Movies have long had the power to spark tourist trends, but changing viewing habits and increased TV production values mean it’s the small screen that’s now inspiring serious wanderlust, writes Carolyn Moore
The name Fran Padilla might not mean anything to you, and her home, at 3828 Piermont Drive, Albuquerque may not rank alongside the Eiffel Tower in terms of well known tourist destinations, but if I told you Fran cleans a whole pizza off her garage roof at least once weekly, would that ring a bell?
Fran’s house was, for five seasons, home to Walter and Skyler White, and at the height of Breaking Bad fever, 200 people a day were swinging by to catch a glimpse of the White family residence, and possibly reenact that famous pizza scene.
Four years after the show’s conclusion, Padilla’s home still features on Albuquerque’s many Breaking Bad tours; people still throw pizzas on her roof; and New Mexico continues to enjoy an influx of tourists keen to experience the rocky desert vistas and sunbaked suburban sprawl of Walt and Jesse’s world. They can even do it from a retro RV, just like the one on the show.
Though movies have long had the power to spark tourist frenzies, changing viewing habits and increased production values in TV mean it’s the small screen that’s now inspiring serious wanderlust in viewers. As our appetite for binge watching proves insatiable, travel experts say that -- while not a new phenomenon – visiting filming locations, or ‘set-jetting’, is an exploding trend in travel.
From the comfort of our couches we are regularly transported to some of the most dramatic landscapes on earth; swept off our sofas by the kind of cinematography once reserved for movies. Binge watching immerses us so completely in the worlds we see on screen, it’s little wonder we want to discover them for ourselves.
As Cathy Burke, general manager of Travel Counsellors Ireland confirms, “We are seeing a rise in TV-inspired travel at Travel Counsellors. While the trend for ‘set jetting’ is not necessarily new, it shows no sign of slowing down, as it’s fuelled by epic programmes like Game of Thrones, where stunning scenery is so central to the show.” For today’s wannabe set-jetters, Game of Thrones reigns supreme – hardly surprising when you consider the breadth of locations used on the show and the level of fandom it inspires. “From Seville and Croatia, to Iceland and Northern Ireland, these locations are proving very popular at the moment,” Cathy explains. “Iceland serves as the land north of the Wall, and according to Iceland’s tourism board, their tourist figures almost doubled from 566,000 to over 1 million between 2011 and 2015.” Equally, she says, “When Croatia featured on Game of Thrones, there was certainly an uptake in bookings.” For those inspired to set-jet, the truly enterprising can go the self-led route – there’s even an app for that. Download the free iTourMobile app, search for your favourite show, and discover key filming locations. Though this has its advantages –you can pick and chose the locations, and with a bit of luck enjoy them to yourself – guided tours can offer the kind of insider access a true fan will appreciate.
If a TV show has inspired you to take flight, Travel Counsellors (travelcounsellors.ie) can put the perfect package together; and experiential tour companies like Black Tomato (blacktomato.com) have packages for the like of Twin Peaks (Washington State), Westworld (Utah), The Crown (England and Scotland), and The Young Pope (Rome).
And if you’re seeking inspiration (not to mention a good, binge-worthy watch), these top 2017 shows feature lust worthy locations that might inspire you to give a whole new meaning to the phrase ‘armchair traveller’.
1 - Riviera (Sky Atlantic)
The luxe life on the Cote d’Azur: It set viewing records for Sky Atlantic this summer, and given its mega-glam location in the South of France, it’s hardly surprising Riviera has viewers desperate not just to follow the action each week, but to follow the protagonists all the way to the sun-drenched French Riviera.
It set viewing records for Sky Atlantic this summer, and given its mega-glam location in the South of France, it’s hardly surprising Riviera has viewers desperate not just to follow the action each week, but to follow the protagonists all the way to the sun-drenched French Riviera.
Billed by the show as ‘the opulent playground of the world’s filthy rich’, you don’t have to be rich to visit the Cote d’Azur – but it helps. To live like Julia Styles’ Georgina, the wife of a billionaire art dealer, a stay in the exclusive Grand-Hôtel du Cap-Ferrat, where several scenes were filmed, is a must. It will set you back at least €1,000 a night, but who said the luxe life came cheap?
The nearby city of Nice – the backdrop for much of Rivera’s action – offers up some more affordable options, as does the charming Beaulieu-sur-mer, but wherever you go on the Cote d’Azur you can take solace in the fact that the stunning views are free.
The same can’t be said for Georgina’s palatial home. The real life Château Diter in Mougins is available for private rental, but at billionaire-only rates. Many other Nice landmarks though, including the opera house, the Cimetière du Chateau (a gorgeous old cemetery overlooking the city), the attractive Massena square, the modernist Asian Arts Museum, and the yacht-dappled Port of Villefranche-sur-Mer feature in the show too, and they don’t come with eye-watering entrance fees.
2- Big Little Lies (Sky Atlantic)
A Big Sur road trip:
One of the most addictive pieces of prestige TV to hit our screens this year, fans of Big Little Lies weren’t just obsessed with whodunit (and to whom). The stunning scenery and breathtaking cliff top homes of Monterey captivated as much as the riveting plot and A-list cast of Reese Witherspoon and Nicole Kidman, and that was no accident. “It just has a hypnotic beauty,” the show’s writer, David E. Kelly says of Monterey.
“Aesthetically, we were looking to draw the audience in and have them say, ‘I want to go there on vacation.’” And it worked. From the first second of the opening credits – where Big Sur’s iconic Bixby Bridge looms large over soaring cliffs and a crashing Pacific Ocean – the wanderlust hits. While most of the action takes place in the small city of Monterey, the show was filmed in several locations along California’s Highway 1, making a road trip the ultimate way to experience the panoramic views and cinematic sunsets showcased on Big Little Lies.
Take time outs in Monterey city, the adjacent coastal village of Pacific Grove, and Carmel-by-the-sea, checking out local landmarks like Old Fisherman’s Wharf (where our moms meet for coffee) and the famed Monterey Bay Aquarium. Lovers Point offers incredible views of Monterey Bay, and active types can hike the coast and cliff tops at Garrapata State Park or jog in Shailene Woodley’s footsteps on the secluded Del Monte beach.
Cathy’s tip: “I’d advise driving north to south – flying into San Francisco and out of LA – for the best views, and for a taste of the high life, head to the exclusive Carmel Highlands, where Nicole Kidman’s character lives, and stay at the Hyatt Carmel Highlands, with its sweeping ocean views.”
3 - Master of None (Netflix)
A pasta pilgrimage in Modena:
In real life, Aziz Ansari is mad about Modena and crazy about cuisine, so it made sense that his alter ego, Dev, would make a culinary pilgrimage to this charming Italian city in season two of Master of None.
Though the season as a whole will leave you pining for a Big Apple break, episodes one and two will have you drooling over northern Italy’s signature dishes, as foodie Dev eats his way through a pasta-making apprenticeship. You’ll quickly be considering your own gourmet adventure through this renowned centre of gastronomy, as it becomes apparent that some of the world’s top restaurants are nestled behind unassuming facades amongst the cobbled streets and open plazas of this historic town.
Don’t miss Hosteria Giusti, though you easily could, since it’s hidden behind a well stocked deli counter and patrons pass through the kitchen where their fresh pasta is made to reach the homey little restaurant in the back.
For brunch, try the landmark Bar Schiavoni in Modena, home of the famous sausage sandwich. With three Michelin stars, Osteria Francescana is the holy grail of Italian food, and was treated with due reverence on the show, but if you can’t get a reservation, their sister restaurant, Franceschetta58, rates pretty highly too.
Cathy’s tip: “Pavarotti’s home town, Modena is located in the beautiful north-east region of Emilia-Romagna. For simply stunning Italian cuisine, try Massimo Bottura’s restaurant, Osteria Francescana, currently the number two restaurant in the world.”
4 - Poldark (BBC)
The rugged outdoors in Cornwall:
Still a ratings winner, season three of the brooding period drama pulled in over 5 million viewers, and once again, the rugged charms of Irish actor Aidan Turner were almost upstaged by the rugged charm of Cornwall. Set in the 18th century, the untouched quality of much of the Cornish coast makes it a boon for location scouts, and for tourists in search of something off the beaten track.
As a destination, Cornwall has plenty to offer, but the Poldark trail puts the focus firmly on the great outdoors. Visitcornwall.com details every location, and their free ‘Experience Poldark’ app is the ultimate tour guide for independent travellers.
Positioned at the southernmost tip of England, Cornwall has beaches in abundance, many featuring prominently on the show. On the south of the peninsula, the picturesque harbour village of Charlestown stands in for Poldark’s Truro, and behind that, dotted with walking routes, the wild expanse of Bodmin Moor is where you’ll find Poldark’s cottage.
Head north for Padstow, where spectacular views across Camel Estuary and Tregirls beach will be familiar to fans of the show; and moving down the northern coast you’ll pass Holywell Bay and its now iconic twin peaked Gull Rock. Nearby St. Agnes head was pivotal to a couple of the show’s cliffhanger finales; and at the tip of the peninsula lies Botallack mines and the beautiful beach at Porthcurno. Shipwreck scenes were filmed at the sandy coves of Gunwalloe, and on the white sands of Kynance Cove you’ll feel like you’re on the edge of the world.
Cathy’s tip: “Charlestown Harbour, a key location for the show, has breath-taking views. For accommodation, try Retallack, where some of the cast stayed. This five star resort and spa comes with its own water sports playground, including a Total Wipeout style Aqua Park.”
5 - Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic)
A whistle-stop weekend in Northern Ireland:
For Irish Game of Thrones fans, discovering some of the fictional lands and kingdoms depicted on the show doesn’t even involve getting on a plane, as many of the show’s most iconic locations are right on our doorstep in Northern Ireland.
In fact, Northern Ireland boasts more Seven Kingdom locations than anywhere else in the world, with Westeros, Winterfell, the Iron Islands and the Dothraki Sea all having been brought to life across Ireland’s northern coast, from Newcastle to Colraine. Needless to say, Northern Ireland’s enviable status as the ultimate Game of Thrones destination means there are numerous companies offering tours and experiences designed to bring the show to life.
From medieval banquets and archery at Winterfell castle, to forest glamping and cosplay, fans can chose how much (or how little) they want to immerse themselves in a real life Game of Thrones; but as the show’s location scouts have mostly taken advantage of Northern Ireland’s rugged, unscarred landscape, this is a destination made for solo expeditions.
Easily explored in a weekend, the Northern Ireland Game of Thrones Filming Locations app will help you discover all of the show’s accessible filming locations.
Cathy’s tip: “Head to Tollymore Forest Park, aka the Haunted Forest, and to Castel Ward, the home of Winterfell. Murlough Bay in County Antrim – or Slaver’s Bay – is a must, and check out The Dark Hedges in Ballymoney, one of the most photographed places in Northern Ireland.”
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