A Turkish Delight: The Mardan Palace, Antalya
On first appearances, Antalya seems an unlikely place to build a $1.4 billion hotel. As you leave the airport, you’re confronted with sparse, typically Mediterranean countryside dotted with holiday homes, chain hotels and slightly down-at-heel shopping malls. Drive for 15 minutes though, and the scenery starts to change. The hotels become ever grander including some that are the answer to the question where does Las Vegas keep its spares? and then, suddenly, you spot the ornate, Versailles-like fencing of the Mardan Palace.
The fencing goes on for what seems like miles. Some of it surrounds the next stage of the project the Jack Nicklaus-designed golf course but the rest sends signals that the Mardan is going to be quite unlike anything else Turkey has ever seen which is, of course, exactly what it is. However, to say Mardan Palace is unique in Turkey doesn’t do it justice. Theres nothing like it in Europe. Theres nothing like it in the US. Hell, even Dubai at its most ostentatious struggles to match the sheer, brilliant insanity of Telman Ismailovs extraordinary hotel.
The story has it that Ismailov, a billionaire property dealer, loved Antalya so much he would visit every year. His butler, wondering about the annual expense, asked his employer why didn’t he just build his own place? So he did. Mind you, its doubtful the butler had this in mind when he made the suggestion. He was probably thinking charming family villa somewhere on the coast rather than, say, the 560 guest rooms, the 13,000sqm swimming pool, the four ballrooms, the 17 bars, the 10 restaurants, the 23,000sqm of marble, the crystal staircase, the 10,000sqm of gold leaf, the Wembley Stadium-sized lobby (a tribute to Istanbuls Dolmabahce Palace, apparently), the swim reef, the amphitheatre, the nightclub, the 2,000 displays created by the full-time florist and their staff of 25, the 9000 tonnes of imported Egyptian sand.
Subtle, then, isn’t a word that you’d associate with the Mardan Palace. But, however you feel about the logic of building a hotel of this gargantuan size in these recession-hit times, or the impact it has had and will continue to have on the areas ecosystem, it’s very hard to resist such a glorious, unashamedly over-the-top venture. Particularly when even your entry-level room includes the most comfortable bed I’ve ever slept on (with choice of pillows), a poolside balcony, free wifi and Hermes products in the cool marble bathroom. And even more so when they throw an opening party rumoured to be costing $58m and you’ve been invited. I’ll save the planet tomorrow. Tonight just pass the Beluga.
While Telman is keen to promote the sense of hospitality rather than the cost everybody is only interested in the money, the two go hand in hand at Mardan. One table laden with plates of appetisers including a heaped bowl of caviar would send the message of extreme wealth clearly enough. When there are 60 such tables, and 60 such bowls, in the shadow of a stage featuring celebrity hosts such as Sharon Stone, Seal, Richard Gere, Monica Bellucci and Paris Hilton… It’s eye-popping. As the husband of a caviar addict and very aware of what the annual Christmas 28g cost, I estimated that each bowl would set you back 8-10,000 in Selfridges. Multiply that by 60… and it’s still all but a mere detail for this most breathtaking of evenings.
The appetisers are whisked away to be replaced by the next of the gulp seven courses, accompanied by rivers of Dom Perignon (vintage 2000), Chateau Mouton Rothschild 2004 and Chablis Grand Cru Vaudesir 2003. The celebrity hosts give way to performances from Tom Jones, Mariah Carey and fireworks, lasers and aerial acrobatics – from the team who did the Beijing Olympic opening ceremony. And somehow, even as 600 jaws drop at the sheer spectacle, the show doesn’t overshadow the hotel itself.
While I’m not convinced by party compere Sharon Stones assurance that we’ve all come together to alleviate poverty (we haven’t) and that by being here we can make the world a better place (we can’t), it is, to be sure, a hell of a night, a celebration of hospitality unlike anything I’ve ever seen. Or, indeed, am likely to again. Well, not until the golf course opens anyway.