Never mind the questionable singing in Mamma Mia! or the teenage angst that nearly drowns Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants 2. In the summer of the "staycation," you ought to go for the scenery.
For the price of admission — which is far less than an airplane ticket — both movies will take you to luscious Greek isles, their shores caressed by the twinkling Aegean. Cheaper still, rent a Greek getaway flick: Shirley Valentine (1989), Summer Lovers (1982) or Zorba the Greek (1964).
Movies have always inspired dreams of faraway places and even sent the adventurous packing. How many people rented lake homes in New England after seeing On Golden Pond? Or toyed with the idea of a safari because of Out of Africa? The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter series, even Sex and the City, spawned tours that connect devotee to location.
The multiplex offers plenty of armchair travel this summer. Brideshead Revisited transports us to the bucolic English countryside. Northern California wine country looks lovely in Bottle Shock. And if the Mediterranean isn't steamy enough on its own, get in line for Woody Allen's Vicky Cristina Barcelona, which the legendary director describes as a love letter to the Spanish city. Barcelona tourism promoters should be thrilled; Allen has made New York City look fabulous for decades.
These movies were all filmed at places that welcome tourists and, in fact, are expecting them.
Maybe next year's budget will have more wiggle room for globe-trotting. In the meantime, put these 2008 movie-inspired locales on your bucket list.
Meryl Streep & Co. sing and dance on an island called Kalokairi, which doesn't exist (except as the Greek word for summer). The islands of Skiathos and Skopelos are what you see in the movie.
Skiathos and Skopelos are in the Sporades chain, north of Athens and not far from mainland Greece. Skiathos' small airport caters to private planes and Olympic Airways flights from Athens in the summer. Reviews on Tripadvisor.com say the short runway makes for a dramatic landing. Ferries from Volos and Agios Konstantinos operate daily. For more information, go to aroundgreece.com and greeka.com.
Many beach scenes were shot on Skopelos' Kastani Beach. If you find Donna's tavern, you'll recognize it from one of the big dance numbers.
Most dramatic on Skopelos is the Agios Ioannis monastery, impossibly perched on a rocky promontory. Streep's character sprints up the steps to the chapel, but good luck doing that, especially in the excruciating summer heat. The monastery, home to a few nuns, is open to tourists only a couple days of the year, but there are hundreds of other monasteries on the island to explore.
The girls are back in Greece with their fancy pants. And though their challenges have become surprisingly adult, picturesque Santorini looks the same.
Long a favorite of filmmakers and tourists, swanky Santorini is the southernmost island in the Cyclades chain, about 70 miles north of Crete. Its hallmarks are white-washed buildings, blue doorways and domes and brilliant bougainvillea.
The Greek scenes were filmed in the village of Oia, also the location in the books from which the movies came. A tourist there can walk the narrow passages to the windmill that's seen on the screen. Yes, you'll need to take a donkey from the harbor at Amoudi Bay below or hoof it yourself up the 200-plus uneven steps.
Oia has a peaceful reputation, compared with more rambunctious and bigger Fira, another popular tourist destination. For more information, go to santorini.com.
The archaeological dig that was supposed to be in Turkey was actually filmed on sets in Greece. But if those scenes inspire you to go on a real dig, check out the programs at Wyoming Dinosaur Center in Thermopolis, Wyo. (www.bhbfonline.org or toll-free 1-800-455-3466) or the Judith River Dinosaur Institute, Malta, Mont. (www.montanadinosaurdigs.com or (406) 696-5842).
The lush, rolling vineyards of Napa and Sonoma counties are more than ready for their close-up in Bottle Shock. The film is based on the true story of Chateau Montelena, whose Napa Valley chardonnay beat the French in a historic 1976 blind tasting in Paris. A red wine from Napa's Stags' Leap also bested the French, but that victory is addressed only in the closing credits.
The main street of small-town Calistoga is even funkier in real life than on screen. Old-school hippies coexist with newbie millionaires. Visitors come to Calistoga to soak in hot springs mineral baths and stay at B&Bs. And, as always, to taste wine. For information, go to www.calistogafun.com.
Visit Chateau Montelena in Calistoga (1429 Tubbs Lane; (707) 942-5105 or www.montelena.com) for a sip of their latest creations and to see the 1882 winery that stars in the movie. Then head south to Stags' Leap (6150 Silverado Trail; toll-free 1-800-640-5327 or www.stagsleap.com) to try their reds. Moviemakers also filmed at Buena Vista Winery (18000 Old Winery Road, Sonoma; (707) 938-1266 or www.buenavistacarneros.com).
Interestingly, the maker of the Montelena wine that won the tasting was Mike Grgich, who is not portrayed in the movie. He operates his own winery now, Grgich Hills in Rutherford in the Napa Valley (www.grgich.com).
Another insider note: Doobie Brothers music is prominent on the soundtrack and even it has a wine connection. The band's manager, Bruce Cohn, makes wine and olive oil at B.R. Cohn Winery & Olive Hill Estate Vineyards (www.brcohn.com) in Glen Ellen.
No need to book a trip to France to see the countryside. Those scenes were filmed in California wine country, too.
The big-screen adaptation of Evelyn Waugh's love-among-the-aristocrats story puts England's revered Castle Howard front and center as the fictitious Brideshead manor. Forget who ends up with whom; it's more important to know that you can tour the historic baroque home and walk its extensive gardens, 1,000 acres to be precise.
The Howard family — yes, the clan is still around — depends on money raised from tourism to keep the 18th century home in tip-top shape. There's a cafe and gift shop, children's activities and concerts, plus changing exhibits. Castle Howard was also used in the much-loved 1981 TV miniseries.
Pop over on Oct. 16 and you can sit in on a lecture titled "Castle Howard & Brideshead: Fact, Fiction and In Between."
To read more about the estate north of York, go to www.castlehoward.co.uk.
Vicky Cristina Barcelona
Everything is sexy in Woody Allen's new movie, and that includes the vibrant city of Barcelona. Honestly, if one summer in Barcelona could make us half as gorgeous and sizzling as Javier Bardem, Penelope Cruz and Scarlett Johansson, who wouldn't be packing their bags?
Scenes were shot in the Picasso Museum (www.museupicasso.bcn.es) and on Passeig de Garcia, a street dotted with some of the city's most interesting architecture and unique shops. Central to the city's style is the work of Antoni Gaudi and his distinctive, modern buildings. The movie, which opened this weekend, features his unfinished church La Sagrada Familia (www.sagradafamilia.cat).
Santa Maria del Mar, a Gothic church built in the 1300s, provides one of many stunning backdrops for the movie's tangled love story. The church is open to visitors daily for free, and there is a choral Mass at 1 p.m. on Sundays. Find out more at www.sacred-destinations.com.
Ready to jet right now? About $900 will get you a flight from Tampa, connecting in Atlanta and then straight on to Catalonia's capital city.
Janet K. Keeler can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8585.