He’s ba-a-ck. Indeed, the man from MI6 — you know, the dapper gent with the penchant for fast cars, comely companions and fine-tuned martinis — is back with a vengeance. “Quantum of Solace,” the 22nd James Bond movie, hits U.S. movie screens on November 14, and fans of the franchise and armchair travelers alike have plenty to look forward to.
For Bond buffs, the movie represents a sequel to “Casino Royale,” the 2006 film that featured Daniel Craig as a younger, edgier 007 with, shall we say, “issues.” Those issues are still on display as our hero seeks to avenge the death of his girlfriend, Vesper Lynd, and thwart yet another arch villain’s plans for world domination. Already playing in Europe, the film has garnered mixed reviews so far.
For travelers, though, the film presents another four-star tour of exotic locales with scenes shot in Austria, Italy, Chile, Mexico and Panama. And while the last three were stand-ins for other places, the first two play themselves to glorious effect. Visit any of the three destinations below and you can enjoy some of the same experiences 007 does, although you may want to forgo the fisticuffs, car crashes and high-octane explosions.
Lake Garda, Italy
What’s a Bond film without a high-speed car chase (or seven)? From the first scene, “Quantum of Solace” cranks up the adrenaline with a wild ride along the Gardesana, the narrow highway that wraps around the upper end of Lake Garda in northern Italy.
Perched between the heights of the Dolomites and vertiginous cliffs, the road is a twisting two-laner that traverses hundreds of curves and tunnels. Bond, not surprisingly, takes it all at breakneck speed, but those with less pressing agendas would do better to slow down and savor the scenery.
Although it’s a year-round destination, the lake is best visited during the warmer months when it becomes a mecca for all sorts of sports and outdoor activities. Head to Riva del Garda for sailing, Torbole for windsurfing and Malcesine for hiking and mountain biking from the top of the Mount Baldo cable car.
Rental cars from AutoEurope.com are available in Brescia and Verona, starting at U.S. $380 per week — more, presumably, if you drop your car into the lake as one Bond stuntman did during filming this spring.
A few hours south of Lake Garda, Siena sits in the heart of Tuscany, a hilltop citadel of narrow streets, public squares and medieval buildings topped with red-tiled roofs. It’s the sort of place where you can spend hours at a plaza café, sipping coffee or Chianti and watching the passersby.
Unless, that is, you’re our boy Bond, in which case, you spend your time racing through the cisterns beneath the city (actually a set back in England) and running across those ocher rooftops. And you do so, of course, during the climax of the Siena event calendar, the centuries-old bareback horse race known as Il Palio.
Held annually on July 2 and August 16, the race is a hellbent-for-leather event in which 10 horses and riders, representing various city wards, thunder around the city’s Piazza del Campo to the cheers of several thousand spectators. The festivities actually begin three days before the two official race days, and staking a viewing spot early is highly recommended. For information on next year’s palio, visit the Siena Tourist Board.
Located on the shore of Lake Constance, in western Austria, Bregenz is probably best known as the home of the Bregenz Festival, an annual arts program that draws upwards of 200,000 visitors a year. The centerpiece of the festival is its opera program, with performances held on a large floating stage just off shore.
Of course, for 007, it’s all merely a set piece in which our hero interrupts the bad guys’ plotting and engages in yet another fight scene, this time during a performance of “Tosca.” Presumably, things will be a bit less boisterous during next summer’s festival (July 22–August 23) which will showcase Verdi’s “Aida.”
From there, Bond heads to ... well, to say more would spoil the plot. Suffice it to say that there are more chases, more explosions and more general mayhem, which, when you think about it, suggests that you may not want to emulate 007 when you travel after all. I mean, really, the guy is not what you’d call a “low-impact” traveler, which may also explain why he’s always popping off to new places. Given the wreckage he often leaves behind, maybe no one ever invites him back.
Travel like 007? Sure, the locales are always exotic; the scenery, consistently stunning and the martinis, never anything but perfectly prepared. But unless you’ve got the resources of MI6 or MGM behind you, behaving like James Bond when you travel is probably a bad idea.