When Woody Allen sets his movie camera on a city, he writes it a cheeky but honorable love letter, portraying it as he might do a beautiful woman who also has an indecently bawdy sense of humor and a full-throated laugh. The Barcelona of his “Vicky Christina Barcelona,” the Paris of his “Midnight in Paris and the Rome of his “To Rome with Love” shine, glitter and entrance the viewer. If you need a little movie magic in your own life, consider a European holiday following in the footsteps of one of the most celebrated film directors of our time.
Traveling due east, Paris barely edges out Barcelona for the most westerly of the cities on the itinerary. In “Midnight in Paris,” a gifted American writer reduced to well-paying but soulless hack work for movie studios in Hollywood traipses about the city and its surrounding attractions with his lovely but acerbic fiancée. This is all before being swallowed into a time-warp, which allows him to rub shoulders with the Lost Generation. Two hotels were used to portray the sumptuous digs where Gil and his fiancée’s family stayed: Hotel Le Bristol on the Rue du Fauborg Saint Honore and the Le Meurice Hotel, opposite the Tuileries Garden.
If shopping is your first love, consider the Les Bouquinistes (Seine Book Stalls), where Gil found the diary of Adriana or the famous Les Puces de Saint-Ouen (Flea Market) where he joked with a beautiful young Frenchwoman about being part of Cole Porter’s circle. The famous Shakespeare and Company in the 5th arrondissement on Paris’s Left Bank was once a gathering place for Ernest Hemingway and his compatriots. Art lovers should check out the Musee de l’Orangerie, the home of Monet’s Les Nympheas (Water Lilies), the incomparable Musee Louvre and the Musee Rodin, where France’s luminous former first lady, Carla Bruni, portrayed a composed and serene tour guide.
Starlet Scarlett Johansson almost rivals Barcelona for beauty – almost. The city is at its most inviting in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona,” the tale of two American friends who become entangled with a Spaniard and his volatile ex-wife. The Casa Fuster’s Café Viennese provides the backdrop for a scene between Vicky and her aunt, but visitors have numerous sleeping options in the Eixample neighborhood, like the nearby five-star Eurostars BCN Design just down the Passeig de Gracia, Barcelona’s Rodeo Drive.
The Parc Guell, a Unesco World Heritage site, marks the spot where Vicky first meets Juan Antonio, an artist, while the Can Travi Nou, a romantic restaurant (and 17th century farmhouse) where Cristina joins the duo for supper, is an excellent lunch or dinner spot. No trip to Barcelona is complete without a walk along the La Rambla dels Ocells (“the avenue of the birds”), where Vicky agrees to meet Juan Antonio over the phone while her husband obliviously exclaims over the canaries. A good finish to any night is a trip to the Bar Marsella, where Cristina and Juan Antonio shared drinks; the place is infamous for its “green fairy” absinthe.
Allen’s latest offering, “To Rome with Love,” has only just been released; while the Eternal City hardly requires any additional press, fans can explore the attractions that served as backdrop for the film.
Three major spots in Rome are featured in the film, along with usual sights like the Colosseum. The Villa Borghese, a lively park in the heart of Rome, houses a zoo, an Etruscan museum and a Victorian-style theater known as the Globe Theater, which is an almost exact replica of the infamous Shakespeare haunt in London. The Villa Borghese provides much background for the story which follows Monica, who is visiting her friend Sally and Sally’s boyfriend, Jack. Milly wanders around her hotel and ends up getting lost in the Piazza del Popolo, a square filled with both tourists and locals, which is surrounded by churches, fountains and other monuments. The famous Spanish Steps, too, provide stunning scenery, which Hayley comments on as she overlooks the widest staircase in Europe.
Jamisen Powers is a contributing writer who considers himself both a movie and travel buff. His most memorable trip was a college study abroad semester in Paris – where he met his future wife in a café.