Rekindle the romance with your partner on Valentine’s Day by visiting cities made memorable on the silver screen. Relive the experience of your favourite characters in these classic romantic movies by going to the actual locations.
Roman Holiday (1953)
Directed by William Wyler. Starring Audrey Hepburn and Gregory Peck.
Where: Rome, Italy
“Rome. By all means, Rome”, was Princess Ann’s reply when asked of her favourite European city in the classic rom-com which helped Audrey Hepburn become a household name 65 years ago.
The movie tells the tale of an adventure-loving princess who decided to explore Rome incognito with American journalist Joe Bradley.
Start your city roaming the way Ann did – with a refreshing bob and gelato in hand – at the Spanish Steps, which connects the Piazza di Spagna with the Piazza Trinita dei Monti. At the foot of the 138-step staircase, there is the infamous Fontana della Barcaccia – literally “the fountain of the ugly boat”.
Legend has it that La Bocca della Verità, known as the “Mouth of Truth”, would snap the hand of any liar. At least, that what Joe told Ann when the pair took turns to slip their hand into the massive mask on the north side of the Basilica of Saint Mary in Cosmedin.
When in Rome ... eat gelato. It’s hard to sift through all the gelaterias in the gelato empire, so we’ve done the hard work for you. There will be something for everyone in La Romana, which has been serving up this icy goodness since 1947, with over 70 flavours that blend traditional recipes with new ingredients. Gelateria Fatamorgana is the place to go to for those who are allergic to gluten and dairy products: apart from eccentric flavours ranging from chocolate with tobacco to olive and Italian Christmas cake, the parlour also offers dairy-free scoops and gluten-free cones.
Before Sunrise (1995)
Directed by Richard Linklater. Starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke.
Where: Vienna, Austria
If you’re going to spend 24 hours in a city with a person you just met, where would you want it to be?
That was the question faced by young American Jesse and French college student Céline before the two jumped off the train where they first set eyes on each other. The first instalment of the Before trilogy materialised in Vienna, where we see the two strangers frolic across the Austrian capital over a marathon dialogue.
The Ferris wheel often has a romantic ring to it, which might explain why the 65-metre-tall Riesenrad Ferris wheel in the Prater amusement park was chosen as the backdrop for the lovers’ first kiss. Built in 1897 with 30 gondolas, it is the second tallest surviving Ferris wheel in the world.
The “hand-phoning-slash-confession” scene at Café Sperl is another iconic one. Listed on the Austrian Register of Historic Places, the cafe retains many of the original features from when it was built in 1880, including the billiard tables and crystal chandeliers.
Before it’s gone … the red sofa booth where the pair sat in the movie is frequently asked for, so go early if you want to save the spot. Foodies will have to try out their sachertorte – Viennese chocolate cake with strata of apricot jam and chocolate cake coated in dark chocolate icing.
Love Letter (1995)
Directed by Shunji Iwai. Starring Miho Nakayama and Etsushi Toyokawa.
Where: Hokkaido, Japan
White is the colour of melancholy in this ’90s Japanese hit which dedicates over half of its screen time to the snow-blanketed city of Otaru in Hokkaido.
The movie opens with a bereaved Watanabe on a terrain covered in fluffy snow after attending her fiancé’s funeral. The scene was shot at the Otaru Tenguyama Ski Resort, 15 minutes from downtown. The mountaintop offers sweeping views of the boxy buildings underneath – the sight is otherworldly at night when the city lights up.
When Watanabe started receiving letters from her dead fiancé, she went to her friend’s glass studio for advice. Head to the featured Glass Studio in Otaru, conveniently located at the foot of Mount Tenguyama, for a glass blowing workshop with your beau. The studio sells ready-made products if you don’t have the craftiest fingers.
Call it a day … after an afternoon stroll by the Otaru Canal, which winds through the port town and is lit by old fashioned gas lamps. Local artists display their works during the day.
Mamma Mia! (2008)
Directed by Phyllida Lloyd.Starring Pierce Brosnan, Amanda Seyfried and Meryl Streep.
Where: Skopelos island, Greece
Phyllida Lloyd decided to set the stage of Mamma Mia! – fictional island Kalokairi – on the dainty island of Skopelos on the eastern part of Greece when she brought the 1999 musical to the silver screen in 2008.
The movie follows a classic “who’s the father” storyline, which starts with Sophie inviting three potential fathers to her wedding while keeping her mother in the dark – all accompanied by the cast’s amateurish singing of ABBA’s songs.
The island, on the Northern Sporades archipelago, offers something different from Santorini’s blue-and-white cottages and Athens’ crumbling ruins.
Channel your inner dancing queen along the waters of the Kastani beach, where most of the onscreen action took place, featuring dance tunes such as Does Your Mother Know and Lay all your love on me.
Retrace Sophie’s wedding procession when they tottered up 100 or so rock steps carved into the back of the mountain in Agios Ioannis, and you’ll arrive at the church where the wedding took place in the movie. Perched on a boulder looking down to the rugged stretch of coast, the brick red roofed chapel is dedicated to Saint John.
You can dance, you can jive ... in rebetika music, also known as the “Greek blues”, in the tavernas that line the pristine beaches. The folk music, often performed by the bouzouki, dates back to the Ottoman period, is still going strong in the Greek community.