dorchester Hotel on Park Lane is unrivalled in London. But seconds away from the old guard, stands the Dorchester Collection’s grand and imperious 45, Park Lane, an art deco hotel, designed as a private residence, on London’s Money Mile in Mayfair, with suites facing the verdure Hyde Park. The 46-room hotel beguiles guests into its luxurious and contemporary confines designed by New York based designer, Thierry Despont, with exemplary service and dazzling glamour. The Park Lane Suite has my heart! Minutes from Bond Street shopping, and a hop across Hyde Park, it is undeniably the most fashionable temporary address in London, with every little wish of yours being fulfilled by the Park Lane team. If you so desire a dress from Harrods, a hotel runner will speed off and get it back for you in time for your dinner date whilst you soak in the satin dreaminess of the Dorchester Spa.

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45, Park Lane London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

“The most extraordinary demand we have ever had to date was to fit a washing machine in one of our suites!” says hotel manager Christophe Hilty. For a brisk ride in Hyde Park, you can borrow one of the hotel’s Brompton bicycles or bike around the streets of Mayfair. It’s on site restaurant, CUT, which is Austrian born-US based celebrity chef Wolfgang Puck’s first foray on European terrain, is world class. It’s the only place in London that serves Japanese Wagyu and it is worth every pound for that little medallion of a steak on your plate! CUT is also home to the Psalms, a collection of 16 Damian Hirst paintings in the hotel. Rooms start at £595 (Rs 59,500) and the extravagant Penthouse Suite on the ninth floor is yours for £8,995 (Rs 8,99,500) a night!

Ham Yard Hotel – The Ham Yard, a Firmdale property and their eighth in London, owes its name to an early 18th Century public house called The Ham. This boutique hotel, set on a three-quarter acre site, is a riot of colors designed by owner, Kit Kemp, in her fun and distinctively modern British style, that gives off a cultivated “urban village” vibe with its lush garden, bang in the midst of bustling Piccadilly Circus and Soho. With a 190-seater movie theatre on the property and its very own Dive Bar, you don’t need to battle frosty London on movie night; it’s just an elevator ride away. An original 1950s four-lane bowling alley, shipped in from Texas, replete with backlit bowling balls and vintage bowling shoes, a 13-store shopping enclave, a rooftop garden and a Soholistic Spa make the Ham Yard a unique hotel choice. The hotel has the best-stocked mini-bar and amenities kit, including Kinky Knickers, in case you packed really light and didn’t carry any! The Ham Yard breakfast-to-go service is an absolute delight in a brown bag when you’re catching an 8am flight from Heathrow! Prices for a Superior Room start at £372 (Rs 37,200) per night and the Terrace Suite is yours for £4,080 (Rs 4,08,000) a night.

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Ham Yard London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Great Northern Hotel – This boutique hotel right in the heart of King’s Cross St Pancras, first opened in 1854, as the world’s first great railway hotel, designed by Victorian master builder, Lewis Cubitt. The splendidly refurbished 91 rooms here, named Couchette, Wainscot and Cubitt, which is the largest room, echo the vintage glamour of the building’s iconic past. Awash with abundant natural light through ceiling to floor windows and cut-glass finishes, the Great Northern boasts of a luxury every traveler desires – location and quietude! It is central to the largest transport intersection in London and is a mere 25 metres from the Eurostar Terminus and a second away from King’s Cross that makes for seamless travel to and from all Londonairports. It is steps away from the beautiful British Library. It has one exceptional feature within its glamourous boutique designs – a very comfortable Hypnos bed that also makes for great romantic interludes! Sleep is the quintessential luxury that sometimes gets lost in translation in some of world’s most famous hotels, and it is absolutely uncompromised at the Great Northern. Plum & Spilt Milk, the hotels’ on site restaurant, under the culinary direction of Chef Mark Sargeant, is spectacular! The exquisite food, atmosphere and service here are enough to extend your stay at the GNH, if not the bed alone! Rooms start upwards of £160 (Rs 16,000) here.

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Great Northern London

Ampersand Hotel – The design of the luxuriously appointed Ampersand Hotel on 10, Harrington Road, right by the South Kensington underground, is inspired by the Museum District it’s located around, through the five themes of botany, music, geometry, ornithology and astronomy. The Ampersand opened in the summer of 2012 as a modern incarnation of the Norfolk Hotel that was built in 1889. The Victorian values of discovery and wonder, alongside a modern sense of whimsy define all 111 rooms of the refitted Ampersand rooms and suites; from the V&A’s costume collection, to the Science Museum’s planets and phials, from the Natural History Museum’s ornithological drawings to the drama and ceremony of the Royal Albert Hall. And no, that doesn’t make it a dull and boring hotel. The atmosphere is exuberant and fun, with splashes of colour and sparkle to add to the relaxed vibe of the property. Knightsbridge and Chelsea shopping awaits you, yes, Harrods too, once you’ve had your fill of the museums and the astounding array of world cuisine being served up in the cafes and restaurants on every expensive retail space of South Kensington! Room prices vacillate anywhere between £170 (Rs 17,000) to approximately £550 (Rs 55,000) a night.

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The Ampersand London | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Michael Bonsor, Hotel Manager, of the Rosewood London, sums up the avant-garde London luxury order rather succinctly, “No requests are too outlandish or difficult to accomplish. True luxury is not just about remarkable quality; it is about making someone feel special in an extraordinary environment.” Indeed!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the www.rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

@Rubina A Khan 2014

The Kingdom Of Enchantment – Velaa Private Island, Maldives

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An alluring new resort in the Maldivian archipelago officially launched this weekend – Velaa Private Island. The island resort’s been built as an ode of love by Czech businessman Jiri Smejc for his wife Radka, who fell in love with the Maldives on the couples’ numerous trips to the land of the blue. The premise of creating a beautiful structure for a loved one is almost akin to that of Mughal emperor, Shahjahan’s, who built the magnificent Taj Mahal in India in memory of his wife, Mumtaz Mahal. Velaa too, is reminiscent of a vintage romance in the modern world. The Smejcs desire to create a magical space for themselves and share it with the world, gave life and form to a barren island on Noonu Atoll with no vegetation and absolutely none of the wondrous elements of splendor and luxury that stand on it today. Designed by Czech architect Petr Kolar and landscaped by Alla Kohoutkova over an arduous period of two years, with an investment well over 230 million Euros, Velaa is now ready to enchant the world with its beauty and hospitality. Kohoutkova used approximately 500,000 plants from 200 local species, including 1600 coconut palms that green the island and allow for the privacy of its residents.

Velaa in Dhivehi, the language of the Republic of Maldives, means turtle, and the property was named thus, given the atoll is home to a large population of turtles in the waters surrounding the island. The design elements work around the turtle theme, from the mesmerizing black and white art on the walls to the glass windows and doors and the resort’s logo. The eyes of the turtles on the wall art, follow you around the room, in a friendly, welcoming manner.

The minute you disembark from the steps of the aircraft at Male airport and are whisked away in a sedan from the runway to the seaplane that takes you to the idyllic and exquisite island, you are a VIP – Velaa’s Important Person.

Landing onto the island, the jetty belies all the bespoke enchantments that await you as you soak in the island’s alchemy with the beach and the “oh-so-blue” ocean. Every moment from then on is whatever you want your experience to be – relaxed, romantic, familial, nothingness, sublime – it’s yours.

With Velaa aiming to provide unprecedented luxury to its guests, the rooms befit royalty, to say the least. The comfort of the bed is unquestionable, as you’ll know the morning after. The electrical switches are not complicated and frustrating as in the norm in luxe resorts, and are as easy as All On / All Off, as are the entertainment systems. The mini bar has some of the best chocolates from Ghana and a favourite, the Organic Australian Beetroot Chips, with no Nasties added! The tea and coffee menu entices you to try out new flavors each morning. Whatever your mood, there’s a shower plan to match it!

The view from every kind of accommodation on the island, be it the Deluxe Beach Pool Villa, Ocean Pool House Villa, Private Residences or the dreamy Romantic Pool Residence, is its own, but never the same, with every sunrise and sunset more magical than the last. It’s a pleasure to wake up and watch the first rays of the sun hit the ocean and then, your eyes.

Velaa has three restaurants – all day dining at Athiri (Beach) with a wood-fired pizza oven, Teppanyaki at Tavaru (Tower) and the fine dine Aragu (Essence) and two bars – CRU Champagne lounge and the Avi Bar and an impressive wine cellar with a thirty-page wine list! A 1956 Domaine de la Romanée Conti “Romanée Conti”, rare vintage Salon Champagne or a 200-year-old fortified wine 1870 Blandy “Verdelho Solera” are just a request away. Every meal is an indulgence especially when you are spoilt for choice!

Michelin-star chef Adeline Grattard from Paris looks into the culinary diversity at Velaa along with Executive Chef Bruno Contreras, who specializes in Mediterranean and European cuisine and Executive Sous Chef Gaushan de Silva from Sri Lanka who creates exceptional tasting menus with innovative presentation, marrying the finest produce with molecular gastronomy.

Velaa has a unique recreational facility, so far the only one in the Maldives, in a resort – Velaa Golf Academy by Olazabal. Swinging has never been as much fun as on the 170m of green in a swing studio carefully crafted by Masters Champion Jose Maria Olazabal. If your swing impresses the island’s golf pros, Peter Anthony Holland and Martin Dewhurst, you might get your swing analyzed on a split screen video with Rory McElroy and even get a custom made Velaa golf ball set present from them! Apart from golf, there’s Yoga, Squash, Tennis, an extensive array of Water Sports, Jet Skis, Semi Submarine, Snorkeling, Diving, Fishing, cruises on the Prestige Yacht or the traditional Bahtheli boats to keep you fit and active on your holiday. Staring into the blue, with a Coconut Vodka cocktail works just as well!

And after all that sun and water, a spa treatment is just what the body needs – My Blend by Clarins Spa has partnered with Velaa, and features exclusive My Blend facial products and body treatments by Clarins, created by Dr. Olivier Courtin, for a relaxing experience.

480038522“You are unique. And so in your skin, just like your fingerprints. The story of your life, whether biological or emotional, can be read on your skin,” reads the opening page of the spa menu. You can choose from a range of therapies of Indian origin to Asian to Tibetan. Not only does the spa offer bespoke massage treatments, it’s a full service salon with Manicures, Pedicures, Blow Dries, Hair Cuts and Styling, Epilation – the works. Velaa scores big with the ladies on this! And it’s not just about the adults; the spa has a Junior Menu too for the little ladies and little men on the resort! That is, if they haven’t tired themselves with all the fun and games at the Kid’s Play Zone whilst their parents enjoyed romantic lunches and walks on the beach. The Clarins team of therapists, as you’d expect from a brand that renowned, are exceptional. Your skin is in paradise as are you with pure harmony resonating within your mind, body and soul! And the treatment beds have a wonderful window into the lagoon below that gently lull you into an even more relaxed state.

The spa also has a special room for its Cloud 9 experience – created by Viennese artist and Perception Researcher, Sha, Cloud 9 is a comprehensive and holistic relaxing experience that has a multi sensory blend of color therapy, mental acoustic therapy, lighting-video-spatial concept and a reclining swinging pod which sways and cradles you into deep relaxation. A twenty-minute session does leave you lighter from the thoughts racing through your mind. A definite to-do on the island!

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Cloud 9 | Photo: Rubina A Khan

Velaa has 45 varied accommodations that range from $1,500 a night for a Beach Pool Villa to $1,900 for a Deluxe Beach Pool Villas to $6000 for a 2 Bedroom Ocean Pool House in the Turtle Season (1 June-31 July, 1Sep-30 Sep) to $14,000 per night for the Romantic Pool Residence and $30,000 per night for the Velaa Private Residence in the Celebration Season (24 Dec-12 Jan).

Velaa’s rooms are spotlessly clean, just like its white sand beaches. Everything is perfect. Yes, perfect. The staff share an easy camaraderie with each other, that is key to the island maintaining an amiable and harmonious environment overall. The butlers assigned to the villas are the wizards of your dreams – they actualize them, like Aamir. The staff is knowledgeable, pleasing and just wonderful to be around, as they all seem to love their jobs. The pools attached to the villas are not plunge pools, but full size. And when you book a Romantic Pool Residence or a Velaa Private Residence, they come with their own private Gyms, Spa Rooms and round-the-clock Chef services. All elements on the island strive to perfect the guests’ day in every way, everyday! Bespoke, most definitely!

From the time you are its guest, Velaa is the Kingdom of Enchantment and you, its imperial sovereign, albeit a paying one!

Disclaimer: Any part of the content on the rubinaakhan.com website cannot be reproduced without prior permission and crediting the website and the author.

©Rubina A Khan 2014