Films have the power to whisk you away to far-flung corners of the globe, without you ever having to leave your couch. But as well as offering a bit of entertainment and fuelling our desire to travel, they also remind us that the world on our own doorstep is not to be overlooked. From sun-warmed Italian villages to the bleak hills of Cumbria, these 10 films show off the undeniable beauty of Europe. Some are slices of pure escapism while others remind us that it’s not the place that’s important so much as who we’re with.
This idyllic depiction of Italian life has everything you’ve ever wanted from a Mediterranean-set romance: Think al-fresco dining, old cobbled piazzas and plenty of languorous sunbathing. Set in northern Italy in the ‘80s, this coming of age love story stars Timothée Chalamet as a boy who falls for a slightly older man (Armie Hammer) over the course of one long, hot summer. Watch it for scenes of Lake Garda and the timeless villages around Lombardy, where the pair spend their days riding bicycles and flirting in the sunshine.
2. Midsommar — Sweden/Hungary
Ari Aster took advantage of Scandinavia’s famous midnight sun to spook viewers in Midsommar, his nightmarish fairytale horror — not that that put anyone off. The film’s dappled meadows, rustic farmhouses, and fir-filled forests made us all want to visit Sweden. Most scenes of the Hårga village were actually filmed just outside of Budapest, Hungary, but the village does exist (though the rituals depicted in the film do not) as does Hälsingland, the region of Sweden in which most of Midsommar takes place. In fact, the folk art that features in almost every shot of the film exists too: There are several decorated farmhouses in the area that make up a protected UNESCO World Heritage site.
For turquoise waters and plunging coastlines depicted in glorious technicolor, look no further than Alfred Hitchcock’s To Catch a Thief. Set on the Côte d’Azur (Monaco, Nice, and Cannes), this slick thriller is about a retired burglar who falls for a Rivera socialite while a string of robberies leaves him fighting to clear his name. Expect suspense, seduction, and ‘50s-style innuendos — like the camera cutting away to a fireworks display during a moment of passion. For more sunny French sights on film (but with a downbeat feel), Éric Rohmer’s The Green Ray follows a restless soul as she drifts between The Alps and Biarritz. A must for anyone who’s ever felt the holiday blues.
While the film opens in a dreary flat in Camden Town, the two title characters soon make their way over to Cumbria, Northern England, to get away from it all and find “the finest wines available to humanity.” The desolate hills and rain-whipped farmhouses make the perfect setting for the debauched pair’s melancholic expedition. Despite being set in Penrith, Crow Crag, the cottage where the pair stay is actually Sleddale Hall, near Shap in Cumbria. Fans of the film can even organize a tour of the inside, although the room where Uncle Monty tries his luck with Marwood was filmed elsewhere.
Porco Rosso is an early animation from Studio Ghibli’s legendary Hayo Miyazaki. Most of the story takes place in the Adriatic Sea, between Italy and the former Yugoslavia — though much of the lovingly hand-drawn coastline resembles Croatia’s Dalmatian coast. Porco himself is an air ace who’s inexplicably been turned into a pig who plies his trade as a bounty hunter. He spends his days swooping his red seaplane over glittering waters and drinking wine in an idyllic sheltered cove that looks a little like Stiniva Beach on the island of Vis — which film fans might be interested to know is the setting of Mamma Mia 2.
Gideon Koppel’s documentary is a love letter to an ailing farming community in Trefeurig, Wales. Koppel’s camera picks out the small, unshowy beauty of village life: the smooth lines of plowed fields, the shape of flapping sheets on a washing, a small congregation of people singing hymns in a sunlit church. Despite the stunning beauty of the landscape, there’s a lurking suspicion that the demise of this community is inevitable — though it’s also a celebration of the resilience of the people who keep the village and its traditions alive.
Richard Linklater’s minimalistic stroll-and-talk trilogy starts with Before Sunrise, a sweet indie film that follows Jesse (Ethan Hawke) and Céline (Julie Delpy), a young French woman, who meet on a train and disembark together in Vienna. As the sun sets, they spend the night walking the cobbled streets, philosophizing and falling in love. Vienna is as much a character in the film as Jesse and Celine, as is Paris nine years later in Before Sunset and finally Messenia in Greece in Before Midnight. Their story is a perfect example of how travel has the power to make us reassess our own lives.
A rom-com for the ages, this monochrome classic stars Audrey Hepburn as a princess on tour in Rome and Gregory Peck as a journalist who’s just missed his interview slot with her. That evening, he lets a beautiful young woman who’s had a little too much to drink rest in his apartment. The following day, HRH cancels her appointments due to “sickness.” Coincidence? Nope! The journalist gives her majesty a grand old tour of Rome, which serves as the perfect backdrop for their burgeoning romance. For more Italy on film (but with a bit more bite), check out Sergio Leone’s “Dollars” trilogy, featuring the acclaimed The Good, The Bad and The Ugly.
“Bruges is a shit hole,” complains hitman Ray (Colin Farrell) at the beginning of this cult classic, before eventually succumbing to its charms. It’s easy to see why: This World Heritage site is filled with impossibly picturesque cobbled streets, chocolate box buildings, and a peaceful canal that winds its way through the city. Visit during Christmas, and you’ll get to follow in his footsteps and wander underneath masses of twinkling lights. Die-hard fans of the movie can even download an In Bruges map, which guides you around the filming locations.
Shot in stark black and white, Wim Wenders’ Wings of Desire reminds us that there’s beauty to be found in everyday life. The main character is an angel who wanders through Berlin, observing people and learning what it is to be human. As he watches the city-dwellers talking, going to work, feeling lonely, and falling in love, he yearns to give up his angel form and live among humans so he can experience life as they do. As well as being a poetic piece of cinema, it’s a romantic portrait of a divided Berlin in the late ‘80s, just two years before the Wall was pulled down. Watch it to see eerie, rubble-filled streets and Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds playing live in a smoky club.
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