Travel & Film
Can movies manage to capture a location so perfectly that you feel as if you’ve been dropped into another locale? Or actually inspire you to travel to a place you’d never thought of visiting? Six Travel Experts share their favorite Destination Films: Susan Farewell (Farewell Travels), Lola Akinmade Åkerström (Geotraveler’s Niche), Chad Klyne (Chefs Run Wild), Zoë Dawes (The Quirky Traveller), Jeff Titelius (EuroTravelogue) and Marla Norman (Travel Curious Often)
While I’m not a member of a royal family, there’s a part of me that has always identified with Karen von Blixen, the Danish Baroness who wrote an autobiography (using the pen name Isak Dinesen) that the 1985 movie Out of Africa was loosely based on.
The film beautifully portrays her life in what was then British East Africa (now Kenya), as the owner of a coffee plantation. While it took place in the colonial times, the landscape of Africa it captured still exists today in many African countries. I’ve seen it in Kenya, in parts of Botswana and South Africa—just to name a few. The movie also provides a window into the life of the African people who were a part of the author’s world there. They too, can be found today. On trips to Africa, my life has been deeply touched by the locals I have had the opportunity to spend time with.
How I most identify with the Baroness is her making a world that’s largely different from her native land, temporarily her home. That’s how I like to travel. I am not motivated to go to every country in the world. I prefer to travel to fewer places but stay for longer lengths of time or return to destinations over and over again. It is then that I feel I know the land and the people—at least as best I can as a visitor.
Susan Farewell is a travel journalist, author and owner of Farewell Travels, a travel design firm based in Westport, CT. A former travel editor at Condé Nast, she has contributed to numerous publications. She has also written for newspapers, including The New York Times. Susan is the author and co-author of several books including Quick Escapes from New York City, and Hidden New England.
LOLA AKINMADE ÅKERSTRÖM
I’m a huge sucker for period pieces that weave in tons of history and swash-buckling adventure across remote regions of the world. From Indiana Jones adventures and films based on historical Greek mythology and Roman empires, to English classics like Jane Eyre.
One of my favorite movies is The English Patient. Adapted from Michael Ondaatje’s award-winning novel set during World War II, the English Patient transports you across continents – from Italian countrysides to North African deserts – while unraveling an enduring love story fueled by the unbelievable chemistry between actors Ralph Fiennes and Kristin Scott Thomas.
My top actor remains Daniel Day-Lewis and I’m a fan of the Last of the Mohicans which takes place in colonial-US. While the undercurrents of the movie are culturally sensitive – the invading of Native American land by the British and French – the overall movie transports me back to when the Eastern USA was still wild and largely unexplored.
Another movie I could watch over and over again is The Ghost & The Darkness, which is set in Tsavo, Kenya, and chronicles the tale of lions that kept attacking railroad workers as they built the African Uganda-Mombasa Railway back in the 1800s.
My first introduction to pure eye-candy Gerard Butler was through his role as “Attila” in Attila the Hun, one of the most feared historical warriors back under the first century (between 434-453) who fought against the spread of the Roman empire across the Balkans and Eastern Europe including modern-day Hungary.
My husband and I are huge James Bond fans. We own the entire box-set and have watched every single one at least twice to point out various silly one-liners, bad acting by the villains, and odd editing mistakes in older versions of the films, but mostly to journey along with Bond as he travels through various cosmopolitan European cities. Another way of armchair traveling for us when we can’t hit the road ourselves.
Lola Akinmade Åkerström has written, photographed, and dispatched from six continents for various major publications around the world such as National Geographic Traveler, BBC, CNN, Travel + Leisure, Matador Network, and many more. See her portfolio and interviews at Geotraveler’s Niche.
As much as Lost in Translation has inspired us to go traveling, we still haven’t been to Japan. But on the other hand, it has opened our eyes to the excitement of visiting a new country where in some parts they can’t speak a lick of English.
But trying to communicate through sign language is half the fun, it is challenging but at the same time, being out of your comfort zone is what makes it exhilarating. Sometimes you need to get lost to find out where you are going…
Bangkok Dangerous – Worst movie EVER! But it had over the top cheesy, stereotypical shots of Bangkok which was hilarious and one of our favorite cities in the world.
The Goonies – One of the best travel and adventure movies ever made. It inspires young people to get out and experience someplace new and just makes you want to travel.
The Wrestler – This movie has nothing to do with traveling, but it seems to leave you with a feeling of “I gotta get out of here!” We watched this movie in Vientiene, Laos one night and it actually gave us motivation not to go home but to keep on traveling. The depressing scenes with the quiet towns and empty parking lots reminded us of some places back home and it motivated us to keep going with our series which is what made it a success.
Chad Klyne, along with Clayton Klyne and Lyndon Wiebe, are Chefs Run Wild. Canadians who ditched their day jobs to search for edible explorations in Asia, the adventurous chefs are featured on Nat Geo across all of Asia, Italy, Finland and Canada’s Cottage Life and Radx networks. The trio has also won the Taste Television award for best food and travel series on the web in 2010, 2011, 2012 and 2014.
What a treat to be asked to choose my favourite travel films – and how difficult. So many have made their mark in one way or another – Casablanca, Roman Holiday, Born Free, Dr Zhivago, Don’t Look Now, and Slumdog Millionaire – all showcasing the country they are set in, with a journey literal and often metaphorical. Here are three that represent Quirky Travel.
Chocolat – When wanderer Vianne Rocher (Juliette Bonoche) and her six year old daughter are wind-blown into an uptight little French village, she turns it upside down. Opening a shop selling the most delicious chocolates, she magically transforms the inhibited and emotionally repressed villagers into passionate and empowered individuals. She falls in love with a river gypsy (Johnny Depp) and manages to break through the barrier of local prejudice to heal old wounds and mend broken hearts. I love the themes of this film with its Gallic emphasis on food and sensual pleasure linked to guilt and religious intolerance, where love and goodness prevail. I also probably see a little of Vianne in myself – a bit of an outsider, travelling where the wind blows, touching lives and moving on … until one day it’s time to stop and enjoy the simple pleasures in life.
Mama Mia – I thought this would just be ‘another musical’, not a film genre I especially enjoy. But I love it. Set on an idyllic Greek island, the simple plot of a young girl, about to get married, searching for her real father, is wittily told via the songs of one of the world’s most famous pop groups, ABBA.
Once again starring the inimitable Meryl Streep, I love the beautiful Greek scenery, the great cast of characters, the quirky villagers sending up the traditional Greek chorus, the witty dialogue and the sheer exuberance all. Plus, having spent four of the most fun-filled years of my life living in Greece, I can relate to a lot of it!
The Way – When his son dies on the first day of a journey along “El Camino de Santiago,” a father decides to make the pilgrimage himself, all the way from France to the Spanish coast. He and his fellow pilgrims all have their own challenges which, with humour and courage, their journey helps them to overcome. Sensitively directed by Emilio Estevez, who also has a role as the son, Martin Sheen (Emilio’s father in reality) brings a depth and poignancy to role; we see him finally acknowledge his son’s uniqueness, values and most importantly, the difference between “the life we live and the life we choose”.
These films sum up so many aspects of Quirky Travel: travelling with eyes wide open, being open to new cultures and different viewpoints, seeing places and meeting people that cause us to question our own beliefs, reminders of the beauty of nature and the innate joy and wonder of travel – in mind, body and spirit.
Zoë Dawes, The Quirky Traveller is a travel writer based in northwest England. She was awarded Britain’s Best Travel Blogger in 2011, Top 50 Online Travel Influencers, Top 25 Travel Blogs, Top 20 Most Inspiring Travel Blogs 2010.
Watching James Bond drive along the Adriatic coast in Casino Royale, I realized I had to get to Montenegro as quickly as possible. I never found a casino, but the scenery, seafood, and ancient buildings were far better than anything Hollywood could have ever dreamed up.
Traveling in Southeast Asia, I often felt as if I’d wandered into a scene straight out of Indochine. Checking into old French-Colonial hotels and seeing stacks of baguettes on sale at every street corner, I half expected Catherine Deneuve and Vincent Perez to join me for an apertif.
More recently, I’ve discovered a way to escape to Rome, via the marvelous BBC production Zen, starring Rufus Sewell. The series, is based on the detective thrillers by Michael Dibdin and was shot entirely on location. I feel as if I’m walking the streets of the “Eternal City,” lounging at a sidewalk cafe enjoying la dolce vita like a local.
When asked to write about movies that inspire me to travel, only a 100 or so come to mind…but I exaggerate. Regardless, with so many to choose from, how do I narrow down the list? How do I choose from among so many stars in the heavens, so to speak? If I wrote about all of them, it would be an article of epic proportions so I focused on tying them together under one theme.
At heart, I am a hopeless romantic and so it is this underlying thread of romance that weaves together my favorite movies that not only inspired me to travel but are brimming with romance—romance between the characters, literary romance in the writing and the visual romance of captivating landscapes, magnificent architecture and fascinating cultures. Our tour begins with “un segno” that leads to Cortona and then we step back in time to the golden age of Hollywood for a spin around Rome. From there, we go in search of romance in Verona and Tuscany. To wrap it all up, we land in the City of Light for a nostalgic trip to the past. So, let’s go to the movies!
Under the Tuscan Sun: Need I say more?! Topping my list is a movie that has transformed the Tuscan landscape forever and thrust into the limelight a relatively unknown hilltop town of Cortona—“Under the Tuscan Sun.” Drastically different from its written counterpart but just as brilliant, the movie is filled with romance of all types as we follow the courageous journey of a woman who finds herself purchasing a villa in Tuscany after a string of fortuitous events.
Walking in the footsteps of our endearing protagonist France Mayes (played by Diane Lane), we begin after a bitter divorce in San Francisco and follow her to a picturesque hilltop town of Cortona where she purchases an Italian villa; suffers buyer’s remorse, quite hilariously I might add; and slowly puts together a life she’s wished for since her arrival.
Throughout the movie, we follow Mayes’ journey to historic Rome, a rainy day in Florence, flag throwing in Siena, breathtaking scenery along the Amalfi coast and finally to the medieval hilltop town of Cortona where she settles in at last.
At the end, she reflects on how her life has come together and how she’s gotten everything she’s wished for. Then the proverbial icing on the cake—she meets her Ed. Under the Tuscan Sun is filled with all the things we love about Tuscany from its scenic rolling hills and historic towns to its rich cultures and flavorful food—ah, this sweet romance of Italy will surely have you suffering from wanderlust by its end!
My second movie takes us back to the golden age of Hollywood—on a Roman Holiday, with unforgettable performances by Gregory Peck and Audrey Hepburn as Joe Bradley and Princess Ann. We follow Peck, a reporter working in Rome, on his assignment to cover a story on the visiting Princess who, frustrated with the daily pressures of her public life, decides to leave her stately palace. Bradley rescues our sleeping-induced beauty from a park bench and from there; we embark on a Roman holiday.
From the Spanish Steps and Trevi Fountain to the Vatican and Castel Sant’Angelo, we follow Bradley and Princess Ann or “Anya,” her assumed name for traveling incognito, throughout the eternal city. And Anya is played with such believability and childlike innocence that you sometimes you forget she’s acting. This is especially true during my favorite scene when she and Peck happen upon the “Mouth of Truth.” According to legend, the mouth bites off the hands of liars, and since Princess Ann has not disclosed herself to Peck and vice versa, Anya is afraid to insert her hand. Then Bradley inserts his and when he withdraws his sleeve with missing hand, she delivers a performance that is so genuine and honest, it’s truly magical.
We fall in love with Rome as they fall in love with each other only to find ourselves at the end when we realize along with our characters, that they could never live happily ever after. Although filmed in black and white, the cinematography seduces us with the glorious sights of Rome and once again, awakens the sleepy wanderlust within us all to visit the eternal city.
True love and sacrifice are at the heart of our next adventure that takes us to the land of Juliet Capulet and her Romeo—Verona, Italy. In Letters to Juliet, we meet not one, but two Juliets who are destined to be with their Romeos despite the obstacles along the way.
We follow Sophie (Amanda Seyfried), a fact checker with New Yorker magazine, on her pre-marital honeymoon to Verona with her fiancé Victor, (Gael García Bernal), who is more consumed with wines and truffles than Sophie. While Victor works, Sophie wanders through Verona and stumbles upon Juliet’s legendary balcony, the Casa di Giulietta located at 23 Via Cappello in Verona [and yes you can actually visit the balcony and a statue of the 13-year-old Juliet in the courtyard, even write a letter if you wish].
Once there, she discovers written letters addressed to Juliet by women from around the world appealing for Juliet’s help and guidance. While Sophie is assisting the “Secretaries of Juliet” one evening, she uncovers an unanswered letter written by a desperate Claire (Vanessa Redgrave), from 50 years ago that explained of her desperate times and her love for Lorenzo. Sophie answers Claire and the two end up meeting there in Juliet’s courtyard.
Claire, escorted by her grandson Charlie (Chris Egan), and Sophie set out to find Claire’s Lorenzo and our sublime tour through Tuscany woos us with the classic Tuscan countryside, hilltop towns of Siena and Montalcino, and a few lavish Italian villas as well. In their quest for Lorenzo, something unexpected happens and romance sparks between Sophie and Charlie that ultimately leads to their union. When all hope appears lost, a serendipitous detour on the way to the airport reunites our Claire and Lorenzo after 50 years and it’s happily ever after for all.
While romance is at the heart of Midnight in Paris, it’s more of a nostalgic and literary romance than a physical romance that captivates and draws us into the film. Woody Allen’s brilliant script is filled with the romance of days gone by, plus the visual romance of present-day Paris. From the Eiffel Tower and Notre Dame to its centuries-old architecture and walks in the rain, Allen woos us with his romantic visions of Parisian perspectives from its past to its present; thus fueling my wanderlust yet again with so strong a desire to pack my bags and depart for the City of Light!
We follow our protagonist Gil (Owen Wilson), on his voyage to Paris with his cynical fiancée Inez (Rachel McAdams), and her haughty parents who are visiting Paris on business. Through a series of extraordinary circumstances, Gil steps back in time to the roaring 1920s where he comes face to face with his heroes including Cole Porter, Zelda and F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Picaso, Dali, among others—who have driven his desire to return to this “golden age.”
Between the past and present, Gil falls in love with his 1920s Adriana while his present-day relationship with Inez crumbles and yet his love affair with the past continues to consume him. While in the 1920s, he and Adriana are invited to a more distant past, to Adriana’s “golden age” or what we know as the Belle Époch of the last 19th century. Here, we drop in on Maxim’s Paris and meet Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Edgar Degas and Paul Gauguin, another set of extraordinary encounters that fuels Gil’s love affair with the past. It’s not until Adriana chooses to remain behind in her “golden age” that Gil has a revelation—life must be lived in the present and not the past. In the end, Gil leaves his Inez and decides to remain in present-day Paris with a budding romance beginning to bloom.
That’s a wrap on my top movies that inspired me to seek out many a romantic travel adventure to appease my insatiable wanderlust. What classics inspire you to travel?
Jeff Titelius is a freelance travel writer whose goal is to travel the world with journal and camera in hand and bring those journeys to life on his EuroTravelogue website. Inspired by storybook villages, magnificent architecture, intriguing cultures and histories, and the visual romance of Europe, Jeff’s wanderlust and passion for exploring new places runs deep.