A total Turkish delight

The Laveda Spa at the 244-room Ritz-Carlton in Turkey. Photos Courtesy of the Ritz Carlton Hotel and Charlotte Sternlieb

After a 24-hour flight between Los Angeles and Istanbul, what could be more delicious than a sublime 50-minute Sultan’s Royal Six-Handed Massage at the Laveda Spa, hidden away at the 244-room Ritz Carlton? It’s a treatment a smart traveler can reserve in advance, symbolizing a new style of traversing the globe while coping with jetlag.

Located in the heart of Istanbul’s Dolmabahce district, the Ritz-Carlton’s legendary service takes over. Arriving guests will find tantalizing apple tea in the lobby, and dishes filled with Turkish Delight. The Ritz-Carlton Club Level, a private floor with 57 guestrooms, is dedicated to guests and presents an impressive five complimentary cuisine and beverage service throughout the day. The buffet is so tempting it might keep you from exploring the endless restaurants clustered throughout the popular Sultanahmet neighborhood. Capturing the essence of Ottoman culture, guestrooms are works of art with cobalt blue Iznik tiles in marble bathrooms, where guests will find personal toiletries in silver boxes. You won’t find a chocolate on your pillow here, as turndown service means scented olive oil soap or a sachet of fresh lavender instead. When you transition to the hustle bustle of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar 4,000 shops compressed under one roof, you know the current unrealistic luggage allowances are a looming menace. This is when you realize you should pack light to visit this remarkable city, and save one suitcase for leather fashions, Evil Eye souvenirs, boxes of Turkish sweets and fine jewelry, and have the oriental rugs and kilims shipped home. At Urartu’s showroom in Sultanahmet, a short walk from the Four Seasons Hotel, Ali Altun courteously and expertly pointed out the nuances of authentic Turkish carpets. Door-to-door, free “house delivery” included in the price of your carpet makes the bargaining ritual more palatable.

A mere two days in Istanbul merely scratched the surface of this city, where the past and present blend with seamless style. Experience it from the highs to the lows by starting at the Galata Tower where a platform has a 360-degree view of the entire city. An underground view can be experienced at the Basilica Cistern, to the west of the Hagia Sophia Square, where visitors walk on elevated platforms meandering though 336 columns, most in the Corinthian style, arranged in 12 rows of 28 each. There’s even a restaurant where you can contemplate this Phantom of the Opera style cistern of brick and cross vaulted structure built during the reign of Justinian (517- 565 AD).

Whirling Dervishes aside, it’s comforting to rejuvenate for a few hours at the Ritz-Carlton’s Laveda Spa, where a sensational treatment they call the “Hot Chocolate Seduction” takes over. There is one magic moment when the fragrance of chocolate blends with soothing heat. This spa treatment will prepare you for the next day of fast-paced sightseeing and bazaar browsing.

In contrast, the next two weeks cruising along the Aegean Coast was like an endless dessert of turquoise water, secluded beaches, alfresco dining and star-filled nights. A one hour flight from Istanbul to Antalya brought us to the Celebi Marina where our friend’s yacht, the M/Y Star Sapphire, with a crew of five was standing by to take us on the Blue Voyage (Mavi Yolculuk), a cruise sailing to unspoiled and sheltered bays and villages that a traditional cruise ship cannot navigate. We spent sunshine filled hours stopping at Kekova, first. A rickety courtesy boat provided by Hassan’s Restaurant brought us to the shore for a midnight dinner of fresh lobster, crispy French fries (the frozen variety don’t exist here) and plates of cherries with sweet watermelon for dessert. Kalkan, Kas, Gocek, Marmaris and Bodrum followed. Charter boats at the marina in Gocek present a choice for private yachters. We saw several groups of six to 20 passengers boarding “gullets” for what has become a best-selling cruise concept in Turkey. If you can handle the unpredictability of sailing with the winds, and maybe ending up one afternoon at Cleopatra’s private beach, this is the way to go. The only sign of traffic was the occasional gullet (wooden boat), many chartered, that glided by during the day.

Visiting Turkey is still a bargain when compared to the cost of the Euro these days. Combining a few days in Istanbul before or after the Blue Voyage is what a magic carpet vacation is all about.

Contact Information:

The Ritz-Carlton: www.ritzcarlton.com

www.tourismturkey.org; 212.687.2194; request the “Yachting Turkey” guide

Urartu’s showroom: www.urartu.com.tr

Pamela Price is a frequent contributor to www.forbestraveler.com