Mike MacEacheran | Hollywood Venice, Italy, BBC Travel
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Hollywood Venice, Italy, BBC Travel

Beyond Los Angeles, New York and London, there is one city above all others that movie producers, directors and location scouts always depend on: Venice.

The city’s good looks have provided the backdrop to some of the world’s most popular movies and blockbuster franchises and have made it a firm favourite with movie stars. In part because it’s home to the world’s oldest film festival – which this year takes place on the Lido from 28 August to 7 September as part of the Venice Biennale – but also because of its high concentration of glitzy hotels and seductive restaurants. Then there is the Venetians near obsessive love affair with Hollywood.

There are dozens of film locations in the city, featured in classics like Death in Venice and Don’t Look Now to the contemporary, including everything from James Bond and Indiana Jones blockbusters to rom-coms with Johnny Depp, Angelina Jolie and Julia Roberts. Most of these locations, however, are harder to pinpoint that most people realise, so to make sure you don’t spend days wandering around Venice lost – it’s easier than it sounds, trust us – equip yourself with a reliable map and some sturdy walking shoes and head out on a self-guided tour. If the skies are grey, make sure you also  bring a set of Venetian galoshes, or plastic slip-over boots – notoriously, the city floods every year and the famous Piazza San Marco can sometimes be under 1.5m of water.

Keep things simple to begin with and make the most of the city’s beautiful location by heading to the portico walkways that surround San Marco. Over the years, they have been used as a stage for Orson Welles in the 1952 version of Othello, Heath Ledger in Casanova, and by Venetians as a gigantic umbrella when it rains. The grand elegant courtyards of the Doge’s Palace and the Basilica di San Marco still reflect the power of the Republic of Venice, but also the power of movie magic: they were used to stage important scenes in two classic James Bond films, From Russia With Love in 1963 with Sean Connery and 1979’s Star Wars-influenced Moonraker. Caffe Florian, a contender for the world’s oldest coffee house  (it dates back to 1720), looks directly onto the square and was adopted by Katherine Hepburn in 1955’s Summertime and by Matt Damon in Anthony Minghella’s The Talented Mr Ripley. It does a brisk trade in cappuccinos and café lattes, so is perfect for a mid-morning pick-me up. As in the rest of Italy, you’ll save a few Euros standing at the counter, rather than sitting at a table.

Continue towards Campo di Santa Maria del Giglio, where Woody Allen stalks Julia Roberts in the light-hearted comedy Everyone Says I Love You, then turn north to Teatro La Fenice and the nearby bridge, now dedicated to American-born Greek opera singer Maria Callas who debuted at the theatre. Pass the Verona Canal, where gondolas effortlessly glide by, on your way Campo Santa Stefano, a square that leads to a number of secretive baroque courtyards and portico arches. It was here that both Roger Moore and Daniel Craig played at 007, the latter chasing Eva Green’s Vesper Lynd in the dramatic closing scenes of Casino Royale. A short 10-minute walk takes you to the late 15th century Palazzo Contarini Polignac alongside the Accademia Palazzo Barbaro on the Grand Canal. It was used as a location for the big screen version of Evelyn Waugh’s Brideshead Revisited, with Michael Gambon, Ben Wishaw and Matthew Goode, and by crossing the iconic Ponte della Academia you come to the hard-to-find Palazzo Contarini, where the 2004 version of The Merchant of Venice was filmed. It’s a classic example of why Venice works so well on screen: its dark, atmospheric courtyards and streets couldn’t have been better suited as a stage for the wry dialogues between the Shakespeare-loving thespians Al Pacino and Jeremy Irons.

Not far from here is Campo di San Barnaba and Camp della Salute, where Steven Spielberg brought the third part of his Indiana Jones trilogy to life. In Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade, the San Barnaba church serves as a double of the exterior of the nearby Biblioteca di San Barnaba and, after Harrison Ford descends to explore the catacombs, he then emerges from a manhole in the centre of the square. It’s one of the more popular film locations in the city, so just follow the crowds. A five-minute walk south back along the promenade that fringes the Grand Canal brings you to the charming Hotel Palazzo Stern and its adjoining boathouse, where Mark Wahlberg and Jason Statham embarked on the explosive bank heist that kicked-off their 2003 update of The Italian Job.

No trip to Venice is complete without crossing the Ponte di Rialto. Thanks to its mix of vendors and unparalleled viewpoints, it should come as no surprise that the bridge has formed the backdrop to numerous Hollywood flicks. Johnny Depp and Angelina Jolie have fooled around in The Tourist and in the nearby Campo della Pescheria and Joseph Fiennes even fell straight into the water in The Merchant of Venice. Autumn, in particular, is a great time to explore the surrounding bacaro wine bars like Al Pesador Osteria and Osteria Antica Dolo that dot the neighbourhood (where you can drink with the locals and get change from EUR3). If you use your imagination, you’ll also be able to place the two false buildings that were destroyed during the climatic finale of Casino Royale on the opposite side of the Grand Canal.

If you want to splurge like only a movie star can, then check-in to the Hotel Danieli where both Depp and Jolie have both stayed. Located next to the Doge’s Palace and the Bridge of Sighs, it’s made up of three historic palazzi, so expect serious luxury fit for VIPs. Alternatively, take a five-minute gondola or ferry ride from the boat stations in front of the Palazzo Ducale to the Hotel Cipriani on Isola Della Guidecca. George Clooney regularly checks-in and, even if you can’t afford the pricey room rates, it’s worth popping in for an early evening cocktail at the Gabbiano Bar. That’s because it’s the only hotel in the world where he has personally created drinks for the menu. When he was in town to promote Good Night, and Good Luck, he popped behind the bar and created the vodka and cranberry concoction Buona Notte and Nina’s Special, which he dedicated to his mum.

Clooney isn’t the only convert. Tom Hanks, Steven Spielberg and Charlize Theron have stayed – the last time Theron stayed during the Venice Film Festival she persuaded the long-serving head barman Walter Bolzonella to conjure up her favourite pasta dish at 3am after the kitchen was closed. The luxury hotel is also notable for its Cips restaurant, where Daniel Craig parked up in his yacht in Casino Royale, and it has unparalleled views across the lagoon to the Campanile. If you want to share a changing room with the likes of Daniel Craig or Leonardo DiCaprio – who has also stayed here – then don’t miss its swimming pool, one of the few in the city and certainly the most extravagant.