License to cheer, Matera, Italy
The sight of James Bond driving up a steep road towards the rock city of Matera in southern Italy at the start of No Time to Die proved irresistible. While Bond was driving an Aston Martin, we arrived on the bus with a weather-stricken child. Like Bond, we checked into a cave hotel, the stylish Corte San Pietro, and meandered our way through the city’s maze of staircases and troglodyte dwellings. Then, just as disaster struck Bond in Cathedral Square, we had to give up sightseeing to look after our poor four-year-old. At least we got to try the gelato (excellent medicine for a sore throat) at the famous I Vizi degli Angeli – something poor 007 didn’t have time for.
Under normal circumstances Ireland
When young student lovers were stuck in lockdown two years ago, my boyfriend and I made a pact to follow the journey of Marianne and Connell’s relationship from the TV show Normal People by visiting the inspirational locations where they filmed as soon as possible became. We were not disappointed. We started on Sligo seafront, strolling hand in hand against the backdrop of the stunning Benbulben mountain. It could have been Cape Town! We then drove to Wicklow Mountains National Park to see the beautiful Palladian mansion that also served as Marianne’s home in the series. We ended our trip in Dublin with a walk around the beautiful Trinity College: cool madness!
A great Budapest adventure, Dresden
A trip to Dresden in search of the filming locations of Wes Anderson’s masterpiece The Grand Budapest Hotel began at the palatial Zwinger complex. Its baroque buildings provide the backdrop for a sinister Willem Dafoe who pursues Jeff Goldblum, which memorably ends with Goldblum losing his fingers. But the highlight was Pfunds Molkerei, a chic dairy with intricate hand-painted decorations that doubles as Mendl’s Bakery in the film. It holds the coveted Guinness World Record title of “Most Beautiful Dairy Shop in the World”. Its fresh milk is delicious, and who would have thought there was sage derby cheese in Saxony?
Finding Atonement at the White Cliffs, East Sussex
While atonement is as beautiful as it is devastating, I immediately wanted to visit the site of Cecilia and Robbie’s idyllic seaside cottage. After extensive research, I took my boyfriend on a hiking weekend in East Sussex. We started in Seaford and walked the Seven Sisters Trail which eventually takes you to Eastbourne. Along the way you will pass Cuckmere Haven where you will find the Coastguard Cottages. I was absolutely blown away by the scenery. There’s something so quintessentially British about the landscape of chalk cliffs, pebble beaches and cottages. I immediately felt transported back to the film.
A spiritual experience in western Ireland
Head to Ireland’s County Clare and follow in the footsteps of Father Ted, Mrs Doyle, Father Jack and Father Dougal. A multitude of heavenly sights along this stretch of the Atlantic coast formed the backdrop to the programme. From Doolin, take a ferry to Inisheer, the Aran Island masquerading as Craggy Island in the opening credits. Visit the barren Burren where Father Paul was struck by lightning while playing mini golf, or the Aillwee Caves where Victor Meldrew is chased by Dougal. How about the majestic Cliffs of Moher where Father Jack takes his daily constitution? Or the expansive sandy beach of Lahinch, where Bishop Brennan hangs out? In the area’s many good pubs, you might even meet some of the many locals playing extras.
Journey to the Promised Land, Łódź, Poland
Andrzej Wajda’s epic film The Promised Land drew me to Łódź, Poland’s version of Manchester. Izrael Poznański, the “King of Cotton”, was the inspiration for the film, in which the oppressive conditions of the workers contrast with the opulent lifestyle of the greedy owners. Its former factory, a Gothic brick cathedral for cotton weaving, has been repurposed to house a mix of trendy shops, cafes and cinemas – much like Ancoats! The eclectic mix of Poles, Jews and Germans of the pre-war period is gone, but the museums and cemeteries, particularly the Poznanski Mausoleum, bear witness to these exuberant times of industrial and social revolution. A fascinating place two hours from Warsaw.
The good, the bad, and the stunning Spanish desert
I did a double take as the bus passed a familiar mountain shape. Unknowingly, I had entered Sergio Leone’s “spaghetti western” land, also known as the Tabernas Desert in Almeria, Spain – the setting for big hits like The Good, the Bad and The Ugly. To find out more, I returned with my son to visit Fort Bravo, a still-busy Wild West frontier town and Mexican Pueblo movie set. A hilarious, memorable day included armed cowboys, deafening mock gunfire in a saloon bar, charging horses, and a sandblasted Hall of Fame gallery where we tucked an autographed portrait of David Beckham (who filmed a Sky TV commercial there) between numerous Mexican soaps discovered stars.
Two countries for the price of one, Sweden and Denmark
In the acclaimed Scandi Noir The Bridge, British viewers were dazzled by the ease with which the characters crossed Øresund, Europe’s longest road/rail bridge, to continue the chase in another country. It may not be that quick (about 20 minutes by train) but the structure is something special. The artificial island in the middle cannot be visited; It is a paradise for migratory birds. Although nothing has been actively planted, some rare plants have found their way there (car windows? bird droppings?). For those who are inclined, a visit to Øresund can tick two countries off your list, including a capital with all it has to offer!
An In-Tent Horror Pilgrimage, Wismar, Germany
Nosferatu: A Symphony of Horror was filmed in Lübeck and Wismar in 1921. Count Orlok arrives in a coffin on what appears to be an abandoned schooner in the fictional port of Wisborg and begins his bloodthirsty work. Almost 100 years later, I wandered the back streets of Wismar in search of the Gothic arch leading to the docks that framed a promotional photo of Max Schreck playing the evil count. I was suitably cold and wet – it was a late September afternoon on the Baltic coast, but I found it. I trembled and returned by train to camp in a deserted field outside of Schwerin, wishing I had stayed in a hotel.
winning tip: A galaxy far, far away… by train to Norway
Leave cosmopolitan Norway behind and enter another galaxy with the Bergen Railway. At the highest point of Norway’s rail network is the village of Finse, better known to many as Hoth from The Empire Strikes Back. I can see why they chose it, with frozen lakes and highland walks in year-round snow on the tranquil, stunning Hardangervidda plateau. What more could an intrepid adventurer on an alien ice planet want? And what more could these A-list stars ask for than the stylish Finse 1222 Hotel, which sits at almost the same elevation as the summit of Ben Nevis? Just make sure to dress up in your best Jedi robes.