by Reannon Muth
While it’s usually the human stars of a film that get the most recognition, there’s the occasional film whose setting that plays just as big of a role in the movie’s success as the actors themselves. Think the craggy mountains of New Zealand in Lord of the Rings or the mossy forests of Washington in Twilight. And could you imagine how different the Sex and the City films would have been had they taken place in say, New Mexico instead of New York?
The following is a travel guide to five popular vacation destinations and the iconic films that launched them into the spotlight..
1. Salzburg, Austria: The Sound of Music
Though 300,000 people visit Salzburg every year to participate in the city’s The Sound of Music-themed tours, dinner shows and sing-alongs, a 1965 Broadway musical-turned-film isn’t the only reason why “the hills are alive with the sound of music” nor is it even the most notable one. Long before Julie Andrews ever twirled on the green hillside or splashed in the Mirabel fountain, Salzburg was a mecca for music-lovers the world over. Not only was it once home to Mozart, it was (and still is) home to a prestigious music conservatory and an annual classical music festival.
But nevertheless, for Americans at least, it was the show-tunes and not the classical compositions that first put Salzburg on the map. Thus, for those who count Rodgers and Hammerstein musicals as a few of their “favorite things”, a visit to the Schloss Frohnburg and Mirabell Gardens Palace is worth adding to the list.
The Schloss Frohnberg (a palace that has since been transformed into a university dormitory) was used in all of the exterior shots for the Von Trapp house. The gardens and fountain of the Mirabell Palace were used as a backdrop for the famous “Do Re Mi” number, during which Maria and the Von Trap children marched around the fountain and hopped up and down the palace steps.
Perhaps what makes the best photo opportunity, however, is the gazebo where Liesl and Rolf sang “Sixteen Going on Seventeen”. The gazebo is located on the grounds of the Hellbrunn Palace, which with its trick fountains and seashell-covered grottos, is an interesting place to visit in and of itself.
2. Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts: Jaws
Steven Spielberg’s first breakthrough film was set on a fictional island he called “Amity Island”, which was, in actuality, Martha’s Vineyard; a 20-mile island located six miles off the coast of Massachusetts.
The film’s success brought a relatively unknown Martha’s Vineyard to the world’s attention, turning the wooden beach houses and white picket fences of Edgartown into a popular summer vacation destination. In honor of the film, Martha’s Vineyard will host its second Jaws Fest in August 2012; a weekend of outdoor movie screenings, cast and crew interviews and a treasure hunt centered on locations where the movie was filmed.
3. Seaside, Florida: The Truman Show
When the beach cottage community, Seaside, made its first big-screen appearance in the 1998 Jim Carrey film, The Truman Show, it looked so idyllic, quaint and old-fashioned that it was easy to assume the entire town had been built on a Hollywood soundstage.
But with a charter school, a Saturday-morning farmers market and a population of 2,000, Seaside is very much a real town (albeit it a relatively new one).
The community, located along the Florida Panhandle, is what’s known as a ‘master-plan community’. Inspired by the fond memories of his childhood family beach vacations, architect Robert S. Davis transformed the 80-acre beach retreat he’d inherited from his grandfather into a vintage beach town, complete with climate-adapted wood-framed cottages and wide, walkable streets. Visitors to Seaside can rent a catamaran (like Jim Carey’s character did in the film’s climactic final scene), go for a nature walk or go swimming at the beach or at one of the town’s three swimming pools.
4. London, England: Harry Potter
Of all the film locations on this list, London is the only one that needs little introduction. London became a popular travel destination thousands of years before author JK Rowling ever sat in a coffee shop in Edinburgh and first dreamed up what would eventually become a billion-dollar seven-book and eight film franchise. That said, there are three locations in particular that took on a magical identity during filming: the London Millennium Bridge, the London Zoo and King’s Cross Station.
The London Millennium Bridge became victim to a Death Eater attack in Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. Though the collapse of the bridge was the work of computerized special effects, the bridge itself is real and serves as a choice destination for an afternoon stroll.
The reptile house at the London Zoo is where Harry Potter first discovered he could communicate with snakes in Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone. Look for the plaque next to one of the glass python cages; it marks the actual spot where the scene was shot.
Finally, if you’re passing through King’s Cross Station, be sure to visit Platform 9 ¾ (the magical doorway into the wizarding world) and have your photo taken underneath the platform’s sign.
5. Kauai, Hawaii: Jurassic Park
Kipu Ranch on the Hawaiian island of Kauai has been the setting for a number of adventure films, including Raiders of the Lost Ark, Outbreak and Mighty Joe Young. But it was in the 1996 film Jurassic Park: The Lost World where the ranch played its most prominent role to date. The opening sequences of the film were shot in the ranch’s 3,000 acres of meadows and tropical rainforests.
Visit Kipu Ranch today and you’re not likely to spot any dinosaurs, but you may spot some peacocks, wild boars or if you’re really lucky, the endangered state bird of Hawaii: the Nene goose. You can explore the ranch on foot, on tour or on a rented ATV. In addition to the wildlife and tropical plants, the ranch has two waterfalls and a swimming hole.