From The Italian Job 1969 to James Bond filming locations... the Italian landscape is as enchanting as it is diverse from its northern beaches bordering along the south of France and its slopes along the Alps, right down to the warm and welcoming Mediterranean seaside. You have countless possibilities when it comes to exploring and enjoying your time here with a choice between mountains, lakes and islands to valleys, ruins, rustic villages or metropolitan cities. It's no wonder that some of the best names in filmmaking have found inspiration here shooting scenes on the canals of Venice and the streets of Rome. The first time many of us see Italy is through movies, so what better way to start planning your must sees than taking a cue from the films we know and love?
Let’s start from the north in the Piedmont region in the regal city of Turin. The year is 1969 and we are in Piazza Castello, Turin's main square. British director Peter Collinson is filming his crime caper The Italian Job starring a young Michael Caine as conman Charlie Croker. The square and surrounding area have become well known for the film's classic chase scene where Croker and his team flee police driving red, white and blue Mini Coopers. Stolen gold is first loaded within Palazzo Carignano, a 16th century Baroque Palace whose opulent apartments are open for visits. The chase starts in Palazzo Madama, a structure dating back to the Roman Empire that at different times in history served as a residence to noble families like the Savoy and today houses the nation’s senate.
For history buffs, a modern day discovery unearthed a Roman theatre beneath the Palazzo’s main floor that you can examine thanks to a transparent glass floor. The mini coopers drive down the Palazzo’s 'scalone' grand staircase and make their way into the city's trafficked streets leading police on a chase throughout the city along the Po river. You can recreate the cinematic chase by taking a drive through the city and stopping along the Vittorio Emanuele I Bridge to take in a panoramic view of the city.
Leave the city centre for the surrounding hillside to see the Villa della Regina, a grandiose 16th century estate built for Cardinal Maurizio of Savoy which is also seen in the film. It is a fact that while the film used mini coopers for the shooting, it was the Italian carmaker Fiat that came to the rescue providing limitless help to the film crew. The infamous jump from one building rooftop to the next was staged at the Fiat factory – staff were so worried for the safety of the stuntmen that many were seen making the sign of the cross before the stunt!
The mass scene from King Vidor's epic 1956 drama War and Peace starring Peter Fonda and Audrey Hepburn took place in the Cathedral of San Donato in the community of Pinerolo, Turin. Pinerolo is a lovely town used in the 2006 Winter Olympics. It lies just below the alps and can easily be visited in a few hours – make sure to try a slice of galup – the city’s version of Italian ‘panettone,’ a delicious Christmas fruitcake.
If skiing and snowboarding are on your list of things to do on your trip, then we recommend the ski town of Cortina d’Ampezzo located below the Dolomite mountains of the Veneto region. Excellent slopes and an upscale village to shop and dine make for a great winter holiday.
James Bond picked Cortina to spend some quality time with his lady friend in the 1981 film For Your Eyes Only with Roger Moore playing the title role. In the film Bond and Melina are seen walking through Cortina’s main shopping centre and staying at the posh Miramonti Majestic Grand Hotel – a winter sports resort in the Dolomites with a long list of celebrity clientele (www.miramontimajestic.it) It was also used in the original Pink Panther (1967) with Peter Sellers and the drama Ash Wednesday for which Elizabeth Taylor was nominated for a Golden Globe award.
How to get to Cortina d’Ampezzo:
By plane: Venice Marco Polo Airport, take the Cortina Express Bus (www.cortinaexpress.it)
By car: Take Highway A27 Venice - Belluno, connected to the National Road 51 of Alemagna, towards Tai di Cadore, exit Cortina d'Ampezzo
By train: Take the train from Venezia Santa Lucia towards Calalzo di Cadora, bus transfers are available from here to Cortina.
A Venetian Tale
Also in the Veneto region is another film favourite in the floating city of Venice with its waterfront location and gothic feel. Italian director Luchino Visconti set his classics Senso and Death in Venice here. In the 1996 musical comedy Everyone Says I Love You, Woody Allen makes a hilarious attempt to try and ‘accidentally’ bump into Julia Roberts by jogging through the city’s narrow cobblestone streets and bridges.
The large, open piazza of St. Mark’s Square is cinematically stunning and dramatically different from the rest of the city’s small spaces. Many historic bars and cafes line the perimeter. Caffé Florian (Piazza San Marco, Venice 56-59 www.caffeflorian.com) is where Matt Damon and Gwenyth Paltrow go for a coffee in Anthony Minghella’s psychological thriller The Talented Mr. Ripley. Ripley’s apartment in the film uses parts of the Ca’ Sagredo Hotel (Campo Santa Sofia 4198/99 Ca'Doro, 30121 Tel. +39 04 1520 7022 www.luxos.com/sagredo)
Two Bonds have made an appearance in Venice, the first time at the end of From Russia with Love where Bond (played by Sean Connery) and Tatiana Romanova are seen crossing under Venice’s Bridge of Sighs. In Casino Royale actor Daniel Craig moors his yacht at Hotel Cipriani & Palazzo Vendramin (Giudecca, 10 30133 Venice, Tel. +39 04 1520 7744 luxos.com/cipriani) The film also uses Venice’s Grand Canals for a high speed boat chase.
The scenic hills and towns of Tuscany have played host to many a film crew. Roberto Rossellini’s World War II film Paisan recreated Nazi air raids over the city of Florence, while Hannibal Lecter chose the city as his hideout from authorities in the film Hannibal. Lecter (played by Anthony Hopkins) works as a curator at Capponi Library in Palazzo Capponi on Via dei Bardi, 36 and enjoys his cappuccinos at the elegant Caffè Gilli in Piazza della Repubblica (Via Roma 1/R, 50123 Tel.+39 (0) 5521 3896) A trip to Florence is not complete without buying a piece from one of the small jewellery shops that line the Ponte Vecchio, the famous bridge connecting the two parts of the city along the Arno River. The officer on Lecter’s trail buys a silver bracelet here to collect his fingerprints.
To the south of Florence is the small, yet lovely medieval town of San Gimignano known for its towers and fine gastronomy. Judi Dench and Maggie Smith were held here by Fascists along with Cher in Tea with Mussolini. Going southeast from here is the town of Cortona, made famous by the novel and film adaptation Under the Tuscan Sun about an American woman who decides to leave her home and buy a villa in Tuscany. You can stay in the same villa Frances (played by Diane Lane) fixes up in the film. The 16th century Villa Laura is now a carefully restored and renovated 6,000 square-foot space that stretches over three floors and comes with modern amenities including kitchen, fireplaces, Jacuzzi, pool and gardens. (www.villavactions.com Tel. (1) 800 261 4460)
Rome: The Eternal Movie Set
Perhaps the most popular of choices when it comes to filming. William Wyler's 1953 romantic comedy Roman Holiday launched the career of a young Audrey Hepburn as a runaway princess who explores Rome along with Gregory Peck. It's at the Spanish Steps in Rome's Piazza di Spagna that Hepburn enjoys a gelato and Peck convinces her to let loose and enjoy her day in the city.
For the true Roman Holiday experience, rent a scooter and go visit La Bocca della Verità – the mouth of truth located in the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin by the Tiber River. It is a large marble medallion in the shape of face with a gaping hole for a mouth. (Piazza della Bocca della Verità, 18 ). According to legend if a liar places his hand in the hole, it will be bitten off. This was demonstrated in an unscripted gag played on Hepburn by her co-star that stayed in the film. The party scene at night takes place on a barge by Castel Sant'Angelo, another monument seen in other films like Ron Howard's Angels and Demons.(Lungotevere Castello, 50 Tel. +39 06 681 9111 www.castelsantangelo.beniculturali.it) The final scene of the film where the princess chooses duty over love was filmed in Palazzo Colonna (Via della Pilotta, 17. Open Sat 9 a.m.-1.15 p.m. Tel.+39 06 0678 4350 www.galleriacolonna.it)
The image of a blonde and curvaceous Anita Eckberg and Marcello Mastroianni kissing in Rome's Trevi Fountain has become one of the most famous film stills of our generation. While we don't advise you jump in the fountain to recreate the scene, definitely visit the triumphant artwork immortalized in neorealist director Federico Fellini's La Dolce Vita. (Fontana di Trevi, Via delle Muratte) The film serves as a looking glass into the glamorous and chaotic lives of the Italian glitterati of the 1960s.
A stroll down the city's posh Via Vittorio Veneto will give you a taste of what it was like back in its hey day when celebrities would fill the cafè patios of places like Cafè de Paris that still exists today. (Via Vittorio Veneto, 183, Tel. +39 06 481 5631 cafedeparisroma.eu) Scenes from The Talented Mr. Ripley are set in 1950s Rome, the crew filled Piazza Navona with dozens of extras dressed in period costume for the scene where actor Philip Seymour Hoffman pulls up by Bernini's Four Rivers Fountain in his red sports car to greet Jude Law and Matt Damon. Looking to get a fine Italian suit? In the film, Jude Law's character talks about getting a suit made from Battistoni, which is in fact a real tailor that has made clothes for likes of Marlon Brando and Sophia Loren. (Battistoni. Via Condotti 61A Tel. +39 06 697 6111 battistoni.com)
What many of the films we've mentioned have in common is Cinecittà Studios 'cinema city,' a 20 minute drive outside of Rome's centre. Originally commissioned by Mussolini in 1937 to make historical dramas and war propaganda films, the studio began to draw attention from American filmmakers in the early 1950s.
Moving south to the island of Sicily is the setting for Francis Ford Coppola's Godfather trilogy. In The Godfather Part One Coppola chose to shoot in the town of Savoca rather than the actual town of Corleone as it was too developed for the film's time period. Go for a drink or a Sicilian granita at Bar Vitelli in Savoca, this is where Michael (played by Al Pacino) goes with his bodyguards Fabrizio and Calo and meets the beautiful Apollonia. The bar looks the same as it did in the film, curtains and all and owner Maria was even present when the film was shot. (Bar Vitelli Piazza Fossia Tel. +39 09 4276 1140)
Michael's wedding to Apollonia was filmed in the Church of Santa Lucia, also in Savoca. If you go during the second or third weeks of November you'll be able to join in on Savoca Sapori, a gastronomic and artisan festival held in town. (www.comunedisavoca.it)
How to get to Savoca:
By plane: Aeroporto Internazionale di Catania
By car: From Catania take Highway A18 in the direction Taormina nord, exit at Bivio for Savoca
Forty minutes south of Savoca and six miles from Taormina you'll find the township of Fiumifreddo whose 18th century Castello degli Schiavi – Slaves' Castle was used in both Parts One and Three. This was the house Michael and Apollonia lived in where he watches helplessly as his car is blown up with her inside. The castle is the last set we see in the final Godfather installment where an elderly Michael dies.
Across the island to the west you'll find the Teatro Massimo in Sicily's capital, Palermo. This is where Michael's son Anthony performs in The Godfather Part Three. It was on the theatre's steps that the tragic killing of Michael's daughter Mary takes place. Spend an evening at the opera ot take a tour of the historic theatre by booking in advance. (Piazza Verdi, Palermo. Tel. +39 09 1605 3267 www.teatromassimo.it)
Back on the mainland in the city of Naples is another famous opera house, the Teatro San Carlo. This is where Matt Damon and Cate Blanchett watch an opera from box seats in The Talented Mr. Ripley. (Teatro San Carlo, Via San Carlo, 98/F Tel. +39 08 1797 2111 www.teatrosancarlo.it)The film also uses the city's Galleria Umberto for scenes where Tom (Damon) and Dickie (Jude Law) retrieve mail and cash cheques. (Galleria Umberto I at Via Toledo. Tel. +39 02 1407 554) Naples is the birthplace of pizza so go early to Da Michele before it gets crowded – this is the pizzeria where Julia Roberts orders not one pizza, but two in Eat, Pray, Love. (Via Cesare Sersale, 1/3 Tel. +39 08 1553 9204 damichele.net)
Clark Gable and Sophia Loren fell in love in It Started in Naples which was filmed in the city as well as on the island of Capri, a popular celebrity destination where the likes of Jacqueline Onassis, Tony Curtis, Kirk Douglas and Charlie Chaplin spent their holidays. For Star Wars fans, you'll want to take a day trip north of Naples to Caserta and visit Reggia di Caserta, a beautiful and opulent palace that was built to rival Paris' Versailles. The palace, along with its English gardens were used as the Palace on Naboo in Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace and Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones.(Reggia di Caserta. Via Giulio Douhet 2a. Tel. +39 08 2327 7111 www.beniculturali.it)
With countless other film titles among the ranks, it is virtually impossible to exhaust the beauty and diversity Italy offers audiences. Follow our film itinerary and enjoy the places and spaces chosen by cinema's greats. Buon viaggio!
Florence City Guide
Milan City Guide
Rome City Guide
Venice City Guide