Looking for luxury? Turkey is a triumph
Discovers there’s more to this country than package holidays during a her trip to Istanbul and Antalya
TURKEY is one of the kings of package holidays, so it never struck me as a luxury break destination. But, looking out across the twinkling lights of Istanbul, I was beginning to change my mind.
Home to sumptuous palaces and the rulers of civilisations going back thousands of years, this East-meets-West city certainly is a leap away from the bustling party atmosphere of Marmaris or spectacular beaches of Patara.
I’m starting my journey at the Park Bosphorus Hotel, which makes the most of its privileged position high over the river and its past as Istanbul’s Foreign Affairs Palace in the 1890s.
Totally refurbished and reopened in 2013 as a luxury hotel in the heart of the city, it mixes 21st century technology with Istanbul’s deep cultural roots.
Boasting Europe’s largest hotel terrace – with 360 degree views – and also Europe’s biggest hotel spa, the Park Bosphorus names each of its floors after the mothers of the Sultans dating back to the 13th century.
Inside my room is a massive bed, a bath separated from the bedroom by glass which frosts at the flick of a switch, electronically controlled curtains and a menu which allows me to request 10 different types of pillow.
Back in my seat at the covered rooftop Izaka restaurant, I have amazing views of the historic Sultanahmet district – containing the Blue Mosque, Hagia Sophia and Topkapi Palace.
Although I was disappointed not to get inside any of those cultural gems, the next morning I was at Dolmabahçe Palace, which hugs the Bosphorus like the Palace of Westminster does to the Thames.
Built in the mid-19th century as a residence for the reigning Sultan and his family, it housed a number of Imperial rulers until Turkey became a republic in 1923 and is an exercise in unabashed grandeur.
Huge chandeliers hang from every ceiling, as in an English stately home, but this is off the scale – with 285 ostentatious rooms each with a symmetrical design.
Back out on the street, the one thing you cannot miss is the traffic. Central London has nothing on Istanbul and a three-hour nose-to-tail journey home from the office is a common occurrence for the locals. So on foot is definitely the best way to see the city, with the underground metro also an option.
Istanbul is unique in straddling two continents, with half of the city in Europe and half in Asia, so I couldn’t resist the novelty of a trip across the Bosphorus bridge – with its ‘welcome to Europe’ sign – to visit the vantage point of Çamlica and then fight the traffic back to the hotel.
The next morning it was back to the airport, this time for an internal flight to the southern city of Antalya.
One thing I learned during my brief stay in Istanbul is that Turkish Airlines, which is based there, like doing things a little differently.
On board each flight, in addition to the cabin crew, is a ‘flying chef’ whose job it is to prepare the gourmet meals, which are also served to the economy passengers – albeit with less choice than in business class.
So we get fed even on the one-hour flight to Antalya. The airline also has an amazing lounge for international business class passengers at Istanbul’s Atatürk airport which has a number of food outlets, a mini library, pool table, golf simulator, miniature car racetrack, children’s playzone, massage and private rest space, all housed over two floors. It also offers free tours of the city to its passengers.
A short journey by road after arrival in Antalya took me to the massive Maxx Royal complex in nearby Belek – covering one-million square metres. As well as numerous restaurants, shops, bars, pools and a private beach it also boasts a myriad of facilities for children and an 18-hole golf course designed by Colin Montgomerie.
We had dinner on the veranda at the clubhouse overlooking the back nine, which was recently fitted with floodlights for night-time play. If the venue sounds vaguely familiar it may be because the Turkish Airlines Open golf championship was held here in October, featuring many of the world’s top players.
I felt like a VIP wandering around the hotel complex and grounds, where you can call at the chocolatiers, go for a spa treatment, enjoy an ice cream, select macaroons and pastries at the patisserie, then sip cocktails at one of the open air bars.
Our party settled into a couple of private cabins in a secluded area with easy access to the long stretch of beach and warm ocean.
This was after a buffet lunch which offered every type of food imaginable.
From Belek, we then travelled back through Antalya to the smaller Maxx Royal resort at Kemer. With more than 200 rooms, it was still almost a third of the size of its big brother at Belek and equally peaceful.
Set in a secluded cove, it is not unusual to see a family of goats make their way gingerly down the steep cliffs to nibble the grass and nosy at the visitors.
A delicious Japanese teppanyaki rounded off my journey, a feast of VIP luxury.
●● The Park Bosphorus Hotel and, below right, one of its beautiful rooms