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`Quantum of Solace` locations are as thrilling as the action

08-Nov-2008 • Quantum Of Solace

The Quantum of Solace locations are as thrilling as the action. Mark Hodson of The Times shows how to build your own 007 adventure...

As the new Bond film bursts onto a cinema screen near you, it introduces a whole new generation to the landscapes of Latin America.

The film’s villain, Dominic Greene, has his hideout at an eco-hotel in the mountains of Bolivia. The “hotel” is actually the space-age workers’ quarters at the Paranal Observatory, high in the Atacama Desert, Chile.

The Atacama is revered by astronomers for its thin, dry air - there are places where rain has never been recorded - and for the near-total absence of light pollution. The parched, rock-strewn desert has also been used by Nasa scientists to road-test Mars rover vehicles.

Though arid and unforgiving, the desert landscape is startlingly beautiful and surprisingly varied. There are volcanic craters, black sand dunes and vast salt lakes. You can hike along narrow quebradas carved into the salt rock and find 2,000-year-old petroglyphs hewn into the walls of caves. At night, lie back and watch shooting stars arc over a black-velvet sky.

The observatory, which houses some of the world’s most powerful telescopes, is off limits to the public, but you can stay at Explora Atacama, a luxury retreat on the outskirts of the oasis town of San Pedro, which has its own observatory equipped with a 16in telescope. It also has four pools, stables and a team of English-speaking guides who take guests out on daily hiking, riding and mountain-biking expeditions.

Four nights, full-board, at Explora Atacama, with a further three nights, B&B, at the Grand Hyatt in Santiago, starts at £2,652pp, including flights, with Journey Latin America (020 8747 8315, www.journeylatinamerica.co.uk ).

The other Latin Bond location was Panama, which stands in for Haiti. In Panama City, the atmospheric colonial quarter of Casco Viejo was used to shoot many of the street scenes. The area is a grid of cobbled lanes, crumbling Spanish mansions and wrought-iron balustrades. For many years, it was derelict and sleazy, but Casco Viejo is now on the up, with houses restored and restaurants and bars opening.

Other Quantum of Solace locations in Panama include the Calidonia district of Panama City and some of the beaches to the east of Colon. All of them can be seen on a bespoke tour of Panama that also includes a visit to the Bocas del Toro archipelago and a partial transit of the Panama Canal. A 13-day trip, starts at £3,158pp, including flights, with Last Frontiers (01296 653000, www.lastfrontiers.com ).

There’s plenty of drama in Europe, too. One location stands out for sheer romance - a little castle on the coast of Italy, where Bond meets up with his old ally, Mathis, and drinks wine on the terrace. The Torre di Talamonaccio is a handsome medieval tower near Grosseto, in the south of Tuscany - and it’s available to rent.

The tower, which sleeps eight, is all yours for £5,500 a week in high season, with The Holiday Group (01202 961300, www.villavillas.com; ref 4856). Originally built to fend off Saracen hordes, the recently renovated property has turreted sun terraces and a private docking area where, like Bond, you could park a speedboat.

Italy features strongly in the new movie. The opening sequence sees Daniel Craig locked in a furious car chase, steering his Aston Martin DBS around Lake Garda. The road is as treacherous as it is scenic - during filming, a delivery driver missed a turn and plunged into the water, writing off one of Bond’s £120,000 cars.

To appreciate the sumptuous beauty of the Italian lakes, it’s sensible to slow down. A great place to do this is the pretty spa town of Sirmione, where, overlooking Lake Garda, you’ll find the genteel Villa Cortine. Here, you can do a few laps of the summer swimming pool or dine under the stars by the lake at the alfresco restaurant - all very sophisticated.

Three nights start at £875pp, B&B, including flights and car hire, with Kirker Holidays (020 7593 2288, www.kirkerholidays.com ). The concierge can arrange to upgrade your group B car to a Ferrari or Lamborghini (seems they’re all out of Aston Martins) from £820 a day. Just be careful on those bends.

As the opening car chase segues from the Italian lakes into Tuscany (the producers have played fast and loose with the geography of Italy), Bond finds himself in Carrara, running around the marble quarries of Canalgrande and Fantiscritti. Then it’s straight on to Siena, where our man is seen chasing villains across rooftops and through the town’s tangled network of subterranean aqueducts.

The chase through Siena - one of the film’s many highlights - takes place during the Palio, a bareback horse race that’s been held on Piazza del Campo almost every year since 1310. Hot-headed riders from rival contrade (districts) of the town charge three times around the perimeter of the square, each armed with a whip they can use on their own horses - and to beat off other riders.

You’ll have to wait a while to see the race, which is held every year on July 2 and August 16, but it pays to book ahead: though entry to the square is free, anyone who wants to escape the crush of bodies and get a decent view will need a grandstand seat or a balcony in one of the buildings on the piazza. Liaisons Abroad (0870 421 4020, www.liaisonsabroad.com ) can arrange that. It has three nights in August at Siena’s three-star Hotel Duomo for £740pp, including seats overlooking the finish line, but not flights.

Alternatively, you could turn Bond’s journey through Italy into your very own road trip. With Citalia (0871 664 0253, www.citalia.com), a tailor-made fly-drive, with four nights on Lake Garda, two nights in Siena and four nights in Viareggio, on the Tuscan coast, starts at £799pp, B&B, including British Airways flights into Verona and out of Pisa, and a group B car.

Over the border in Austria, Bond visits the opera at Bregenz, on the shores of Lake Constance, where a colourful music festival takes place in summer. Performances are held in the town’s futuristic opera house and on a floating stage on the lake. Last summer, the film’s producer, Barbara Broccoli, Rosamund Witcher and the director, Marc Forster, saw a performance of Tosca and were so impressed that they arranged for the entire production to be recreated for the film. The show stops when Bond, dressed in a tuxedo, chases a villain across the stage and into the audience.

Next year’s Bregenz Festival (www.bregenzerfestspiele.com) runs from July 22 to August 23 and will feature Aida; tickets start at £23 if booked online. JMB Travel (01452 715370, www.jmb-travel.co.uk ) has two nights at the three-star Hotel Bodensee from £419pp, B&B, including flights from Heathrow and top-level tickets to the opera. It also has a three-night escorted tour, departing on July 24, 2009, from £745pp.

Some of the scenes in Austria were filmed in Feldkirch, a charming town of cobbled, pedestrianised streets. It’s an easy day trip from Bregenz - less than an hour on the train, then a 10-minute walk from the station to the old town.


MATHIEU AMALRIC - aka Bond’s latest nemesis, archvillain Dominic Greene - gives us an insider’s tour of the settings he discovered while filming Quantum of Solace.

Much of the movie is set in Latin America, and we filmed in Panama for a month - it stands in for Haiti in the film. For me, the highlight of Panama was the San Blas archipelago. Lots of people go there, but there’s a reason for that: it’s absolutely beautiful. It’s 350 little islands that are completely unspoilt. Just beautiful blue sea, coconut trees and fresh fish - perfect.

The people who live there, the Kuna Indians, have such a beautifully simple life. They’re completely cut off from the world. They live a little from tourism, but other than that they are just living on their own, from the land.

I hate seeing places that have been destroyed by tourism, so I like to seek out villages that are the same as they would have been 100 years ago. There are lots of villages like that along the Chagres river, in Panama. There are tribes that have been living there for centuries and now tourism is arriving, so they have to learn to live with that.

Overall, I had mixed feelings about Panama. We filmed in two locations: the capital, Panama City, and Colon, on the Caribbean coast. They’re completely different. Panama City is expanding so fast, there are skyscrapers everywhere. It’s like Florida - they are trying to attract all the retired people from Miami to come and live there.

Colon is more real. It does have its problems - there’s a lot of racism between the Hispanic and West Indian communities - but it’s more authentic. I wanted to explore it more, but the problem is, on a huge film like Quantum of Solace, they won’t allow you to leave the hotel for more than a day.

I was more attracted to Chile, which is where we shot the scenes set in Bolivia. We filmed for two weeks in Antofagasta, in the north. On one side is the Pacific Ocean and on the other the Atacama desert. I got to see more of the country there. You see, by then I understood that I shouldn’t tell the production team anything, because they would stop us leaving the hotel. So my girlfriend came out with our baby, we rented a car and we escaped!

It was amazing. We drove to a village north of Antofagasta called Juan Lopez. It was a wonderful place where there wasn’t any water or electricity. Two old women ran this run-down old restaurant right on the beach, where everything was made from wood. It was very, very simple: we ate steak and potatoes, our baby slept on the floor - they loved the baby there. It was beautiful. In fact, it was paradise.

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