Every so often film directors take liberties with the James Bond formula. In 2012’s Skyfall, Sam Mendes had Daniel Craig drink Heineken instead of the traditional “vodka martini, shaken not stirred”, while Michael Apted gave Pierce Brosnan a BMW to drive in place of 007’s usual Aston Martin in his 1999 offering, The World is Not Enough.
But there’s one staple that directors would never dare mess with. Be they tropical islands, ski slopes, or cityscapes replete with domes and minarets, Bond films demand exotic locations. Spectre, 007’s latest screen outing released next week, is mostly set in Rome but Bond, played for the fourth time by Daniel Craig, also finds himself in fancy dress during the Day of the Dead celebrations in Mexico City, as well as breaking the speed limit around Lake Altaussee in the Austrian Alps.
Some Bond locations attract visitors in their own right. It’s rumoured, for example, that Venice was popular with tourists even before Casino Royale put it on the map in 2006. But for other locations, the Bond association is very much the main reason for going there. The Verzasca Dam in Switzerland’s Ticino region, for example, is what Pierce Brosnan’s Bond jumped off at the start of GoldenEye in 1995 – and a constant stream of fans continue to go there and pay for the dubious privilege of experiencing 007’s bungee freefall for themselves – all 722 vertiginous feet of it.
The Verzasca Dam in Switzerland
And Japan’s Mount Shinmoedake, which served as Bloomfield’s lair in the 1967 Sean Connery film You Only Live Twice was inundated with Bond fans up until it erupted again in 2011. Probably the most famous Bond location is the one that appeared in the first film outing, Dr No in 1962: Ocho Rios in Jamaica. This is where Honey Ryder (Ursula Andress) emerged from the sea wearing a white bikini, with a knife in her belt and a conch shell in her hand. The scene was filmed on Laughing Waters, which today is used as a wedding venue.
But there are plenty of Bond locations that you can still visit without getting married, and here are five of the best of them.
1. Italy’s Lake Como
Lake Como in northern Italy was a scenic backdrop to Casino Royale (2006). The Villa del Balbianello became the hospital where Bond (Daniel Craig) recovered, together with his love Vesper (Eva Green), and where the Swiss banker came to get the code to transfer the money that would… Oh, it’s too complicated to go into here. Built for Cardinal Angelo Maria Durini at the end of the 18th century, and open to visitors, the villa stands on the tip of a steep promontory overlooking Lake Como. The film’s final scene is on the lake, too.
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2. Thailand’s Phuket
Phuket is the main location for 1974’s The Man with the Golden Gun. As the suave Bond (Roger Moore) flies over Phang Nga Bay on his way to the island hideaway of the villainous Scaramanga (Christopher Lee) in Ko Tapu, he wryly reflects: “Bit off the beaten track, isn’t it?” And back then he was right. The location was so off the beaten track that the cast and crew stayed, unwittingly, at a brothel. Nowadays, “James Bond Island”, as it has since become known, heaves with day-trippers eager for a taste of the James Bond experience. Night-trippers, too, one imagines.
Neon has seldom looked so beautiful as it does in Skyfall (2012), the camera hovering over Shanghai at night before coming to rest on the blue rooftop pool of Bond’s hotel. Screenwriter John Logan picked Shanghai because, “we were looking for the opposite of London. We wanted an exotic location that seemed unlike the world that Bond grew up in, the world that he functions in.” If the airfare to China is out of your budget, the scene where Bond hangs from the underside of a skyscraper elevator was filmed at Broadgate Tower in Primrose Street, London.
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4. Las Vegas
Vegas had a starring role in Diamonds are Forever (1971). In one memorable scene Bond (Sean Connery), drives around in a Ford Mustang while investigating a diamond smuggling ring. For reasons that were never clear, the police give chase along the Las Vegas Boulevard. “Lean over,” 007 says to his passenger at one point before using a ramp to flip his car on its side and slip it through a gap. Vegas’s gaming tables also featured, and the Cosmopolitan Casino still has a “Bond bar” to this day.
5. India’s Taj Lake Palace
India is forever associated with Bond thanks to Octopussy (1983), and the wondrous Taj Lake Palace, Udaipur. Unfortunately, Octopussy is one of Bond’s more barmy outings. Bond (Roger Moore) disguises himself as a crocodile in order to swim up to the “floating palace,” which, populated only by attractive women, is the lair of the mysterious Octopussy (Maud Adams). Once the Maharaja of Udaipur’s summer palace, the Taj is now a luxury hotel where William and Ffion Hague spent their honeymoon. You can just hear him checking in: “The name’s Hague. William Hague.”
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