Turkey holidays: Why Istanbul is a must-visit destination for James Bond fans

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Standing on the roof of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, one of the oldest and largest covered markets in the world, my guide steps confidently forward and announces, “We will be Bond Girls.”

Shuddering when I remember the scene where 007 actor Daniel Craig roars on a motorbike over the old rooftops in the movie Skyfall, I follow suit and walk carefully so as not to slide down a chimney. But my nervousness quickly disappears when I find myself mesmerized by the view over Istanbul. “Great, isn’t it?” says my guide.

I was on a weekend trip to discover this melting point of East and West, spanning Europe and Asia, an ancient and modern city with a cultural heritage derived from the Roman, Byzantine and Ottoman Empires.

License to captivate: Mail on Sunday's Claudia Joseph went to the roof of Istanbul's Grand Bazaar, which can be seen in Skyfall starring Daniel Craig

License to captivate: Mail on Sunday’s Claudia Joseph went to the roof of Istanbul’s Grand Bazaar, which can be seen in Skyfall starring Daniel Craig

Pictured is Craig as Bond in the Grand Bazaar.  In the opening scene, he is involved in a dramatic motorcycle chase

Pictured is Craig as Bond in the Grand Bazaar.  In the opening scene, he is involved in a dramatic motorcycle chase

Pictured is Craig as Bond in the Grand Bazaar. In the opening scene, he is involved in a dramatic motorcycle chase

I was determined to see some of Istanbul’s iconic sights and follow in the illustrious footsteps of no less 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 Skyfall from 2012.

My first port of call was the walled city of the former Constantinople, the capital of the Roman Empire under Constantine the Great. A cacophony of sounds of muezzins calling the faithful to prayer and a riot of colorful Turkish carpets 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 indoor Spice Market, both of which were locations for the high-speed car and motorcycle chase in the opening scene of Skyfall.

Claudia visited the Hagia Sophia, a cathedral converted into a mosque and featured in scenes From Russia With Love

Claudia visited the Hagia Sophia, a cathedral converted into a mosque and featured in scenes From Russia With Love

Claudia visited the Hagia Sophia, a cathedral converted into a mosque and part of a riveting chase during From Russia With Love

Turkish Treasure: A highlight of Claudia's trip was enjoying her eyes on the 19th-century Dolmabahce Palace

Turkish Treasure: A highlight of Claudia's trip was enjoying her eyes on the 19th-century Dolmabahce Palace

Turkish Treasure: A highlight of Claudia’s trip was enjoying her eyes on the 19th-century Dolmabahce Palace

An essential visit was the Hagia Sophia, built in 537 and the largest cathedral in Christianity until the Turks took Constantinople in 1453 and turned it into a mosque. It also features in a 007 movie, in a riveting car chase during From Russia With Love.

Other highlights included the ancient underground 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. If I had had more time, the Topkapi Palace from the 15th century would have been on my list. It is known for its beautiful 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 pit stop at Pandeli restaurant, which hosted the Queen and Duke of Edinburgh in 1971. Amid brilliant blue-tiled walls, we dined on exquisite oven-baked sea bass.

While the Royals stayed aboard the Royal Yacht Britannia during their visit to the city and Craig’s Bond checked in at the Park Hyatt, I stayed at the more cosmopolitan Shangri-La Bosphorus, a sister property to a hotel in London’s skyscraper The Shard.

Located on the European side of the Strait of Istanbul, the 186-room hotel is inspired by the Dolmabahce Palace and reflects the city’s mix of European, Asian and Turkish design, with marble walls, glittering chandeliers and cosmopolitan art.

For those wanting to experience the wow factor, the hotel has its own chauffeured Rolls-Royce Ghost limousine to transport guests around the city and “unlock the best of Istanbul.”

The all-day dining restaurant, IST TOO, has an outdoor terrace overlooking the Bosphorus, where you can laze for hours watching the ships sail by and sample mezzes and pides – traditional flatbreads and kebabs.

Claudia stayed at the Shangri-La Bosphorus, a sister property to a hotel in London's skyscraper The Shard

Claudia stayed at the Shangri-La Bosphorus, a sister property to a hotel in London's skyscraper The Shard

Claudia stayed at the Shangri-La Bosphorus, a sister property to a hotel in London’s skyscraper The Shard

But the flagship of the Shangri-La restaurant is the award-winning Shang Palace, where six chefs create an authentic Cantonese experience that rivals 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 beating, a dousing and a scrub, it ended with a relaxing massage with lavender oil, intended to restore ‘balance and harmony in body and mind’.

“Cleanliness is next to divinity,” my therapist joked as she walked me down the candlelit hallway. “It’s the entrance to heaven.” Mr Bond would certainly have approved.

TRAVEL FACTS

Claudia Joseph was a guest of Shangri-La Bosphorus. Deluxe rooms from £334 per night, based on two sharing and including breakfast on the Bosphorus (shangri-la.com). Return Turkish Airlines flights from Heathrow cost from £204 (turkishhairlines.com). City Tours with Turkey Travel & Events (g2o.com.tr/nl) costs from £75 per day, including Bosphorus trip.

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