Lights! Camera! Cappuccino!

The Palio in the Piazza del Campo, Siena.
The Palio in the Piazza del Campo, Siena. Photo: Getty Images

In this freeze-frame of 10 motion picture-perfect cities, David Whitley reveals why Italy is a cinema — and holiday — paradise.

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.

San Barnaba church in Venice.
San Barnaba church in Venice. Photo: Corbis

From Mafia hideouts and car stunts to biblical re-enactments, Italy has been the uncredited star of many classic scenes.

So for film fans wanting to do a location pilgrimage, here's the area-by-area, movie-by-movie Grand Tour.

 

Viva Italy ... the Trevi Fountain, Rome.
Viva Italy ... the Trevi Fountain, Rome. Photo: Getty Images

Rome

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 (understandingrome.com) offers three-hour Roman Holiday-themed walking tours, costing €200 ($254) 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 deeper on the newly launched behind-the-scenes tours (cinecittashowsoff.com) for €20.

Where to stay Several La Dolce Vita scenes were shot in the Westin Excelsior. westinrome.com.
Where to play
Julia Roberts eats at the Ristorante Santa Lucia (12 Largo Febo) in Eat Pray Love. santaluciaristorante.it.
More info
turismoroma.it.

 

Florence

A Room with a View

A Room with a View did for Florence what Roman Holiday did for Rome - plenty of swooning 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 a religious art tour inside the Santa Croce church.

That's home to the Palazzo Vecchio, which gets an even more gruesome appearance in Hannibal - Hannibal Lecter bundles the crooked cop out of the window, much to the shock of people in the square.

Where to stay The eponymous room with a view is at the Hotel Degli Orafi (hoteldegliorafi.it).
Where to play
The unfortunate inspector spies on Hannibal from the Rivoire cafe in Piazza della Signoria (rivoire.it).
More info
firenzeturismo.it.

 

Turin

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 shopping complex.

Where to stay The four-star NH Lingotto is inside the former Fiat factory. nh-hotels.com.
Where to play
You can only get to Lingotto's rooftop racetrack if you eat in the La Pista restaurant. lapista.eu.
More info
turismotorino.org.

 

Sicily

The Godfather trilogy

The mediaeval-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 for up to seven people. Book online at city-discovery.com.

For the site of the operatic bloodbath at the end of The Godfather III, head to the Teatro Massimo in Palermo.

Where to stay The Grand Hotel Timeo is Taormina's top-star hangout. grandhoteltimeo.com.
Where to play
Michael Corleone dines al fresco at Bar Vitelli (Via Rina) in Savoca.
More info
thinksicily.com.

 

Matera, Basilicata

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.

It's worth getting a guided tour - official guides, bookable via sassiweb.com, have access to a lot of closed-to-public churches.

Where to stay Gibson stayed at the Albergo Italia. albergoitalia.com
Where to play
Baccanti (58 Via Sant'Angelo) is the classiest cave cuisine option. baccantiristorante.com.
More info
discoverbasilicata.com.

 

Venice

Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade

The likes of The English Patient and others 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. (Only the exterior however was used in the filming).

Where to stay Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie stayed at the Danieli in The Tourist. danielihotelvenice.com.
Where to play
Caffe Florian in Piazza San Marco features in The Talented Mr Ripley. caffeflorian.com.
More info
en.turismovenezia.it.

 

Porto Cervo, Sardinia

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.

In The Spy Who Loved Me, Roger Moore and his lovely companion drive off the edge of a pier in a Lotus Esprit, which turns 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 the beach at Porto Cervo.

Where to stay Bond stayed at the Hotel Cala di Volpe. caladivolpe.com.
Where to play
Rub up to the glitterati at Aqua Lounge inside the yacht club. aqualounge.it.
More info
sardegnaturismo.it.

 

Siena, Tuscany

Quantum of Solace

When Bond returned to Italy in his Daniel Craig incarnation, it was to the narrow mediaeval 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 2 and August 16 every year, is more than just a normal horse race. 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.

There are costumed parades and street parties throughout the preceding week, which are good entertainment. But everything is about the big day when 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.

Where to stay The Palazzo Fani Mignanelli is in the heart of the old town. residenzadepoca.it.
Where to play
Osteria Le Logge (33 Via del Porrione) is just off the Piazza del Campo. giannibrunelli.it.
More info
turismo.intoscana.it.

 

Arezzo, Tuscany

Life Is Beautiful

When Roberto Benigni was filming his Oscar-winning Holocaust tragi-comedy, he stuck with what he knew. For the first, lighter half of the film, he set the story where he grew up.

The sloping main square, Piazza Grande, is the most recognisable spot - it's where Benigni's clownish character comes across his "principessa" for the second time. Off the 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. lacortadelre.com.
Where to play
Caffe dei Costanti in Piazza San Francesco, fortunately, only had the "No Jews or Dogs Allowed" sign put on for the movie. caffedeicostanti.it.
More info
apt.arezzo.it.

 

Caserta, Campania

Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace

The undoubted highlight of Caserta, a short drive north of Naples, is the Palazzo Reale, which is more commonly known as La Reggia (reggiadicaserta.beniculturali.it).

In 1752, Charles of Bourbon decided he wanted his own version of the Palace of Versailles in France and set Neapolitan architect Luigi Vanvitelli the daunting task of creating a building that was magnificently self-aggrandising.

With more than 1200 rooms, gigantic baroque staircases and huge, manicured gardens, that's exactly what the vain ruler of Naples got. What he would not have expected was, more than 250 years 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 famous regularly since opening in 1870. grandhotelparkers.it.
Where to play
Julia Roberts tucked in to a slice of pizza at L'Antica Pizzeria da Michele (1 Via Cesare Sersale) in Naples in Eat Pray Love. damichele.net.
More info
incampania.com.

 

Trip notes

Getting there The main entry points in Italy are Rome and Milan. Cathay Pacific (131 747, cathaypacific.com) offers flights from Sydney, via Hong Kong, to both costing from $1714 and $1708 respectively.

Touring there Trains (trenitalia.com) are often the best way of getting between cities, although domestic flights with Ryanair (ryanair.com), Easyjet (easyjet.com) and Alitalia (alitalia.com) are sometimes a faster option.

Comments