The movies that inspired my travels

When actor Peter O'Toole died before Christmas, television was suddenly awash with scenes of him of striding through the desert in floating robes, golden-haired and pale-eyed, in Lawrence of Arabia.

It set me thinking about how much of my wanderlust has been inspired by cinema. I didn't travel overseas until I was about 23, so I had lots of years of watching movies to formulate my impressions.

The romance of the Arabian Peninsula and North Africa in Lawrence of Arabia stuck with me for years after I first saw it. Later, I was enthralled by the sexy Bertolucci film version of Paul Bowles' The Sheltering Sky, in which Deborah Winger is kidnapped by a Berber chief and taken to his lair for various pornographic acts. While it took decades before I got to Arabia or Morocco, and Berber chieftains were by then in short supply, I was delighted to find that vast tracts of Oman, in particular, remained not unlike they might have been in T. E. Lawrence's day.

Judging by my childhood taste, Austria (The Sound of Music) and London (Mary Poppins) would have been high on my travel bucket list, but it was New York that won my heart. Why? Because I'd regularly escape from high school sports to watch old Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers movies on midday television and the idealised version of New York they waltzed through seemed to me the most marvellous place on earth.

Of course, Fred and Ging weren't really dancing in New York. It was a Hollywood set. But a couple of my favourite New York movies, Breakfast at Tiffany's and The Sweet Smell of Success, were shot in a real Manhattan that's still recognisable today. Woody Allen's elegiac Manhattan tipped the odds that it would be New York, not London, which would be my home.

Paris for me is forever Stanley Donen's Funny Face, a 1957 musical starring Fred Astaire as a fashion photographer and Audrey Hepburn as his model and muse. To this day, I can't arrive in Paris without singing (to myself) one of the film's catchiest tunes, Bonjour Paree!. Vincente Minnelli's gorgeous Gigi and Truffaut's magical Jules et Jim are two more reasons why I hot-footed it to Paris on my first overseas trip.

I can thank Federico Fellini for my desire to visit Rome and dance in the Trevi Fountain in a strapless gown. (Been to Rome, haven't got in the fountain yet.) I made a pilgrimage to Verona because I'd never forgotten Franco Zeffirelli's Romeo and Juliet, which I saw five times in one week when I was a teen. Hitchcock's Vertigo inspired me to visit San Francisco, and Godard's Contempt Capri.

To Catch a Thief got me dreaming about riding a sports car along the Corniche, the high road between Nice and Menton. Cabaret made me hanker after Weimar Republic Berlin. David Lean's A Passage to India exposed me to the beauty of India and his Doctor Zhivago to stunning vistas of revolutionary Russia, while Out of Africa had me longing to ride through the East African veldt in a linen dress and boots, just like Meryl Streep.

I fell in love with the idea of Bucharest after watching the 1980s TV series Fortunes of War, starring Kenneth Branagh and Emma Thompson, which was set in Bucharest on the eve of World War II. The thrilling drama of spies and foreign correspondents made me long to visit this intriguing city. When I finally got there in 2005, I found it physically different from the Bucharest I'd seen on screen. I discovered then that Fortunes of War was in fact filmed in Budapest, so I went on to Budapest and loved it too.


The superior Bette Davis tear-jerker Now Voyager, about a repressed spinster who finds love and sophistication on a world tour, is full of stock images of places like Rio, but it was the first film that made me think I would like to go on a cruise, even if Paul Henreid wasn't there to light me a cigarette.

On the downside, movies have sometimes put me off destinations I might otherwise enjoy. Midnight Express turned me off Turkey for years, even though I wasn't intending to peddle any drugs while I was there. I probably wouldn't be in a rush to go to Fargo, North Dakota, either, after the Coen brothers' film.

But that's crazy, of course. Movies are fiction and you have to go and see the world for yourself.

What movies have inspired your travels? Post a comment.

Twitter: @missleetulloch