On the edge of the Tunisian desert, the Berber tribe of Matmata dug into the ground to make their houses safe against foreign incursions and, at the same time, to protect them from the scorching sun. The town was almost completely unknown until the Star Wars production team decided to turn it into a movie set. From that moment on, the streets and houses of Matmata left their anonymity behind. Today, the lunar landscape that so impressed George Lucas continues to amaze and astound the many visitors who travel from far and wide - though, as far as we know, only from planet Earth - to the town of Tataouine. Here you'll find the homes of Anakin and Luke Skywalker, and can stay in the troglodyte labyrinth of the Hotel Sidi Driss, otherwise known as the farm where Luke lived with his uncle and aunt.
Despite the similarity in names, the desert scenery of Matmata in Tunisia is quite unlike the rich green hills of Matamata in New Zealand, which provided the setting for Hobbiton in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. As befits the fantasy world of Tolkein, it's a magical place, but although some of the hobbit holes remain, fans will know that the merry little people with the hairy feet are shy of Big Folk, so won't be surprised not to meet any when they visit. Instead the land is inhabited by sheep, horses and cows, none of whom have much to say about the films.
The world of James Bond is an entirely different kind of fantasy world, and following the trail of the agent with the licence to kill takes us to Thailand. In the Andaman Sea, to the south of the country, is Ko Tapu, the great attraction of Phang Nga Bay. Since 1974, when Roger Moore portrayed 007 in The Man with the Golden Gun, it's more often referred to as James Bond Island. It's an unusual rock formation 20 metres high, and just 150 metres from the coast and provides a unique natural spectacle, amid a landscape of limestone cliffs riddled with caves, and extraordinary rock formations that appear to float above the sea.
Another leap between continents takes us to the border of Kenya and Tanzania, in search of the idyllic savanna settings of the romance between Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in Out of Africa. Here, conservation areas, national parks and game reserves abound, resulting in a wildlife paradise. It's an ideal location to witness the annual migration of millions of animals; each year, from late June, vast herds of wildebeest, zebra and gazelle travel from the Serengeti Plains across the Tanzania border to reach the Maasai Mara grazing fields. It's a sight you'll never forget.
The covered bridges of Madison County, Iowa, are the hallmark of the love story of Robert Kincaid and Francesca Johnson, interpreted by Clint Eastwood and Meryl Streep in the 1995 bittersweet romance The Bridges of Madison County. But of course it's New York that's the American setting par excellence for so many films. The island of Manhattan is one of the most popular locations and walking through its streets, visiting the shops or admiring the views from its skyscrapers brings to mind scenes from a variety of classics such as King Kong, Sleepless in Seattle, Breakfast at Tiffany's and many of Woody Allen's films.
Everyone knows that Don Vito Corleone, the mythical protagonist from The Godfather comes from Sicily. But perhaps you didn't realise that the scenes that appear on the big screen were not shot in the town of Corleone, where the character originates from, but on location in Forza d'Agro - just 10 kilometres from Taormina - and Savoca, one of the most beautiful towns on the island. Elsewhere in Italy, we find two other essential film locations: the abandoned village of Craco in the province of Matera, which has served as backdrop for films such as The Passion of Christ, and the Villa Balbianello, on Lake Como, Milan, which featured in Star Wars: Episode II - Attack of the Clones, as well as providing the exteriors of the hospital where Daniel Craig's Bond convalesced after being tortured in Casino Royale. Then there are the streets of Rome, where everyone hopes to bump into Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck on a Vespa, or perhaps see Anita Ekberg dive into the Trevi Fountain as she did in La Dolce Vita in one of the most famous scenes of Italian cinema.
It the show doesn't stop there; if you want to continue travelling the world and thinking about the setting for your own movie, here are a few more suggestions:
Just 15 miles from Edinburgh, Rosslyn Chapel, scene of The Da Vinci Code; Dracula's castle in Transylvania, Romania; the famous temple of Petra in Jordan, where Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade was filmed; the Petronas Twin Towers, Kuala Lumpur, shooting location of Entrapment, where Sean Connery and a dazzling Catherine Zeta-Jones have high-class burglary in mind; the Cathedral of Notre Dame, the unmistakable setting for The Hunchback of Notre Dame; the mansion of the Von Trapp family in Salzburg in The Sound of Music; the city of Durango, Mexico, where many great Westerns have been filmed, including The Magnificent Seven; and the Palacio de los Hornillos in the Spanish town of Arenas de Iguña, where you can hope the thick fog hides Nicole Kidman, as it did in The Others, and not some unimagined and unnamed terror.
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