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Set Jetting in Italy


With all the time spent at home these last few years, many of us retreated to the escapism and entertainment of incredible dramas on television, streaming services, and film. We could not travel except through our screens.

And that we did.  

So it any surprise that the hottest trend now is set-jetting? The shows we’ve seen on our television sets inspire us to jet off to see the lands captured on film. So much so that destinations, resorts, and tourism boards are now vying for productions to feature their hotels, landscapes, seas, and history.  

Here are some films and television series that inspired, and continue to inspire, travel to Italy! 

Rome || A Roman Holiday

This 1953 film must be the original inspiration for travel to Italy. In the opening credits alone, you’ll see St. Peter’s Square, Vittorio Emanuele II Monument, Ponte Sant’Angelo, the Colosseum, the Roman Forum, the Piazza del Popolo and the Trevi Fountain. Many have made pilgrimages to the Mouth of Truth, which is in a hidden portico in the Piazza della Bocca della Verità at Santa Maria in Cosmed in church.

And yes, there is, in fact, a legend, dating from medieval times, that whoever places their hand inside the mouth will have it bitten off if they are a liar! The Spanish Steps are also depicted in the film.

But the romantic Palazzo Brancaccio provided the backdrop for Princess Anne’s embassy, played by Audrey Hepburn.  The grand reception hall, the living quarters, and the press conference at the end were all filmed there. Today, the palace is a popular setting for weddings. And the scene where they dance on a barge on the Tiber is filmed with the distinctive Castel Sant’Angelo in the background.  

Milan || I Am Love

The sublime modernist masterpiece in the center of Milan played host to Luca Guadagnino’s much-loved 2009 movie I Am Love, a romantic film about an affluent Milanese family. And the matriarch of the family begins an affair with a chef. 

During her time in Milan, our very own Alice visited this beautiful haven of calm right in the city center: Villa Necchi Campiglio. It is a wonderfully accomplished and luxurious example of Italian architecture of the interwar period; it is stark, imposing, and surrounded by a breathtaking garden, complete with a swimming pool and tennis court. Once home to the prestigious Necchi Campiglio family – renowned members of the Lombard industrial bourgeoisie – the villa represented a new idea of luxury typical of the period. 

Its vast, high-ceilinged rooms boast walnut panels and parquetry to die for, as well as beautiful steel embossed doors, and are filled with extraordinary decorative arts and furnishings. It also holds an impressive array of artworks from the original Necchi Campiglio collection. 

“It shows the obsession with perfection and details that the Milanese bourgeoisie have,” Guadagnino explained. “Old money always comes with great charm. Their real success is making others believe that money doesn’t exist – and luxury, as most people perceive it, doesn’t really exist in this house. It’s very severe and feels almost unmovable, like a piece of rock.”

You can visit the villa in all its splendor seven days a week.

Pantelleria || A Bigger Splash

The film added this little-known island to my bucket list. Pantelleria is an extinct volcano for more than 10,000 years that reminds us of its origin in every moment. Proof of this are its landscape, the eroded cones, the rugged hills, the pumice stones that line sections of the relief while the wind blows relentlessly. The fertile volcanic land shows its luxuriant vegetation to those who walk the internal paths. In this context, the island offers active fumaroles, called “favare”.

Lava stone cliffs overlooking the sea, stacks, coves, dry stone walls, dammusi (constructions of Arab origin built with volcanic stones), malvasia and zibibbo vineyards. Here natural and uncontaminated elements blend perfectly, creating a unique atmosphere: wild and powerful nature is the absolute protagonist.

And as if this were not enough, its transparent waters allow the visitor who loves water sports, diving or snorkeling to enjoy incomparable sensations. Boat excursions around the island offer magnificent views of the rocky coast with its caves surrounded by crystal clear water.

Tuscany || Under the Tuscan Sun

The Talented Mr. Ripley is the only reason the delightful book Under the Tuscan Sun became a film. The producer of the former, Tom Sternberg, and actor Matt Damon ran into Frances Mayes and her husband in a wine bar. Sternberg had read the book, and his encounter with the author got him thinking. And luckily lovers of Tuscany can continue to enjoy the 2003 film, which is truly a love letter to the hills and cypresses of this region.

The romantic comedy portrays a divorced writer who buys a Tuscan villa on a whim, hoping to turn her life around. She does, but in unexpected ways. You can still travel in and around Cortona and see many of the beautiful sites captured on film. And it has motivated wave after wave of like-minded people to realize la dolce vita in Tuscany.

This picturesque city sits amid the mountains between the Valdichiana and Tuscan Valtiberina. As a critical center of the Etruscan civilization, you can still see remnants of the past, with two kilometers of the Etruscan walls dating back to the 5th century BCE still standing today. The views of the city capture olive groves on the soft hills. The impressive Girifalco Castle attracts tourists year after year, as does the piazzas Signorelli and della Repubblica — and Palazzo Comunale, a 12th-century structure in Romanesque style with a quaint clock tower, overlooks the square.

Check this out from the BBC Frances Mayes on the Enduring Allure of Italy, which opens with “In the last 24 years, no other writer has likely lured more travelers to Italy than Frances Mayes.”

Sicily || The White Lotus

While visiting the Four Seasons in Milan, the salesperson told Alice and me that the new season of the hit HBO series, about the lives of special guests at The White Lotus hotels, would be set at their new property on the island of Sicily. 

Since the premier of the long-awaited second season, The San Domenico Palace, a Four Seasons Hotel, has become an equally huge hit. The show transported us to this charming and affluent seaside resort in Taormina. 

Set on a hill on the eastern coast of Sicily, the town of Taormina is also known for its stunning views over the Ionian Sea, magical beaches, its mountaintop castle (called either Taormina Castle or Castello Saraceno) and the Teatro Antico di Taormina, the remains of an Ancient Greek amphitheater. You can also catch other scenes shot in beachy Cefalu, the baroque town of Noto, and Sicily’s capital, Palermo. You’ll also see moody Mount Etna glowering in the background. 

Not to mention, the Four Season’s San Domenico Palace has a marvelous history: Housed in a former convent that was first constructed in the 14th century—indeed, an entire wing includes rooms housed in the former cloisters, albeit with a few of the nun’s cells knocked through to form more spacious living quarters—peeling back the layers of its past is a history lesson in and of itself. Converted into a hotel in the late 19th century as Italian tourism began to truly boom, a wing was later added in the Liberty style (an Italian variation of Art Nouveau) to house guests, including Oscar Wilde and D. H. Lawrence. It served as a headquarters for the German army throughout World War II. After the war, it returned to its function as a hotel, attracting a breathlessly star-studded array of jet-set guests, including Greta Garbo, Audrey Hepburn, Elizabeth Taylor, and Sophia Loren.

And yes, you can see (and even rent) the Palermo palazzo that Quentin apparently inherited and Tanya and Portia visited, which was featured in episode five. And the Noto Villa, where Daphne and Harper spend a day, is now on Airbnb. 

Matera || Casino Royale

We start (as does the film) in Italy. Matera, a town in Basilicata, is carved directly into a hillside. Grottoes and caves make up the town making for a picturesque, striking landscape. Lit up at night by outdoor fires and also by wishes written on paper which are then lit afire, so they float up. It’s just magical to witness. Matera enjoyed a recent renaissance, and as it’s in the south of Italy, it’s not overrun with tourists as much as popular towns in the north. There are also pristine, white-sand beaches and shoreline coves nearby (which also appear in the film.) 

To visit Matera, we recommend Virtuoso property Hotel Palazzo Margherita, owned by Francis Ford Coppola. Situated only 45 minutes from Matera and 20 minutes from those beaches, the palazzo is a great base to explore this beautiful part of Italy.

Palazzo Margherita is the realization of renowned director Francis Ford Coppola’s dream to convert a 19th-century palazzo in his grandfather’s charming hometown into a luxurious boutique hotel; the restoration took five years. Guests can choose from nine uniquely elegant rooms and suites with original details, such as stone walls, frescoed ceilings, clawfoot tubs, and handpainted tile floors. Along the ancient Appian Way, you can visit the Crypt of the Original Sin near Matera, also known as the Sistine Chapel of rupestrian art. Witness its suggestive representation of scenes of the Old and New Testament in a cycle of frescoes dating back to the 9th century. Or see spirits with a guided tour of the ghost town of Craco, which dates back to the 11th century.

Lake Como || Casino Royale

Cassandra and Alice spent a day last fall at Lake Como and took a boat trip from Villa D’Este up to Bellagio, at the apex of the lake. Along the way, the boatman pointed out the villa, Villa del Balbianello, where the character of James Bond recovered after being tortured by Le Chiffre. The villa sits at the end of a promontory surrounded by well-manicured trees and gardens. The ancient oaks are pruned to resemble umbrellas, providing a natural and comforting shade. The former owner led the first Italian expedition to Mount Everest, so if you take a tour inside, you’ll see many artifacts from his expeditions. Originally built by a cardinal at the end of the 18th century, the villa is now owned by The Fondo Ambiente Italiano, which is the National Trust of Italy. Star Wars’ Attack of the Clones also featured this villa as the Varykino Villa on Naboo, where Padme and Anakin fall in love. 

Of course, at the very end of the film, Bond confronts the mysterious Mr. White, who lives on Lake Como. This scene was filmed at a private residence in Sant’Abbondio called Villa la Gaeta, near San Siro and Menaggio. And it’s there that we finally hear Daniel Craig utter the beloved catchphrase “Bond, James Bond.”

Florence || The House of Gucci

The recently released film “House of Gucci” is full of intrigue, emotion, and glamour. And for those who can’t get enough, one luxury farmhouse in Tuscany offers a chance to get up close with the Gucci family legacy.

Located in the hills of the Chianti region of Tuscany, Casetta is about a half-hour away from Florence. The package includes a day at the Gucci Museum, a private tour guide, and private car transfers roundtrip to and from Florence. Reservations for a gourmet lunch with wine at Gucci Osteria da Massimo Bottura can also be arranged. One of our clients dined there during her time in Italy and absolutely adored it. 

If guests book the Gucci package (available for three nights or more), they can opt to be whisked off to Florence and visit the Gucci Museum with a private guide.

Casetta is a Tuscan farmhouse that dates back more than 270 years. But its most recent owner has transformed it into a luxury destination, with tons of modern cultural activities like truffle hunting, cooking lessons, customized art-history excursions, and special chef dinners with live music and dancing.

Taking over a global fashion house and then exacting revenge when you’re cut out? Not on the itinerary.

Naples || My Brilliant Friend

My Brilliant Friend is the best series on HBO you’re not watching. It’s exquisite.  The Guardian called it, “this gorgeous drama is television at its best,  and, considering how consistently excellent it has been, it remains sorely underrated.” I’ve read the novels on which it’s based, and the series enriches the story.

Essentially, it’s a portrayal of female friendships in all their complexity. And the storytelling is stylish, moving, and compelling. As a result, fans of Elena Ferrante’s novels and of this series are flocking to Naples for tours based on the series.

The “Ferrante Fever” is real and inspires tours that cover the gritty history of post-World War II Naples.  You can see the 5,000-year-old Greek quarries, the aqueducts connected underground that date back to Caesar Augustus, and even the bomb shelters from World War II.

A trip to Ischia is also necessary for fans of the novel. (And if you’ve read them, you’ll know why). This island off the coast is a popular holiday destination for locals and other Europeans in the know. Much less touristy than nearby Capri, its natural beauty is just as pristine. Ferrante is a pseudonym for an anonymous author, so discerning the real-world inspiration for the beloved novels is as much an intrigue as the speculation on the true author. The neighborhood of the two young friends is thought to be Rione Luzzatti. And east of Naples, an underpass at Via Emanuele Gianturco seems to be the one Lenù and Lila go through to escape to the sea. I love the novels and would love to do a tour of Naples that features the likely sites and scenes that inspire the stories of Lila and Lenù. 

Are you ready to set-jet?? Let’s chat and get planning.

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