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Big-screen connections

It must be a great job, working as location scout for a film production company, travelling around the world looking for the perfect place to film scenes. The regions our holidays visit have provided the backdrop for many a film over the last few decades, not least the fairy-tale castle of Neuschwanstein in Bavaria, which served as Baron Bomburst’s residence in the film Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Here are a few more…
  • Set during a cholera epidemic in the 1830s, Horseman on the Roof (based on Le Hussard sur le Toit by Jean Giono and starring Juliette Binoche) is the story of an Italian nobleman trying to raise money so that he and his compatriots can rise up against the Austrians. His travels around Provence, avoiding not only cholera-stricken towns but also the Austrian militia, mean the film showcases classic Provençale landscapes around towns such as Forcalquier – a suitably romantic backdrop for the love affair that develops between the main characters.
  • Travel to Almería today and all is calm, but this wasn’t the case in the early 1960s, when the cast and crew of Lawrence of Arabia came to film many of the most famous scenes from the true-life story of the British officer (played by Peter O’Toole) who wanted the tribes of Arabia to unite and drive out the Turks from the Middle East during WWI. The film-makers came here because this remote region is more reminiscent of North Africa than Spain, with desert-like scenery and reddish hills. Boasting Europe’s driest, sunniest climate, it is perfect for an autumn or winter walking holiday.
  • If, Christmas after Christmas, you’ve watched The Sound of Music and wondered where the opening aerial shots were filmed, the answer is the Salzkammergut, Austria’s glorious lake district to the east of Salzburg. One of the castles is that of Fuschl am See, a tranquil village that is every bit as beautiful under a blanket of snow, and a great base for winter walking.
  • Broken Embraces is a modern tragedy: a wealthy businessman’s beautiful wife (played by Penelope Cruz) falls for a film director and together they flee from the vengeful husband to Lanzarote. Their new life together is cut short, however, by a car accident which kills Cruz’s character and blinds her lover. The dark side of the story is reflected by the black volcanic soil of Lanzarote, but what the film doesn’t show is the range of other colours in the hauntingly beautiful landscape: red shale, orange cliffs, pale green lichens, whitewashed villages, green palms, a turquoise sea...
  • Since Stealing Beauty is all about an American teenager (played by Liv Tyler) who goes to spend time with her deceased mother’s artistic friends in a Tuscan villa, director Bertolucci could hardly have chosen anywhere but Tuscany for the actual filming, given the region’s distinctive beauty. This coming-of-age story was filmed in the timeless countryside near Siena, as were the exterior shots around the chapel where Juliette Binoche nurses Ralph Fiennes’ English Patient.
  • A suitably striking backdrop was chosen for the crucifixion scenes in The Passion of the Christ : the limestone ridges of Matera in southern Italy. In the close-ups, you can see openings in the cliff. These are not holes per se, but doorways – Matera is a remarkable town which has literally been hewn from the rock and comprises thousands of sassi cave dwellings and frescoed churches. It has to be seen to be believed, and you can do just that on our cycling holiday in Basilicata, or our journey by car through Puglia.
  • So spectacular is Aït Benhaddou, whose collection of kasbahs and houses are seemingly precariously stacked one on top of the other up the hillside, that scenes from films such as The Living Daylights, Lawrence of Arabia, Sodom and Gomorrah, The Jewel of the Nile, and Gladiator have been shot here. (In the latter, it served as the African town where Russell Crowe’s Maximus is sold into slavery.) This UNESCO-protected site is one of many cultural treasures on our Best of Morocco holiday, which also features a memorable night under canvas in the sub-Saharan dunes.
  • Fittingly for a film all about an English monarch, Elizabeth was filmed at several locations across England. To those familiar with its distinctive silhouette, the castle by the beach is instantly recognisable as Bamburgh, and you can enjoy the romantic views across the sand to the castle for yourself on our Holy Island & the Northumberland Coast walk. Another, very different castle, the somewhat forbidding-looking Castle Bolton, was used for other scenes in the film, and this features on another of our walking breaks in the UK: the Classic Yorkshire Dales.

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