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

Macclesfield Express - - TRAVEL -

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

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