From A Room With A View in Florence to the Godfather in Sicily and The Italian Job in Rome,looks darned good on film…
For centuries, visitors have flocked to Italy for its good looks, and the attraction has been obvious for movie-makers as well.
Whether it’s small local films that have made it big internationally or big budget Hollywood productions dropping by, Italy’s photogenic cities and countryside have been the backdrop for numerous pieces of celluloid magic.
From mafia hideouts, Star Wars palaces and car stunts to Biblical reenactments, Italy has been the uncredited star of many classic scenes.
So for film fans wanting to take on a location pilgrimage, here’s the alternative Grand Tour…
The films: Roman Holiday and La Dolce Vita.
Roman Holiday was the original big location movie, with the Eternal City stealing scenes from Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
Peck’s charming reporter took Hepburn’s Princess Anne on a tour around Rome’s highlights, including the Spanish Steps (where Hepburn gets to grips with a gelato) and Castel Sant’Angelo. Originally built as Emperor Hadrian’s mausoleum, but now a museum, this is the backdrop for the scene where the pair dance on the river barges.
As for the key scene where the pair put their hands inside the ‘Mouth of Truth’, that can be replicated at the Basilica di Santa Maria in Cosmedin. Just be careful not to lie with your hand inside it…
To recreate the route, Understanding Rome offers three hour Roman Holiday-themed walking tours, costing 200 euros for up to four people.
The Trevi Fountain – where Peck tries to steal a child’s camera – also features in the other Rome-shot classic, La Dolce Vita. The crowds and security pretty much rule out your chances of wading into it, however.
Most of La Dolce Vita’s other locations – such as the Via Veneto and St Peter’s Square – were recreated inside the Cinecitta studio complex. Italian film lovers can delve further in on the newly launched behind-the-scenes tours for 20 euros.
Where to stay: Several La Dolce Vita scenes were shot in the Westin Excelsior.
Where to play: Julia Roberts eats at the Ristorante Santa Lucia (12 Lago Febo) in Eat Pray Love.
More info: www.turismoroma.it
The films: A Room With A View
A Room With A View did for Florence what Roman Holiday did for Rome – plenty of swoony cinematography, combined with the characters ticking off the tourist sites. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith start their trundle around the back lanes in the Piazza Santissima Annunziata, while Helena Bonham-Carter does the religious art tour thing inside the Santa Croce church.
The square where Bonham-Carter faints after witnessing a stabbing is the Piazza della Signoria, which gets an even more gruesome appearance in Hannibal – Dr Lecter bundles the crooked (and now disembowelled) cop out of the window of the Palazzo Vecchio.
Where to stay: The eponymous room with a view is at the Hotel de Gliorafi.
Where to play: The unfortunate inspector spies on Hannibal from the Rivoire café in Piazza della Signoria.
More info: www.firenzeturismo.it
The film: The Italian Job
The legendary Michael Caine heist movie saw Mini-induced gridlock in the streets of Turin, with the cars making it across the weir of the River Po and interrupting a wedding on the steps outside the Gran Madre di Dio church. The three car jump stunt was kept off-road, done instead on top of the city’s Fiat factory – now the Lingotto, a massive shopping and conference complex.
Where to stay: The four star NH Lingotto is inside the former Fiat factory.
Where to play: You can only get to Lingotto’s rooftop racetrack if you eat in the La Pista restaurant.
More info: www.turismotorino.org
The films: The Godfather Trilogy.
The quaintly medieval-looking villages of Forza d’Agro and Savoca were spliced together with editing magic to create the village of Corleone, where Michael goes into hiding during the first part of the Godfather trilogy. Savoca plays host to the church of Santa Lucia, where Michael gets married.
Local taxi drivers offer tours that take in both villages from popular beach holiday hub Taormina, charging 428 euros for up to seven people. Online bookings can be made via www.city-discovery.com.
For the site of the operatic bloodbath at the end of the Godfather III, head to the Teatro Massimo in Palermo. Lying on the steps, wailing about lost loved ones might get you some funny looks, however.
Where to stay: The Grand Hotel Timeo is Taormina’s top star hangout.
Where to play: Michael Corleone dines al fresco at Bar Vitelli (via Rina) in Savoca.
More info: www.thinksicily.com
The film: The Passion of the Christ
Matera has a look far detached from the modern world, with many people still living in sassi – stone houses dug out of the caves and cliffs.
It’s this distinctive, ancient look that attracted Mel Gibson when he needed somewhere to double as Jerusalem for The Passion of the Christ. The procession of the cross was filmed along Sasso Caveoso, which is home to numerous fresco-plastered rock churches. If you can pick just two to visit, make it the Santa Maria d’Idris and Santa Lucia alle Malve.
The real star, however is the sprawling monastic complex that takes up numerous caves. Inside it is yet another rock church – the San Nicola dei Greci. It’ll be familiar from the Last Supper scenes in the movie.
It’s worth getting a guided tour – official guides, bookable via www.sassiweb.com, have keys to a lot of the churches that ordinary visitors can’t access.
Where to stay: Mel Gibson stayed at the Albergo Italia.
Where to play: Baccanti (58 via Sant’Angelo) is the classiest cave cuisine option.
More info: www.discoverbasilicata.com
The film: Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade.
The likes of The English Patient and Heat have showcased Venice, but some of the most memorable scenes come in the third Indy movie.
The canals, of course, provided the backdrop for the obligatory boat chase sequence, but some of the key clues to the location of the Holy Grail are revealed in the church of San Barnaba in Campo San Barnaba. This is where he sees the X on the floor mosaic, and digs through to find the ancient knight’s tomb in the catacombs. There’s no such adventure inside the real church, alas – only the exterior was used in the filming.
Where to stay: Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie stayed at the Danieli in The Tourist.
Where to play: Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco features in The Talented Mr Ripley.
More info: en.turismovenezia.it
Porto Cervo, Sardinia.
The film: The Spy Who Loved Me.
This pseudo-Moorish hideout for the stinking rich in north-east Sardinia is the sort of place where the size of your yacht counts. Very Bond…
In the Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore and his lovely companion drive off the edge of a pier in Lotus Esprit, which into a gadget-laden submarine. Once all the evil henchmen divers are polished off with torpedoes and depth charges, the car emerges from the water and – much to the bemusement of the sunbathing tourists – drives onto Porto Cervo’s beach.
Where to stay: Bond stayed at the Hotel Cala di Volpe – although his bedroom was actually the temporarily refurbed piano bar.
Where to play: Rub up with the glitterati at Aqua Lounge inside the yacht club.
More info: www.sardegnaturismo.it
The film: A Quantum of Solace
When Bond returned to Italy in his Daniel Craig incarnation, it was to the narrow medieval streets of Siena. If 007 hadn’t spent his time being chased through the maze of tiny lanes, he could have paid better attention to the horse race that was going on in the background.
The Palio, which is held on July 2nd and August 16th every year, is more than just a normal horse race, however. For a start, it’s insanely dangerous. Jockeys representing the districts of the city race bareback around the Piazza Del Campo, the city’s main square, brushing against the sides of the buildings and often falling off.
It’s the pageantry that makes the event so special, though. There are costumed parades and street parties throughout the preceding week, while people cram sardine-style into the centre of the Piazza Del Campo hours before the race begins.
A word of warning: If you want to stay in Siena during the week of the Palio, bookings need to be made WAY in advance – the Bond movie increased the popularity of an already oversubscribed event.
Where to stay: The Palazzo Fani Mignanelli is in the heart of the old town.
Where to play: Osteria Le Logge (33 via del Porrione) is just off the Piazza del Campo.
More info: turismo.intoscana.it
The film: Life Is Beautiful.
When Roberto Benigni was filming his Oscar-winning holocaust tragi-comedy, he decided to stick to what he knew. For the first, decidedly lighter half of the film, he set the story in the city in which he grew up.
The sloping main square, Piazza Grande, is the most instantly recognisable spot – it’s where Benigni’s clownish character comes across his ‘Principessa’ for the second time. Just off the main square is Piaggia San Martino, where – much to Dora’s surprise – the key drops from the heavens (or at least the old woman on the top floor).
Where to stay: La Corte del Re is right by Piazza Grande.
Where to play: Caffe dei Constanti in Piazza San Francesco, fortunately, only had the ‘No Jews Or Dogs Allowed’ sign put on for the movie.
More info: www.apt.arezzo.it
The film: Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace.
The undoubted highlight point of Caserta, a short drive north of Naples, is the Palazzo Reale, which is more commonly known as La Reggia. Back in 1752, Charles of Bourbon decided that he wanted his own version of Versailles in , and set Neopolitan architect Luigi Vantivelli the task of creating something magnificently self-aggrandising.
With over 1,200 rooms, gigantic baroque staircases and huge, manicured gardens, that’s exactly what the rather vain ruler of Naples got. What he would not have expected was, two and a half centuries later, his palace becoming a pilgrimage site for Star Wars fans. It doubled as Queen Amidala’s luxurious royal residence in Naboo in both the Phantom Menace and Attack of the Clones.
Where to stay: The Grand Hotel Parkers in Naples has hosted the rich and famous on a regular basis since opening in 1870.
Where to play: Julia Roberts tucks into a slice at L’Antica Pizzeria da Michele (1 via Cesare Sersale) in Naples.
More info: www.incampania.com
This story was originally written for the Sun-Herald in.
All content copyright David Whitley.