Sometimes it is a book that captures the essence of a place, like how Memoirs of a Geisha pulled us all to Japan.
Miyagawa-chō geisha district, Kyoto. Image by HIADA.
Other times it is a famous painting like Constable’s realisations of 18th century rural England.
Dedham Vale, heart of “Constable Country”. Image by Karen Roe.
And then there are the films that speak to you about the place they depict. These movies yank at you, urge you to get on a plane and see the magic for yourself. Yes, films have a lot to answer for. And as it’s Valentine’s Day today we see it only right to highlight one destination that has provided a backdrop for some of the most romantic and beautiful films of our time. Come with us as we explore Tuscany through the movies that have been shot there.
House on a green Tuscan sea. Image by torremountain.
Based on the E.M. Forester novel of the same name, Room with a View was released in 1985 and tells the story of Miss Lucy Honeychurch, a free-spirited young woman coping with the restrictions on her sex at the turn of the last century. Florence provides the backdrop for a life-changing holiday as Lucy falls in love with an unsuitable admirer. Follow in Helena Bonham-Carter’s footsteps as she explores this beautiful Italian city and explores love for the very first time.
Room with a View: Florence. Image by stevehdc.
The beginning scenes of the Oscar and heart winning La Vita è Bella were filmed in and around the picture perfect Tuscan town of Arezzo and the town is so proud of this there are a number of signs and plaques marking the key scenes were Roberto Benigni wooed his Principessa.
Life is Beautiful: Arezzo. Image by Anguskirk.
Russell Crowe, his muscles, permanent frown and the crew of The Gladiator descended upon the countryside surrounding Siena to shoot some of the film’s key scenes including where he returns home too late to save his family. The dream scenes were also filmed in Tuscany, where the iconic rolling hills and green landscape of Val d’Orcia were considered director Ridley Scott’s perfect place to recreate a dreamlike paradise. We can see why.
Gladiator: Val d’Orcia. Image by Mark Wassell.
The much loved memoir, Under the Tuscan Sun was made into a film in 2003 but sadly the house chosen to be American ex-pat Frances Mayes’ famous Tuscan renovation project, Casa Bremasole, was actually located many miles south close to the Amalfi Coast. However, outdoor scenes for the film were still filmed in the towns of Montepulciano and Cortona.
Under the Tuscan Sun: Montepulciano. Image by dirk huijssoon.
The Tuscan town of Pienza was chosen as the location for the abandoned monastery that was so pivotal in Anthony Minghella’s Second World War romantic drama, The English Patient. Many weeks of no doubt delightful research was conducted in the Tuscan countryside before the Monastero di’ Sant’Anna was considered the ideal location.
The English Patient: The Monastery of Sant’ Anna in Camprena. Image by Conlawprof.
Zefirelli’s iconic 1960s film about the most famous of star-crossed lovers was award winning despite the fact it was filmed miles from Verona where Shakespeare’s play is set. In fact, Pienza was again considered the ideal location. If you know the film well you won’t find it hard to spot where scenes were filmed in the town square and surrounding streets.
Romeo & Juliet (1968): Pienza. Image by Mark Wassell.
Sticking with Shakespeare, Much Ado About Nothing featured not only an all-star cast but one of Chianti’s most beautiful properties, Villa Vignamaggio. Not only are you slap bang in the middle of prime Tuscan countryside and one of the country’s most famous wine making regions but you can also enjoy a sense of being close to where British acting royalty – Kenneth Brannagh, Emma Thompson et al. – acted their socks off for the popular 1993 adaptation.
Much Ado About Nothing (1993): Gardens of Villa Vignamaggio. Image by The Consortium.
If you are travelling with a teenage daughter the Vampire love story of Edward and Bella has captured more young hearts than Harry Styles and Justin Bieber put together, so it seems only fair to highlight how scenes from Twilight: The New Moon were shot in Volterra and in Montepulciano, a town famous for the deep red wine it produces. There’s probably a bad joke about blood and Vampires in there, but lets avoid the temptation.
The Twilight Saga: New Moon: Volterra. Image by julben23.
The coming of age tale Stealing Beauty launched the career of pouty Liv Tyler and also had people booking remote converted farmhouses for holidays in Tuscany in their hundreds, thanks to director Bertolucci’s sweeping camera shots of the green Tuscan hills and romantic dalliances among the vineyards. The film was mostly shot in locations in and around Siena.
Stealing Beauty: Siena region. Image by Giuseppe Moscato.
What is it about Tuscany and women wanting to find themselves? Well, long before Lucy Honeychurch did it in Room with a View and Frances Mayes did some soul searching in Under the Tuscan Sun, Isabel Archer as played by Nicole Kidman indulged in a little self-discovery – amongst other things – in a grand villa in the Tuscan town of Lucca in the film Portrait of a Lady, released in 1985.
Portrait of a Lady: Palazzo Pfanner, Lucca. Image by Kadaltik.
And there you have it. A love of classic cinema gives an extra reason, as if you needed one, to spend time in this beautiful, delicious, warm, rustic and culturally rich part of the world.
Happy Valentine’s Day, from all of us at HouseTrip.
Featured image by Jano De Cesare.
Ah, tourists, you can’t deny they get the best of everything just by dint of sheer volume and an almost supernatural ability to queue.
There they are. All over the Eiffel Tower in their cheery Crocs like demented toddlers. They’ve nailed every palazzo and plaza. The Blarney Stone is a personal photo opp. And, unless you know a night watchman at any of Europe’s museums (or you’re in a Woody Allen movie), buy some postcards; the real thing usually looks about the same size over a sea of heads.
But should we be beaten?
The Eiffel Tower attracts almost 8 million visitors each year. Image by Dunnock_D.
Should we resign ourselves to solitary armchair travel, trying to replicate the magnificence of Europe with nothing more than a few soggy chips, a jar of mayonnaise and a sachet of cappuccino mix?
No we should not. The time has come to take back the cobbles, the castles, the cathedrals, the architecture and art, in fact anything that’s even had a brush with a pair of Rohan convertible chinos in the past decade is now fair game. Because if there’s one thing tourists like even less than trousers that don’t turn into shorts, it’s winter.
Royal Palace of Madrid. By Martin Hapl.
This is the season to actually visit the visitor attractions and not stand in line for hours with people who look like they were knitted out of rough, brown wool. You can take guided tours and hear the guides. And you know all those things like funiculars and covered boats and miniature trains? They’re really quite good fun when they’re not packed. So what three cities might win you over this winter? We thought, Prague, Madrid and Florence.
Piazza della Signoria, Florence. By Gaspa.
Yes, we are actually going to suggest that you stroll across the Piazza della Signoria in Florence (in winter there’s even enough room for a skippity run if you like). Have a look at Michelangelo’s ‘outdoor’ David. Make your way to the Uffizi – less of a gallery and more ‘most famous museum in the entire known universe’. And get in without having to queue.
There are 45 rooms in the Uffizi so this is the perfect place to try out a guided tour. Make sure it includes ‘Cosimo’s Commute’ AKA the Vasari Corridor, designed by Cosimo I to let the Medici Family travel from Palazzo Vecchio (work) to Palazzo Pitti (home) in blissfully commoner-free 16th century style. Part of the Vasari crosses the Ponte Vecchio, Florence’s most famous bridge and still home to the city’s goldsmiths and frighteningly expensive jewellers – nigh on impossible to get near in summer.
Uffizi Gallery all to yourself. By funebre.
When you’ve ‘done’ the Uffizi it’s just a short walk to the Galleria Accademia. This is where they keep the real David and yes, he’s much taller than all those plastic statues would lead you to believe.
Have a drink on at least one of Florence’s piazzas. The Signoria and Repubblica might be like all ten circles of hell in summer but they’re very pleasant on a winter afternoon. Not warm of course, but it’s advisable to wear clothes in most public places these days. And you can watch the Fiorentini; a uniquely courageous people brave enough to live in this beautiful city even during the summer.
Piazza della Signoria. By Gwenaël Piaser.
The Madrileno are a little more elusive during the winter months. The capital of Spain can be chilly and the lure of some rich Rioja and a plate of tapas hard to resist. But don’t worry the city itself isn’t holed up in a bar. In fact it’s business as usual in Madrid, just a lot less people to share it with.
Parque del Retiro. By Alex E. Proimos.
One thing we know about tourists; they don’t like wandering too much. Handily enough Madrid has three of the world’s most famous museums forming a triangle in the city centre; Museo Reine Sofia, Museo del Thyssen-Bornemisza and Museo del Prado.
Reine Sofia is where you’ll find Picasso’s Guernica. The Thyssen-Bornemisza collection covers the 13th to late 20th century. And Del Prado, what can we say? Unless you live under a stone, you’ll recognise the masterpieces in this museum. And, even if you ignore our advice on guides elsewhere, the ones in Madrid really are extraordinary.
Picasso’s Guernica. By Tab59.
Churros and hot chocolate on the Plaza Mayor is a winter box you have to tick. But don’t eat on the Plaza. Leave through one of the square’s Arco and look for somewhere small and busy, in winter that means it’s full of locals.
Plaza Mayor, Madrid. By Bjørn Giesenbauer.
You want Calle de Preciados for shopping and Plaza de Santa Ana for bars, cafés and flamenco. Yes, it’s the dreaded ‘F’ word. And winter in Madrid means not only can you see the great dance in action you can take classes too. A great souvenir is the mark of a true tourist and we can’t think of anything more delightful for your family and friends than the gift of seeing you Flamenco.
Flamenco. By somebody_.
Prague doesn’t offer much in the way of dance instruction but in winter it really doesn’t need to. With freezing temperatures, almost certain snow and some of Europe’s most ethereal architecture, dancing would look a bit show off. Happily, tourists seem to prefer Prague’s unbearable summer humidity which leaves winter free for you to do what they normally do, in peace.
St. Vitus Cathedral. By James Whitesmith.
Unlike Florence and Madrid, Prague doesn’t have hugely famous art collections, but what it lacks in paint on canvas it more than makes up for on its streets.
Take advantage of the Old Town Square’s relative calm and even if you don’t go into any of the buildings just wander about. It looks strangely like a movie set, but in a good way – especially once you get over thinking of the 14th century Tyn Church in terms of Cinderella’s Castle. On the hour be sure to stand in front of the Astronomical Clock and see the Apostles – it shouldn’t be cute, but it is.
Old Town Square. By james_clear.
Winter’s also the time to cross the famously famous Charles Bridge and ascend to Prague Castle. If you’re lucky the bridge will be snow covered for extra drama and Prague Castle is the biggest in Europe so it’s not too shabby either.
Pont Charles. By Panoramas.
And of course there’s the beer. Visit Prague in summer and you’d be forgiven for assuming that the rest of Europe was dealing with the problem of binge drinking by giving out free tickets to the Czech Republic. But winter’s perfect for enjoying some of the country’s most famous export without a stag party chaser.
So find a cosy bar, place your order and have our permission to feel just a little bit smug.
You made it as a tourist, you saw what all the fuss was about and now you’ve got the hang of it you can start planning next winter’s invasion.
Image by Mait Jüriado.
Featured image by zabozrut.
Famous for its museums, late medieval buildings and Renaissance churches, Florence has got it all. But if you stick around for a week or so, you’ll also discover a rich contemporary culture compiling many factors like language, gestures and food – simple, daily elements that are not in any museum. In this post, Florence based art historian and blogger Alexandra Korey of Art Trav shines a light on the green spaces of Florence, and how to get to know the city like a local.
Duomo di Firenze – Image © Martin Sojka
The secret to learning and living like a local is to get out and observe the city’s residents, and the best place to do so is in the parks of residential areas like the Oltrarno, Campo di Marte, and Ponte Rosso.
Campo di Marte - Image © Yahti
Especially in the summer, life in Italy takes place very much out of doors. In the evenings, windows and balcony doors are thrown open and the sounds of televisions, clinking plates and animated conversation fill residential areas. You will see neighbours conversing over balconies and greeting each other on the street. In the evenings, people go out for strolls and sit around in the nearest neighbourhood park, while kids run around with a ball or play on swings. Locate the park closest to you and do a little hanging around. Engage with people through their dogs or children and you’re likely to pick up some colourful local language or make some new friends!
Image © Matt Morrison
This is an almost French style garden in the Ponte Rosso / Piazza della Libertà area, developed in the late 19th century when Florence looked to international examples, and is thus worth visiting for its aesthetic value. Nicely cared for squares of lawn and flowers can be observed from crunchy gravel paths. A children’s play area is at one end, with a fountain, while at the other side of the park is a beautiful late 19th century glass and iron greenhouse (currently closed for restoration).
Giardino dell’Orticoltura - Image © Aldo Cavini Benedetti.
(Address: via Bolognese 7, entrance from the piazza on the other side)
Image © Matteo123
Twice a year, from April 25 to May 1 and during the first week of October, the garden hosts an historic plant show and sale (since 1855), making it particularly picturesque, colourful and crowded at that time. During the rest of the year, the best time to visit is late afternoon, since this park closes its gates at 8pm in the summer, and earlier in the winter months.
Image © Matteo123
Villa il Ventaglio
Tucked down a side street between the Campo di Marte and Le Cure residential areas, this is a very large terraced park that was developed in the 1850s to lead up to a villa at its highest point. The park is the work of Giuseppe Poggi, the architect responsible for much of Florence’s modernization at that period, including the creation of the dreaded, highly trafficked “viali” (ring roads). The park consists of wide open lawn, a winding uphill path often used by joggers, and large shady trees under which you will always find people reading. Its distinguishing feature is the duck pond near the entrance, a rare glimpse of nature in the city.
Parco di Villa Ventaglio – Image © Numb
(Address: via Aldini 12)
Come here for a breath of fresh air and some quiet, as well as for an excellent vista of the city from the top. Sneak up to the windows of the villa and pretend you have discovered something new – chances are you will be the only person there. The park gates close at 7:30pm in the summer, earlier during the winter.
Florence from Piazzale Michelangelo – Image © Erik Drost
In probably the most vibrant part of the Oltrarno, the area in Florence known for its high population of artisans and what they say are “real Florentines”, this large and shady piazza is the only free green space. Open at night (it has no gates), the park fills up during and after dinner time.
View of Oltrarno from the top of Brunelleschi’s dome of the Duomo – Image © Laura Padgett
Florentine hills of Oltrarno – Image © Laura Padgett
When the weather is nice this piazza’s benches are filled with residents that mix the new immigrant population with the Florentine elderly. A “calcetto” (5 on 5 football) court in the centre provides entertainment, while picnic tables are usually occupied by Filipino families. Go here to see the melting pot the city is becoming. At one side of the park is the Circolo Aurora, a members-only bar tucked into the medieval city’s walls, with outdoor seating and funky clientele. It is worth paying the 5 euro membership card just to hang out and sip a cocktail in this highly local atmosphere.