One of my favourite ways to relax is to spend two hours escaping in to the world of a movie. I want to be where the action takes place – see the river crossing, stand in the castle courtyard, breathe in the salty air of the beach. I watch until the end of the credits to find out where I can visit the settings for myself, and my travel list quickly builds up!
Once I’ve been there, I never watch the movie in the same way again. Now I know more about the scene – I remember the sound of the waterfall, how the sand gave way under my feet, the wrong turn I took on the drive to get there. More often than not, re-watching the movie makes me long to return to the destination.
Here are ten films that have either inspired my travels or had me racing to my computer to watch the movie just for the chance to see how it showcased the location I’d just visited.
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves (1991)
ENGLAND: Alnwick Castle, Sycamore Gap, Aysgarth Falls
Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves was one of my favourite movies growing up, and when Alnwick Castle and Sycamore Gap both came up as day trip options when I was visiting Edinburgh, I knew I had to book myself in. Time restrictions meant that I had to choose between one or the other, and the castlephile in me jumped at the chance to go to Alnwick Castle, which served a minor role in the film (they have a framed arrow from the movie hanging on the wall in the castle garden’s gift shop).
I was back in the UK a year later with the freedom of a hire car, determined to tick more Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves film locations off of my bucket list. My next location was the tree along Hadrian’s Wall where on his way home to Nottingham from fighting in the Crusades, Robin first meets Guy of Gisborne. Despite spending hours scouring the Internet working out how to get to Sycamore Gap, when we parked at Steel Rigg Car Park and slowly edged our way along Hadrian’s Wall, the howling wind and darkening skies almost made us turn back without seeing the tree. Luckily, as I peered over the wall down into the next valley, there was Sycamore Gap!
Travelling through the Lakes District from Penrith to York offered up two waterfalls from the movie. The inn that charges admission to see Hardraw Force was locked up when we visited. We had more success at Aysgarth Falls, where Robin and Little John’s fight was filmed, and spent an hour exploring the Upper, Lower and Middle Falls.
SCOTLAND: The Quiraing, Isle of Skye
Stardust is one of my favourite films. Adapted from the novel by Neil Gaiman, it sees Tristan Thorne setting out on a quest to bring back a fallen star to prove his love to shallow Victoria, while evading murderous princes out to gain themselves a throne, and witches seeking eternal youth by capturing the star for themselves.
The countryside of Stormhold, the fantastical land in Stardust, looked so stunning that I assumed it was all CGI. I only discovered it was real when my Scottish tour guide mentioned the Quiraing might seem familiar as Stardust had been filmed there. And now, re-watching the film, I can see the deep emerald green of the Scottish Highlands and the Quiraing on the Isle of Skye, and the beauty of the ice washed up along the beach at Jökulsárlón.
The Hunchback of Notre Dame (1996)
FRANCE: Notre-Dame de Paris
The Disney version of The Hunchback of Notre-Dame introduced me to the story of Quasimodo and his life up in the belltowers of Notre-Dame de Paris. While the cathedral itself is beautiful, with its rose windows and sculpture, climbing up to the towers into Quasimodo’s world to visit the gargoyles and chimera (and to see one of the best views of Paris) was what inspired me to make visiting Notre Dame a must.
The Phantom of the Opera (2004)
FRANCE: Palais Garnier
The 2004 cinematic version of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical The Phantom of the Opera made me determined to visit the Palais Garnier, the Parisian Opera House that the phantom was rumoured to haunt. Although a tour of the ornate Palais Garnier doesn’t take you to the underground lake where the Phantom made his home, it does play on the popularity of The Phantom of the Opera with a plaque naming Box 5 as belonging to the Phantom.
Monty Python and the Holy Grail (1975)
SCOTLAND: Doune CastleMonty Python and the Holy Grail is my favourite of all the Python films – and most of it was filmed at Doune Castle. Some friends had told me that Doune Castle in Scotland was the castle from the “French Taunters” scene, and I was so excited to be there that I skipped around in front of the castle pretending to clap coconut halves together, while imagining French guards taunting us from the top of the castle with a giant wooden rabbit lurking just out of sight in the woods. It was only after re-watching the DVD when I came home that I realised that most of the movie was filmed in and around Doune Castle!
The Secret Life of Walter Mitty (2013)
In The Secret Life of Walter Mitty, Walter spends his routine life only daydreaming about being adventurous, until one day his sense of loyalty takes him on a quest through Greenland, Iceland and the Himalayas. The movie shows off the stunning Icelandic scenery, and made me long to go back and spend more time in one of my favourite countries explore Iceland’s fjords, waterfalls and volcanoes!
Moulin Rouge! (2001)
Baz Luhrmann’s movie about a disinherited writer who falls in love with a courtesan while writing a play to be staged in the Moulin Rouge was my introduction to one of the most well-known nightclubs in Montmartre. The Moulin Rouge, with the red windmill that gives it its name, looks its best all lit up at night.
The Sound of Music (1965)
The Austrian town of Salzburg serves as the backdrop to much of The Sound of Music. There’s even a Sound of Music tour that will take you to many of the filming locations. I preferred to walk around Salzburg’s Old Town, and to spend time relaxing in the Mirabell Gardens, with Do Re Mi playing in my head!
The Monuments Men (2014)
In The Monuments Men, a group of museum curators and art historians are tasked with saving priceless art from being stolen and destroyed by the Nazis in World War II. In the film, one of the Monuments Men dedicates himself to defending Michaelangelo’s Madonna and Child. I’d never heard about the statue before, and wanting to learn more, I took the opportunity to see the master’s work at the Onze-Lieve-Vrouwekerk in Bruges.
The movie brought home to me how important it is to preserve our artistic heritage. Standing in front of the Madonna and Child, I thought about how it and other masterpieces could have been lost forever if not for the men who risked their lives to ensure the safety of thousands of artworks during the second World War so that I could visit them today.
Ever After (1998)
Ever After, an updated take on the Cinderella story, is responsible for my love of French chateaux and interest in French Renaissance history during the reigns of Francis I and Henry II. Though I’ve yet to visit the Dordogne, where Château de Hautefort, Château de Beynac, and other locations from the movie, are located (they’re on my list!), I have visited the real castles lived in by the historical Francis and Henry, including Château de Chambord, Château de Fontainebleau and the Louvre.
Which films have inspired you to travel? Share them in the comments!