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James Bond's most iconic locations in real life: How to travel like 007

"Denisha Wall" (2020-04-15)


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The coronavirus pandemic has led to the postponement of many films, among them No Time to Die, the next James Bond installment. Now pushed back to a November premiere, it will be the 25th Bond film and the fifth and final (so he says) starring Daniel Craig as the British secret agent. 

Like every Bond movie, No Time to Die will span the globe, showing viewers not just London, but also far-flung locations like Italy, Jamaica, Norway and Scotland. From Dr. No to Spectre, each Bond is enough to give you the serious travel bug, even if you can't afford the luxury hotels someone on a government payroll seems to be able to manage. 





As a Bond fan, I try to seek out sights shown in the series when I travel. And though local or international travel isn't recommended or responsible until the planet gets the pandemic under control, you can always visit virtually from home. Here are a few incredible places I've been so far and one I have yet to see in person. Keep them in mind for when you can travel again, and hope that the businesses I mention will reopen. 

A word of warning, though: Abundant spoilers below.








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From Russia With Love
Istanbul

The ancient city at the mouth of the Bosporus is as much a character in the second Bond installment as Bond or snarling henchman Donald Grant. Sean Connery traverses many of the city's top tourist sights like the Grand Bazaar and the Hagia Sophia, where one of the film's pivotal scenes -- he gets the plans for the Soviet embassy from Tatiana Romanova -- takes place. Completed in 537, the Hagia Sophia served as an Eastern Orthodox cathedral when the city was called Constantinople and was the capital of the Byzantine Empire. Four centuries later, after the Ottoman Empire conquered Constantinople in 1453, it became a mosque and gained minarets. Now a museum, it has an immense scale that's as dazzling and as impressive as the Parthenon or the Colosseum. Walk in, stand under the 183-foot dome and just take it in. Yeah, there are exhibits to read, but just gawking is fine.



Keep in mind the Hagia Sophia was built almost 1,500 years ago.

Hagia Sophia Museum

Your next stop is nearby at the Basilica Cistern, where Bond and MI6 station chief Kerim Bey embark on a boat to sneak under the Soviet Consulate (sadly, the periscope they used to observe the consulate's secret meeting was movie fiction). Built in the fifth century, the cistern has a massive scale -- 453 feet long by 213 feet high -- and can hold 2.8 million cubic feet of water. The 30-foot-high ceiling is supported by 336 marble columns, two of which have bases with the face of Medusa. The Basilica Cistern can feel like a bit of a tourist trap, but it's still pretty cool.



The Basilica Cistern: Sorry, tours under the Soviet Embassy aren't available.

Basilica Cistern

You only visit twice: Later Bond films to show Istanbul (not Constantinople) include The World is not Enough and Skyfall (more on that film below), but in both cases it gets less screen time.


On Her Majesty's Secret Service
Schilthorn

I've only been to a corner of Switzerland (Geneva) so I have yet to do the country justice. But when I return, Schilthorn will be my first stop. The 9,744-foot peak in the Bernese Alps is featured in my favorite Bond movie, and it's the best villain's lair in the series -- yes, even better than the hollowed-out volcano with the monorail in You Only Live Twice. I mean… how can you not love a place with tremendous Alpine views that's accessible only by an aerial tramway or a helicopter? In choosing Piz Gloria, Spectre's Ernst Stavro Blofeld moved up in the world.



Piz Gloria isn't shy about its Bond connection. 

Schilthorn Cableway

The complex was still under construction when the film's location scouts discovered it in 1968. As it roughly matched Blofeld's Piz Gloria hideout described in the book, the producers financed its completion. Now a revolving restaurant named Piz Gloria (of course), the building looks much as it did in the film for which it served as the allergy clinic where Blofeld was making a bioweapon. You can have a meal in the restaurant and browse the museum with memorabilia from the filming. Down the mountain are the towns of Grindelwald, where Bond and his soon-to-be bride, Tracy di Vicenzo, escaped terrifying henchwoman Fraulein Bunt and Blofeld's orange-clad assassins, and Lauterbrunnen, the site of the stock car race.



A view to die for inside Piz Gloria (and if you count what happened in the movie, I mean that literally).

Schilthorn Cableway


Diamonds Are Forever
Las Vegas 

After George Lazenby's turn in On Her Majesty's Secret Service, Connery reprised the role, bouncing from Amsterdam to Las Vegas to foil the further plans of old nemesis Blofeld. The Las Vegas scenes mostly show a city that's now long gone. The Tropicana Hotel was the height of luxury, and empty patches of desert surrounded classic (and now demolished) Strip hotels like The Dunes. The Riviera Hotel (where Bond meets Plenty O'Toole) is also history, but the Circus Circus and its midway games (where smuggler Tiffany Case won the stuffed dog with the diamonds) and the The Westgate Hotel (the setting for The Whyte House) still exist. Diamonds Are Forever also visits McCarran International Airport, downtown Las Vegas Strip tour Vegas and the Palm Boulder Highway Mortuary & Cemetery.



Exteriors of The Whyte House in the movie were shot here.

Google Street View

Palm Springs 

No, James Bond never made it to Las Vegas' more refined desert cousin. But a favorite scene was shot here when Bond fought energetic assassins Bambi and Thumper. The fight was filmed at The Elrod House, a modernist fantasyland home with a pool that's partially indoors. Built in 1968 and designed by architect renowned John Lautner (who also designed the you-might-recognize-it Chemosphere in Los Angeles), it has a living room that incorporates the hillside's boulders into the walls and that's topped by massive circular canopy. The house in the hills above Palm Springs is privately owned -- it sold for around $8 million in 2016 -- so you can't tour it, but you can spot it from the streets below. 






For Your Eyes Only
Corfu

My favorite Roger Moore film spends much of its time in one of my favorite countries, Greece. We start in Corfu, where Bond meets up with Melina Havelock to find Britain's lost submarine communication system before it's captured by the KGB. An island in the Ionian Sea off Albania, Corfu is a world away from the stereotypical Greek islands of Santorini and Mykonos. While those Aegean Sea islands are rocky and barren, Corfu is so lush it reminded me of Hawaii.



This clocktower in Corfu Town is seen when Bond arrives on the island. The town looks more like Italy than stereotypical Greece.

Kent German/CNET

There are a ton of locations to explore, beginning with Corfu Town where Bond and Havelock go shopping after he arrives. Forget whitewashed buildings with blue roofs, the town's buildings and winding streets show influences from the island's onetime Venetian and British rulers. Have an expensive coffee around Spianáda (the town's main square) and sample the local kumquat liqueur. Corfu also is one of the best places in Greece to experience the magical celebrations for Greek Easter.



The Vlacherna Monastery is one of the island's most scenic sights.

Kent German/CNET

South of Corfu Town is one sight you can't miss. The tiny Vlacherna Monastery, which sits on an islet off the Kanóni Peninsula in a brilliantly deep blue bay, is shown multiple times in the film. The monastery is usually closed, but walk over anyway on a narrow causeway that's right under the final approach to Corfu's airport -- heaven for aviation geeks like myself. Then take in the only-in-Corfu view by hiking up to the Kanóni Cafe for a Greek salad (one of the world's perfect foods) and a bottle of Assyrtiko wine.



Bond casually kicks Locque's car off a cliff at the Old Fortress. 

Kent German/CNET

Next, rent a car and drive around the island, exploring the sandy beaches and picturesque hill towns. Places to stop include the Old Fortress above Corfu Town (where Bond pushes henchman Emile Leopold Locque to his death), Issos Beach (where Locque runs over Countess Lisl von Schlaf), Kalami Bay (where Melina's parents are killed) and the Achillion Palace (Corfu's "casino" in the movie and where Bond and Melina stand on the balcony at sunset). In the hilltop village of Pagi (where Melina flipped her Citroen 2CV6 during the car chase), the Bond 007 Cafe has memorabilia from filming. If your travel budget is generous, you can rent the villa where Melina killed hitman Hector Gonzalez with her crossbow (in the film, the villa was set in Spain).



The street in the village of Pagi where Bond and Havelock took a tumble.

Google Street View

Meteora

This is where Bond battles with villain Aristotle Kristatos and foils the KGB's plans. Trust me, Meteora is one of the most striking places you'll ever visit, making it far worth the four-hour drive from Athens (or the three-hour trek from Thessaloniki). Rising above the town of Kalambaka are immense monolithic pillars and giant boulders that border the Pindos Mountains in northern Greece. Sitting atop the ridges are six Orthodox monasteries, the oldest of which was built in the 13th century. Though all are active monasteries, they admit tourists for a small fee. 



The Monastery of The Holy Trinity has a spectacular setting.

Kent German/CNET

Bus tours from Kalambaka are available, but it's best if you rent a car and explore the monasteries on your own -- a paved circular road connects all six. Though each is worth a visit, Bond fans shouldn't miss the Monastery of The Holy Trinity, which played the part of the abandoned St. Cyril's in the film. Unfortunately, you don't have to be winched up in a basket to visit --  instead, you climb a staircase cut into the cliff -- but the setting is spectacular. As the monks wouldn't permit the film crews inside, interior shots were done on a soundstage. The real thing is better, in any case. You'll see some rich frescos before walking the grounds to take in the jaw-dropping view of the valley below.