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 feel he was waiting just for me.
My Turkish Airlines Business Class nonstop flight from New York to Istanbul was a delicious Turkish delight, as sweet as Turkish taffy. I was as impressed with the freshness, flavors and presentation of the meals served as I was with the friendly service of the flight crew. There was a very practical and attractive serving bar at the front of the business class section which flight attendants use for set ups; it is artistically arranged with flowers, crystal glasses, bottles of wine and other treats available to passengers throughout the flight. My dinner got off to a mouth watering start with a beautiful selection of mezze (small plates of Turkish appetizers, similar to Spanish tapas) that were served from a trolley cart: smoked salmon, humus, grilled chicken salad with fresh pineapple, spicy lentil salad with goat cheese, homemade cheese borek, and shrimp salad. The soup course, a creamy warm pumpkin soup with roasted pine seeds, was thick and rich. For the main course, I was offered a choice of: grilled beef skewers, Chilean Sea bass, or Taglierini with prawns in lobster sauce. The bass, flaky, moist, and succulent, was cooked to perfection; the medley of vegetables that accompanied the fish passed the crunch test with flying colors. My only suggestion would be “a little less butter sauce on the fish”. Deserts and a cheese course, also served from the trolley, included chocolate soufflé and a trio of sorbets. My taste buds were not only titillated, but also raised to a higher appreciation of Turkish cuisine. My leather seat was spacious and comfortable; the seven hour nonstop flight passed quickly. One of the flight attendants told me “Turkish passengers prefer the food; Americans the comfort”. Personally, I prefer both; and Turkish Airlines surpassed my expectations.
Lucette, my friend and publisher of the magazine “ Istanbul, Beyond Your Expectations”, sends a car and driver to meet me at the airport. Unfortunately he does not speak English so it is a struggle to get him to identify the sights as we crawl through traffic. My first impression of Istanbul is overwhelming; this is a city in perpetual motion; the traffic 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. I will have to work hard and move fast to experience even a slice of its endearing flavors.
The Ritz Carlton Hotel and Residential Condominiums, over looking the Bosphorus 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 Bosphorus. 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 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 Public Relations Director Lara Otru, I am booked for a Traditional Turkish Bathing Hamam . . . a full head to toe invigorating and purifying exfoliation and cleaning ritual that dates back to Byzantine and Roman times. The spa’s Ottoman style octagonal shaped authentic Turkish Hamam, modeled after the 18th Century Baths of Roxelana, is a most welcomed refuge after my long flight.
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 hamam 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 hamam 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.
High Tea at the Ritz is a sweet treat; a chocolate fountain flows with skewers of fresh fruit waiting to be dipped, coffee beans are creatively displayed in glass jars; 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.
Executive Chef Marcel Nosari’s multinational culinary career spans many countries and continents, having cooked for HRH the King of Thailand and the Emperor of Japan. He oversees my farewell luncheon feast, serving a fusion of both Mediterranean and Turkish traditional and exceptional cuisine, paired with his personal selection of red and white wines.
The staff, the spa, the cuisine and the ambiance of The Ritz Carlton Istanbul rates an A+ in my notebook of “Unforgettable Places and Memorable Visits”. 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.thy.com or 1-800-874-8875
For info on Turkey: www.tourismturkey.org