Paris, NYC, London, Rome and even San Francisco—all are so overused in films. Yes, they are iconic cities with epic landmarks and yes, I want to visit all of them, but come on, Hollywood, branch out! Yes, I am a girl, but I very much appreciate a good “guy” movie with some action, some sci-fi, bloodshed, sex, even feathery-mulleted Scotsmen bellowing “FREEDOM”. I’m down with that. So here are my top five, non-clichéd, just as impressive movie backdrops, Man Edition.
**Spoilers! All of you should have already seen every one of these movies, though!**
Bruges, Belgium (In Bruges)
Not to go all Brendan Gleeson on you, but Bruges really is one of the most achingly picturesque preserved medieval cities in Europe, just as he insists at the open of this dark, heavy comedy. The Belfry in the Grotemarkt is truly striking, every building ornate and there is an emanating sense of melancholy or maybe a hit man-esque glamour as you ease along the canals. Much less congested than Europe’s Poster Children, (Paris, Prague, Vienna etc), you can keep to yourself and your musings in Koningin Astridpark, (where Colin Farrell contemplates suicide) or punch Canadians over a lovely dinner at Cafédraal on Zilverstraat. Wait for Ralph Fiennes’ call in your room at Relais Bourgondisch Cruyce Hotel, before your one normal beer, “because you are normal” at the pub.
Koh Phi Phi Leh, Thailand (The Beach)
First, if you haven’t read the book by Alex Garland, do it immediately. It’s outstanding and features even more screwed up beach life than the movie does. Second, how cool would it be to really live on “The Beach” (sans Tilda Swinton, naturally)? Well, hop on a boat from Phuket and make for the Phi Phi Islands, where the movie was filmed. Much of the infrastructure was maimed by the 2004 tsunami but the perfect beach from the film endured, as pristine as ever. You feel like you have literally entered a postcard when stretch out and take in this vista. Vibrant blue water and lush flora, sand as fine as sugar—someone get me a cocktail with an umbrella in it, pronto! For the serious adventurer, (Leo DiCaprio would be proud), trek north past Bangkok to visit Haeo Suwat Falls in Khao Yai National Park. Be a man and jump before the ladies this time!
Glencoe, Scotland (Braveheart)
Well it doesn’t get manlier than Braveheart, does it? Before Mel Gibson’s cheese slid off the cracker, he was renowned for this ambitious blockbuster. Luckily, Scotland’s hills are still awe-inspiring, even if Mel’s stock has plummeted. Shot mostly in Glencoe, in the western foothills of the Highlands, Braveheart showcased the rugged allure of Scotland. Just north on Loch Leven near Fort William, Glen Nevis is the site of Lanark, in the imposing shadow of Ben Nevis’ peak. They copped out and ended up filming many of the battle scenes in Ireland, but Scotland is the real star of the epic, from the ten craggy Mamores Peaks (a perfect full day hike), to Mornay’s castle in Edinburgh (the Edinburgh Council Chamber). Pop on your kilt and hit the countryside!
Fort Ricasoli, Malta (Gladiator)
The small country of Malta was host to a million dollar third of a Roman Coliseum replica just so Russell Crowe could kick some ass. Although there was extensive CGI at work in the final movie, Fort Ricasoli itself is a sprawling ancient fortification that worked as the perfect foundation upon which Rome was constructed. Starkly sun bleached and wave beaten, the 17th century ramparts were adorned with the arena, streets, statues, gates and colonnades. Check out the view of the Mediterranean that Joaquin Phoenix had during his climactic slaying. No one will mind if you give a triumphant fist pump (like I did when Joaquin was finally stabbed right in the neck).You’ll have to hop over to Moroccan Ouarzazate to spy the setting for Russell’s first gladiatorial fights, in Aït Benhaddou. The stunning Atlas Mountains and compulsory camel ride will be worth the trip, though.
Cantwell, Alaska (Into the Wild)
Who hasn’t fantasized about disappearing into nature and forsaking all of the frills, stress and corruption of the real world? Emile Hirsch (Christopher McCandless aka Alexander Supertramp), lived out that fantasy in Sean Penn’s poignant true story, Into the Wild. The Stampede Trail, which stretches to the limits of the middle of nowhere near Denali National Park, is still home to bus 142 where the introspective McCandless lived and died. Most of the dramatic Alaska sequences were filmed about 50 miles south of the actual bus, in Cantwell, but for experienced (and well equipped) hikers, the real trail is an untamed yet amazing pilgrimage. Whether you think McCandless was a Thoreauvian idol or another clueless American kid, Alaska is an intriguing destination. Oh, and if you find that the Teklanika River is too high, there is a hand operated tram only a quarter mile from where McCandless, defeated by the rough water, turned back and subsequently faced his death. Good to know.
About the author: Get yourself a car rental in the UK, Alaska, Thailand, Malta or Bruges so you can relive the glory moments from these awesome movies. Noella Schink is a travel writer from Portland, Maine who loves adventures, guy movies, her dogs and cheeseburgers. She recommends Auto Europe the next time you take off on an epic movie location road trip.