Standing on the roof of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, my tour guide strides confidently ahead, announcing: ‘We will be Bond girls.’
Shuddering as I remember the scene in which 007 actor Daniel Craig roars on a motorbike over the ancient rooftops in the film Skyfall, I follow suit, treading gingerly so that I don’t slide down a chimney stack. But my nervousness soon disappears as I find myself mesmerised by views over Istanbul. ‘Amazing, isn’t it?’ says my guide.
I was on a weekend break to expore this melting point of East and West straddling Europe and Asia, an ancient and modern city with a cultural heritage derived from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman empires.
Licence to thrill: The Mail on Sunday’s Claudia Joseph headed to the roof of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, which features in Skyfall starring Daniel Craig
Pictured is Craig as Bond in the Grand Bazaar. The opening scene see hims involved in a dramatic motorbike chase
I was determined to see some of Istanbul’s iconic sights and follow in the illustrious footsteps of no fewer than three James Bonds – Sean Connery in 1963’s From Russia With Love, Pierce Brosnan in 1999’s The World Is Not Enough and Craig in 2012’s Skyfall.
My first port of call was to the walled city of the former Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great. A cacophony of sound of muezzins calling the faithful to prayer and a riot of colourful Turkish carpets jostled with silk abayas and glazed pottery as we walked through the entrance – Istanbul is truly one of the few places in the world that touches all your senses.
The 15th Century maze of shops in the Grand Bazaar and Eminonou Square gave way to fragrant displays in the covered Spice Market, both of which were locations for the high-speed car and motorbike chase in Skyfall’s opening scene.
Claudia visited Hagia Sophia, a cathedral converted into a mosque, that features in a riveting foot chase during From Russia With Love
Turkish treasure: A highlight of Claudia’s trip was feasting her eyes on the 19th Century Dolmabahce Palace
An essential visit was to the Hagia Sophia, built in 537 and the greatest cathedral in Christendom until the Turks took Constantinople in 1453 and turned it into a mosque. It also features in a 007 film, in a riveting foot chase during From Russia With Love.
Other highlights were the ancient subterranean Serefiye Cistern and the 19th Century Dolmabahce Palace, built by the Ottoman Sultan Abdulmejid I for five million gold lira, the equivalent of $1.9 billion today. It houses the largest collection of Bohemian and Baccarat crystal chandeliers in the world. Given more time, the 15th Century Topkapi Palace would have been on my list. It’s renowned for its exquisite Iznik tiles and Ottoman carving as well as an emerald-encrusted dagger made famous in the 1964 heist film Topkapi.
But we did make a pitstop at the Pandeli restaurant, which played host to the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh in 1971. Amid brilliant blue-tiled walls we dined on exquisite oven-baked sea bass.
While the Royals stayed on board the Royal Yacht Britannia during their visit to the city, and Craig’s Bond checked in to the Park Hyatt, I stayed at the more cosmopolitan Shangri-La Bosphorus, a sister hotel to one in The Shard skyscraper in London.
Located on the European side of the Strait of Istanbul, the 186-room hotel is inspired by the Dolmabahce Palace and echoes the city’s mixture of European, Asian and Turkish design, with marble walls, glittering chandeliers and cosmopolitan art.
For those who want to experience the wow factor, the hotel has its own Rolls-Royce Ghost limousine with a chauffeur to take guests around the city and ‘unlock the best of Istanbul’.
Its all-day restaurant, IST TOO, has an outdoor terrace which overlooks the Bosphorus, where you can idle away the hours watching ships cruise past and sample mezzes and pides – traditional flatbreads and kebabs.
Claudia stayed at the Shangri-La Bosphorus, a sister hotel to one in The Shard skyscraper in London
But the Shangri-La’s showpiece restaurant is the award-winning Shang Palace, where six chefs create an authentic Cantonese experience to rival anywhere in the world.
Another luxurious treat at Shangri-La was a visit to CHI, The Spa, for a traditional Turkish bath, or hammam. After a pummeling, a dousing and a scrubbing, it ended with a relaxing massage with lavender oil, designed to restore ‘balance and harmony to the mind and body’.
‘Cleanliness is next to godliness,’ my therapist joked as she walked me along the candlelit hallway. ‘It’s the entrance to Heaven.’ Mr Bond surely would have approved.