Posts tagged ‘Oprah’

Istanbul’s Ciragan Palace home away from home for the A-list

The moral of this story: “Don’t mess with whirling dervishes.”

Yes, we’re talking about the Ciragan Palace Kempinski. This Imperial Ottoman palace turned five-star hotel offers intrigue, romance, history and its own jetty and heliport for bringing in the A-list celebs who make the $40,000 a night Sultan’s Suite their “home away from home” while in Istanbul giving concerts (Madonna stayed here during the infamous breast-baring concert of 2012), hosting parties (Oprah threw a giant bash for her employees and their families in 2009) and resting up between basketball gigs (Kobe Bryant has stayed here twice).

Last month, it knocked Parisian landmark Hotel Le Bristol off its vaunted perch as the best hotel in Europe at the 2013 World Travel Awards–think Oscars for the hotel industry.

But this stunning palace alongside Istanbul’s Bosphorus Strait hasn’t always been so lucky. Allegedly, when Sultan Abdulaziz had it built between 1863 and 1871, he got a bit overzealous, co-opting a monastery of whirling dervishes which resulted, curse or not, in a string of unhappy consequences.

Even though Abdulaziz hosted French Empress Eugenie de Montijo at the palace hamam (and, according to rumor, might have snuck in a dalliance with Napoleon III’s wife), he was only able to live at his luxurious new digs for a few short years before being deposed and found mysteriously dead at the tender young age of 46. His heir, nephew Sultan Murad V, lasted but 93 days before being declared mentally incompetent and forced to live under house arrest in the palace harem.

Disaster struck again in January 1910 two months after the second Imperial Parliament convened on the palace grounds. Except for its high marble walls and bridges, one leading to Yildiz Palace, and the famous hamam that hosted the French Empress, Ciragan burnt to the ground with all its luxurious furnishings, art work and rare books.

Luckily, luxury hotel group Kempinski broke the dervish curse when it restored the baroque palace, re-opening it to glorious fanfare in 1991. Today, the former palace, back to its original opulence, is divided into 11 ooh-la-la suites complete with 24-hour butler service and the famous Tugra restaurant.

And the decadence doesn’t end there. Lush lawns with gardens, palm trees and gazebos line a long promenade leading to the new “wing” of the palace where guests can enjoy a Moet & Chandon champagne bar, heated infinity pool and rooms with handmade carpets, spacious balconies and pillow menus.

What’s an A-lister to do now that Fashion Week is over?

With the four Fashion Weeks and the obligatory celebrity entrances behind them, the stars can get back to what they do best-—finding OTT vacay opportunities.

To help in their search are five ideas from the March issue of Conde Nast Traveler:

1. Escape to a private island:

The Beckhams (yes, those Beckhams) rang in their 10th anniversary at Fregate Island, a private island in the Seychelles. Price tag? $200,000. But that’s only because they wanted the restaurant, the library, the museum and the seven dream beaches to themselves.

2. Get down on your own private yacht:

Rihanna was a tad more inviting when she chartered the 170-foot, five-deck yacht, Latitude, for a Mediterranean get-away off St. Tropez and Cannes. She invited Magic Johnson (among others) to enjoy the glass elevator, sundeck gym and DJ booth. Price tag? $300,000 per week.

3. Repair to a beach house:

The normal accoutrements at a South American beach bungalow (make that mansion) didn’t cut the muster for Mark Zuckerberg at last year’s “Get-ready-to-take-Facebook-public” party for his wife and 13 of their closest friends. Not only did he bring his own chef, cook, maids and bodyguards to the exclusive house he rented in Punta del Este, Uruguay, but he insisted on brand new furniture.

4. Get your adrenaline on:

In 2011, Russian billionaire and Nets owner Mikhail Prokhorov took six helicopters full of friends to Courchevel to ski otherwise inaccessible slopes in the French Alps. Afterwards, of course, they warmed up at his $30 million chalet.

5. Celebrate with friends:

For Oprah’s 55th birthday, she took 1700 friends and family to northeast Spain and a ten-day cruise on the Norwegian Gem to Italy, Turkey, Greece and Malta.

Just don’t try to write it off as a business expense as Tyco CEO Dennis Kozlowski did with a $2 million, 75-guest party in Sardinia. Let’s just say, the IRS didn’t look too kindly on the eight-foot ice sculpture of David that urinated vodka.

Top six reasons to fall in love with Santa Barbara

My answer used to be wishy-washy. “Oh well, I’d probably pay off my credit cards or donate it to Greenpeace or maybe take a trip around the world.”

Now, when someone asks what I’d do if I won the lottery, there’s no hesitation. I simply smile and say, “I’d move to Santa Barbara.”

I always knew the city known as America’s Riviera had to be pretty. It’s on a beach, it’s rimmed with mountains and John and Jackie Kennedy chose to honeymoon there, for God’s sake. But even armed with all that knowledge, I was totally unprepared for how smitten I would become on a recent trip to Santa Barbara.

In fact, calling Santa Barbara pretty doesn’t begin to cover it. Perfect might be a better word. As for climate, well, weather forecasters could probably just make a recording—sunny with temperatures in the mid-70’s–and play it every day. The beaches, too, are about as perfect as you can get with southern exposure, swaying palm trees, a bike path, open-air cafes and cute guys in skimpy shorts playing volleyball.

If you follow State Street a few blocks up from Stearns Wharf, you find a perfect historic downtown with cobblestone streets, open air paseos, fountains, cobbled arcades covered in bougainvillea and practically every cool store known to mankind. Keep going for seven miles and you run into the foothills of the almost-purple San Ynez mountains which not only make for good scenery, but provide lots of camping, hiking and birding. More than a third of the county is protected as national forestland.

Following are six other arguments for forsaking Greenpeace and using my lottery money to finance my move to Santa Barbara:

1. Everything in Santa Barbara either has a garden or is a garden. Naturally, there’s a Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, an official 65-acre garden with five miles of trails. But there are also gardens at the zoo (in fact, this seaside home of 500-plus animals is not called a zoo, but Santa Barbara Zoological Gardens), gardens at the Santa Barbara Mission (it’s considered by many to be the prettiest of California’s 21 missions), gardens at the beach, gardens at the dozens of parks and even gardens at the Santa Barbara County Courthouse, the second most photographed public building in the United States. The first most photographed public building is, of course, the White House.

2. I could have a second career as a paparazzi. Oprah, Steve Martin, Michael Douglas, Charlize Theron, Ellen Degeneres, Jeff Bridges, Rob Lowe and Kevin Costner are just a few Hollywood luminaries with homes in Santa Barbara. It’s not unusual to spot local Kenny Loggins and his son at Batty’s Baseball Cages or to attend a wine and cheese gathering at the Wine Cask with transplant John Cleese. Plus, the list of celebs who go there to marry could keep my camera clicking until death do us part. Jim Carey, Sondra Bullock, Clark Gable, Laurence Olivier, Vivien Leigh, Debra Messing, Will Farrell, Heather Locklear, Halle Berry and Rock Hudson are just a few of the stellar somebodies who pronounced, “I do” in Santa Barbara.

3. I’d look forward to paying taxes and going to court. Okay, so this argument leaks a bit of water, but at least going to the courthouse would be a delight. Not only could I enjoy its meticulously landscaped grounds and sunken gardens, but I could climb to the top of the 85-foot clock tower and gloat at the panoramic view of my new home. Tours of the courthouse with it carved doors, wrought-iron chandeliers and historic murals are given several times a week. Bet you can’t say that about your county courthouse?

4. The place is an entrepreneur’s dream. Or at least it spawned the success of Motel 6, the largest company-owned and operated lodging chain in the United States (started in Santa Barbara in 1962, the first Motel 6 rented rooms for $6), Zog’s Sex Wax (don’t worry, it’s a surfing accoutrement), Big Dog Sportswear, (this t-shirt shop was launched by a couple Santa Barbara college students on a raft trip) and Kinko’s which was started in a taco stand on the UC-Santa Barbara campus with a single copy machine.

The country’s first major film studio, Flying A Studios, once sat at the corner of State and Mission Street. Started by the American Film Company in 1909, Flying A produced more than 1200 films, mostly westerns and black and whites. Cecil B. Demille worked as a carpenter there and Charlie Chaplin, who liked the area so much, moved to Montecito and built the still-popular Montecito Inn.

5. I could become a gourmand.Julia Child was partial to La Super-Rica Taqueria, a casual local favorite for 20 years, but Santa Barbara has restaurants for every taste from uber posh Restaurant Miro to Joe’s Café, a laidback diner with the only neon sign in town. And remember that great climate I gushed about? Santa Barbara has lots of al fresco dining, both on the waterfront, downtown and in little-known hideaways. The Endless Summer Bar and Café, named after the cult classic surf movie, is a great place on the harbor to watch sailboats and luxury yachts.

Santa Barbara County also has a much-deserved reputation as one of the world’s premium wine-producing regions. Within the county are more than 100 wineries, known for their quaint settings, friendly vintners and starring role in the 2004 hit movie, Sideways. In fact, Paul Giamatti’s character Miles raved so profusely about the Santa Barbara pinot noir that, after the movie, sales of his beloved drink shot up 16 percent. A free, self-guided Sideways tour map spotlights 18 movie locations including Kalyra Winery where the bachelors meet Sandra Oh’s character and Fess Parker’s Winery where Miles guzzles the communal spit bucket.

6. There are lots of free things to do. Even after winning the lottery, I’m probably going to have to pinch pennies. I heard cemetery plots in Santa Barbara go for as much as $56,000. Luckily, Santa Barbara offers lots of freebies. Some of the ones in which I’ll undoubtedly partake are Sunday’s Arts and Craft Show (more than 250 local artists set up displays along the beach), the Santa Barbara Museum of Art’s free Thursdays, whale watching at Shoreline Park and the Red Tile Walking Tour, a 12-block walking tour of Santa Barbara’s unique Spanish-Moorish architecture.

Although I truly hope you come visit, I’m giving out the contact particulars with some reservation. After all, I don’t want my new home to get too crowded. Contact the Santa Barbara Conference & Visitors Bureau at 1601 Anacapa Street, Santa Barbara, CA 93101-1909,

Spa within a Spa at JW Marriott’s Desert Springs Resort

Hanging out at the spa with Jennifer Aniston isn’t as much fun as you might think. For one thing, there’s the autograph issue. Instead of relaxing, enjoying the soothing New Age music, your mind is spinning, wondering, “Should I ask or shouldn’t I?”

Even though you’re at the spa to completely forget about your crazy life, you’re suddenly overly self-conscious, worrying about your unshaved legs, the middle left toenail you forgot to repaint. Instead of getting in the spa frame of mind, you’re obsessed with trying to remember if she’s still with John Mayer or is it Gerard Butler? Believe me, it’s much too stressful sitting next to a celebrity.

Which is why spas now have VIP spa suites, private rooms where the stars (and others who can afford it) can sneak in, get royally pampered and leave without the white-robed plebes in the waiting lounge being ever the wiser.

Desert Springs Resort in Palm Springs has two spa suites or sanctuaries as they call them. As the largest spa in southern California, it’s a good thing. Not only does it spare the A-list from having to deal with admiring fans, but it gives other customers the space to truly focus on their own bodies and needs.

Although no one’s admitting it, I have it on good authority that the largest of the two spa suites, ringing in at a massive 600-square-feet, is a favorite of Jennifer Lopez and Marc Anthony and has been rented by Oprah and the stars of the Housewives of Orange County.

It’s also perfect for girlfriend getaways, bachelorette parties and couple’s retreats. I recently spent the day at Spa Desert Springs in the very same suite. Staffed by a personal butler, the Sanctuary not only has a private entrance (a flag on the wooden double door indicated that no one else was allowed to disturb my party of nine girlfriends), but it has a private courtyard (allowing Howard Hughes-types unnoticed access to the resort’s two award-winning golf courses) and a tastefully decorated sitting room where we were served a luscious low-cal lunch. It has two adjoining (and private) treatment rooms, digitally programmable overhead rain showers, an indoor/outdoor fireplace, indoor and outdoor hot tubs, a wet bar and a flat-screen, high def TV. While no one’s about to ask for my autograph, I definitely felt like a star.

The spa itself, recently named to Conde Nast Traveler’s “Hot List,” rings in at 38,000-square feet with a whopping 47 treatment rooms. Part of Desert Springs recent $30 million renovation, the spa incorporates limestone and Brazilian walnut throughout. It has a gorgeous 10-foot waterfall adjacent to the check-in desk, Turkish-inspired hammams and uses products and treatments from the surrounding Sonoran Desert. Their signature treatment, the Desert Journey, is inspired by the scents of the desert in bloom.

Click here for more information on the spa and the JW Marriott Desert Springs Resort, located in the heart of California’s Coachella Valley.