Movie Quest 2005
The 10 films that are inspiring us to travel--and how you can re-create the best moments yourself
In the world's most famous desert, plausibility is but a mirage
Based on the Clive Cussler novel, Sahara follows the adventures of dashing Dirk Pitt (Matthew McConaughey), an ex-Navy SEAL who, with his sidekick Al Giordino (Steve Zahn), heads to Africa in search of a Civil War battleship potentially filled with Confederate gold. The pair join forces with Eva Rojas (Penélope Cruz), a World Health Organization doctor investigating a mysterious plague in Mali. It's a far-fetched tale, but good popcorn fun. And the North African backdrop is breathtaking.
But forget about visiting Mali. The U.S. State Department advises against going to the country's northern regions (beyond Timbuktu) and warns travelers to exercise caution in isolated areas. Besides, the majority of Sahara was filmed in Erfoud, Morocco, a tiny desert town 340 miles east of Marrakech. "We stayed in a hotel called the Kasbah Xaluca Maadid," says director Breck Eisner. "It's made out of mud and straw. You can actually pull straw out of the wall." Doubles at the Xaluca Maadid start at $100, including breakfast and dinner (011-212/55-57-84-50, xalucamaadid.com).
Once a French military settlement, Erfoud still shows signs of its past--like the Foreign Legion fort that Dirk, Al, and Eva ride through on camelback. And aside from the town's 10,000 inhabitants, the only people it generally sees are movie crews--the recent Mummy films were shot there--and travelers eager to view the giant Merzouga dunes that straddle the nearby Algerian border. From January 1 through April 9, Adventure Center is running a two-week trip for $760 per person double (800/228-8747, adventurecenter.com); the land-only package includes hotels, breakfasts, and guided tours--aboard a bus, a four-wheel drive, and, for $24 extra, a camel--of Casablanca, Fez, Marrakech, and those big Merzouga dunes. "They're the size of a 30- or 40-story building," says Eisner. "Galloping across them on a camel is incredible."
The shoot made Eisner a Sahara convert. "If you're really adventurous, you should absolutely go to this place known as Chez Michel, where Matthew and I stayed for a couple days," he says. "It's in the middle of nowhere. It's about an hour from Erfoud on a road that's just tracks in the dirt. The hotel has 25 rooms and an amazing restaurant." Doubles at Chez Michel--its official name is Auberge Kasbah Derkaoua--start at $116, and that includes breakfast and dinner (011-212/55-57-71-40).
9. Match Point
Woody Allen crafts a love letter to a city--and it's not New York
As much as Match Point claims to be about the importance of luck, it's really about class. Then again, perhaps anyone born rich should be thankful for his luck.
The melodrama, which comes out December 25, concerns a former pro tennis player, Chris (Jonathan Rhys-Meyers), who gets taken up by a posh London family--the kind of people who shop for art at a museum. He starts dating the daughter, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), and, this being a Woody Allen movie, having an affair with the son's fiancée, Nola (Scarlett Johansson).
If Match Point is any indication, Woody Allen loves London as much as he loves New York City. "He shows off London in its glory," says coproducer Nicky Kentish Barnes. The city scenes were filmed mainly in the neighborhood of Notting Hill, with forays into Belgravia and the West End. "It's like the Upper East Side of Manhattan," says Barnes.
Conveniently enough, Allen also shot at several London landmarks. There's the Tate Modern, on the South Bank of the Thames, where Chris is thrilled to spy Nola after not having seen her for a while (011-44/20-7887-8000, tate.org.uk/modern, free). The family regularly attends opera at the Royal Opera House at Covent Garden (011-44/20-7304-4000, royalopera.org, standing room from $7). And London being famous for its theater, Allen can't resist sending two characters to see Andrew Lloyd Webber's The Woman in White at the Palace Theater (tickets from $26 at the box office or womaninwhitethemusical.com, or try your luck at Leicester Square's half-price TKTS booth for same-day performances).
Chris's office is in what Londoners call the Gherkin, the pickle-shaped headquarters of insurance giant Swiss Re. You can get a good look at it from the square in front of the Tower of London. Your best bet for snagging a peek inside is London Open House, held each September (londonopenhouse.org, free). The Gherkin participated in 2004 but not 2005, and at press time next year's plans were undecided. The fancy racquet club where Chris works briefly, Queen's Club, is similarly accessible to the general public just once a year, in June, for the Stella Artois Championships (stellaartoistennis.com, from $25).