In the eighth installment in the series looking at the world of James Bond, we visit Italy...

The World Of James Bond - Italy
8th January 2005

It is not until the end of the first section of the short story Risico (found in For Your Eyes Only) that we learn that James Bond is on assignment in Rome, one of Ian Fleming’s least favourite cities. Bond appears to have little interest in the city beyond food and the drink, and makes no effort to see the unmissable Coliseum, nor the nearby Roman Forum.

He meets his contact, Kristatos, at the Excelsior Bar. The bar belongs to the hotel of the same name, located in Via Vittorio Veneto, Rome’s most celebrated avenue since featuring in La Dolce Vita, and renowned as one of the world’s great classic hotels.

After his rendezvous, the two make their way to the presumably fictional Albergo Colomba d’Oro, off Piazza di Spagna at the foot of the famous Spanish Steps.

Above: The Excelsior Hotel

Above: The Spanish Steps

The restaurant appears to have been an eye-opener for Bond; he orders “Tagliatelli Verdi with a Genoese sauce which Kristatos said was improbably concocted of basil, garlic and fir cones”. Unfortunately though, Fleming fails to tell us what Bond thinks of his first taste of pesto.

Leaving the restaurant he meets the German girlfriend of Kristatos’ rival, Colombo, owner of the restaurant. Offering her a taxi ride to her hotel, the Ambassadori, Lisl Baum refuses Bond’s offer of a drink, but tells him she will be travelling to Venice the following day: “I bathe every afternoon at the Lido. But not the fashionable plage. I bathe at the Bagni Alberoni, where the English poet Byron used to ride his horse”. After dropping the girl at the Ambassadori, Bond continues in the taxi to his own hotel, the Nazionale. Although the Ambassadori seems no longer to exist, the four star Hotel Nazionale is an 18th century palace in Piazza Montecitorio, close to the Trevi Fountain and the Spanish Steps.

Ian Fleming vented his spleen against Rome and its inhabitants in his newspaper travelogues, also collected in book form, under the title Thrilling Cities. Driving from France on his way to Naples, Fleming arrived in a Rome that was undergoing a pre-Olympic transformation. “The monstrous autostrada hoardings, demonstrating, even more forcibly than the Italians’ total lack of interest in their artistic and architectural treasures, that Italy is a race of Philistines, flip by with the kilometres” and “It is not that the ordinary Italian, while loathing and despising all tourists, milks him with the minimum of grace and the maximum of money”. Harsh words indeed, but although Rome certainly has its attractions, it seems to have changed little since Fleming’s fleeting visit.

“The best train from Rome to Venice is the Laguna express that leaves every day at midday” writes Fleming. “The Laguna is a smart, streamlined affair that looks and sounds more luxurious than it is. The seats are made for small Italians and the restaurant car staff suffer from the disease that affects their brethren in the great trains all over the world – a genuine loathing of the modern traveller and particularly for the foreigner”. Sadly the Laguna express seems no longer to be in operation, although you can still make the four-and-a-half hour journey from Rome to Venice by train. Once he has arrived, Bond checks into the Gritti Palace, situated on the Grand Canal. The hotel was originally built as a palace in 1525 and Hemingway described it “as the best hotel in a city of great hotels”.

Bond passed his evening in the inevitable Bond manner; first to Harry’s Bar, followed by Florian’s “and finally upstairs at the admirable Quadri”, and although Fleming does not recount what Bond ordered in each establishment, he returns to Florian’s the following day for an Americano. What is sure though is that Bond didn’t travel too far, as all three establishments are in St Mark’s Square. Harry’s Bar was established in 1931 by Giuseppe Cipriani, and is where the Bellini cocktail was invented in 1943. Although it has played host to many distinguished names over the years, it now has a reputation for being overpriced and serving indifferent food (although probably Bond was there purely for liquid nourishment). Caffè Florian opened in 1720 and as well as various coffees and teas, serves cocktails, wines and Champagnes and offers a light lunch menu. Gran Caffè Ristorante Quadri dates from 1638, although lacked a restaurant until the upper floor was converted in the nineteenth century. The dinner menu starts at €110, although this includes VAT and service.

The next day after lunch, Bond takes the vaporetto to “the tiny fishing village of Alberoni” and to the Bagni Alberoni to meet Lisl Baum, surely the most unattractive sounding name of all the Bond girls. After a half an hour with her, Bond finds he has been set up and after running off along the beach he is captured by Colombo and knocked unconscious.

Bond awakes on what “might once have been a large fishing-vessel” and concludes that “they were sailing down the Adriatic coast”. Colombo wants to explain that not is all it seems with Kristatos, but before they talk, provides refreshments: “What will you have-gin, whisky, champagne? And this is the finest sausage in the whole of Bologna. Olives from my own estate. Bread, butter, Provelone-that is smoked cheese-and fresh figs. Peasant food, but good”.


It turns out that Kristatos is the heroin smuggler that Bond has been sent to Italy to stop, and in order o accomplish his mission, agrees to help Colombo in an operation against Kristatos “at a small fishing-port just north of Ancona, Santa Maria”. Colombo has discovered that Kristatos has a shipment of raw opium arriving that night, hidden in rolls of newsprint, and intends to put an end to him. The mission goes ahead as planned and having destroyed the shipment and killing Kristatos, they make their return journey. “Over a mound of fried eggs and bacon washed down with hot sweet coffee laced with rum, Colombo dotted the i’s and crossed the t’s”. At the end of the story Colombo hands Bond some keys, telling Bond that he has happy for Bond to see Lisl Baum: “The metal tag was inscribed Albergo Danielli. Room 68”. Let’s hope that Bond managed to track down the five-star Albergo Danieli, a hotel just off St Mark’s in Venice.

"The World Of James Bond" will continue next month...

Article by David Leigh.