Just when I thought I’d seen something of the world, along comes a book about 45 remarkable places… and I’ve been to exactly one of them. Chris Fitch, a senior staff writer at the Royal Geographical Society’s Geographical magazine, has assembled an impressive collection of little known spots from all seven continents, divided into sections of Extreme Environments, Untouched Lands, Human Activity, Weird Worlds, Isolated Realms and Nature’s Wilderness. Illustrated with clear maps and black and white photography, it is an atlas of destinations so remote, rugged and bizarre that many chapters could be describing locations on alien planets.
A mysterious lake appears out of nowhere in the Tunisian desert. Off the coast of Croatia, a steep rocky island consisting almost entirely of volcanic magnetite sends navigational equipment haywire, and more than few sailors to their doom. In China, the world’s largest tidal bore draws thousands of people each year to watch a wall of water racing up the Qiantang estuary. On North Sentinel Island in the Andaman Islands, an uncontacted tribe of hostile islanders continue to shower arrows (and occasionally death) on anyone who approaches their shores. The world’s largest cave system in Georgia, an accidental coal fire that burns beneath a town in Pennsylvania, the -93°C extremes of Dome Argus Antarctica, a hidden valley of impenetrable rainforest in Borneo – most of the short chapters had me reaching for Wikipedia and falling down an online rabbit hole. Google Mount Mabu Rainforest in Mozambique, Mexico’s Cave of Crystals, or Colorado’s Rocky Mountain Arsenal Refuge, and try not to annoy your friends by dropping the tremendous trivia of your discoveries.
This is the kind of book that inspires lunatics like me to actually run off and find these places. Sure, it could all be researched online (along with similar books like Atlas Obscura), but it does take a twisted genius to assemble these untamed places into something cohesive, and talent to write concise chapters that explain just enough to make you scratch your head, say “Whoa!” and desire to know more. As for the one place in the book I’ve actually visited? Chernobyl’s Zone of Alienation, a chapter in my own book, The Great Global Bucket List. Books like these, which belong on the coffee table of the more eclectic traveller, forever ensuring that your bucket list continues to grow.
Atlas of Untamed Places
By Chris Fitch
with maps by Martin Brown
Published by Aurum Press
US$29.99 / $38.99 CAN
Buy it on Amazon.
Eilean Donan Castle in Scotland. There can be only one.
Have you ever been travelling somewhere and suddenly thought: “This looks familiar!” That’s because it is, as Hollywood location scouts scan the world for places that look just as dramatic on film as they do for tourists on the ground. Here’s seven of the best:
I love those offbeat romantic English comedies, a guilty pleasure on long-haul flights. I also see if I can pick out the locations used, like the big wedding scene in Four Weddings and a Funeral, filmed at the St Bartholomew the Great Church in London. Snowdonia, a national park in northern Wales, has served as Camelot in First Knight (starring Richard Gere) and is also seen in James Bond’s From Russia With Love. The historic manor of Chatsworth can be seen in 2005’s Pride and Prejudice, as well as The Duchess (starring Kiera Knightley) and the 2010 production of The Wolfman, with Anthony Hopkins. The Highlander, a classic fantasy film, had locations including Eilean Donan Castle and Glencoe, a beautiful part of the Scottish highlands. Back to Hugh Grant, Notting Hill is a popular area of London, and hosts the boisterous annual Notting Hill Carnival.
Whenever the scene calls for a thick jungle, you can bet there’s a producer on the plane to Hawaii’s oldest island, Kauai. Remember that scene in Jurassic Park as the helicopter approaches a dramatic coastline, and lands right by a waterfall? Helicopter tours over the Na Poli coastline are hugely popular, and Island Helicopters even land right by the waterfall, now known as Jurassic Falls, just like the movie. You can swing on the same rope as Indiana Jones (in Raiders of the Lost Ark) right into Huleia River., or swim in the Fountain of the Youth as featured in Pirates of the Caribbean. Tropic Thunder, Hook, Outbreak, Lord of the Flies - if you think Wailua Falls look right out of Fantasty Island, that’s because they are.
Although it was inspired by the Philippines, The Beach, a hit book and movie starring Leonardo Di Caprio, was set and filmed in Thailand. Tourists flock to Phi Phi Leh to see this celluloid paradise for themselves, including the iconic beach of Hat Maya. There are daily ferries from popular resort towns of Phuket and Krabi. While in Phuket, you might recognize scenes from Bridget Jones: Edge of Reason, and you can also take a boat out to James Bond Island, also known as Phang Nga Bay, as featured in the Man with the Golden Gun. More recently, the Hangover II used Bangkok as an able substitute for Las Vegas.
Hobbit tours in New Zealand
The Lord of the Rings trilogy put the Kiwi film industry on the map. The South Island, around the tourist mecca of Queenstown, was a perfect choice for Middle Earth. There are daily tours from Queenstown to over 20 locations featured in the movie, such as the Lothlorien Woods (Paradise Glenorchy), Rivendell (Lake Manapouri) and the Ford of Bruinen (Arrow River) where Arwen summoned a flood to dispel of the RIngwraiths. Fantasy fans might also recognize locations in the Milford Sound, and Kingston Beach on Lake Wakatipu, as featured in the movie Wolverine. There is also the Cook Strait, which was used for the ocean scenes in the Peter Jackson remake of King Kong. As for the film’s Skull Island, it was none other than Lyall Bay near the capital of Wellington.
Paris inspires lovers, and filmmakers too. The list of films set or filmed in Paris is a long one. Amongst my favourites are The Bourne Identity, mostly filmed in Paris and Prague. You will recognize the Gare Du Nord, one of the busiest train stations in Europe, the Hotel Regina opposite the Louvre, the Jardin des Tuileries, La Grande Arche de la Défense in the business district, and the Pont des Arts, where Bourne disappears into the credits. Before Sunrise, starring Julie Delpy and Ethan Hawke, is a love letter to the city, as our two lovers discover the city and each other. They walk through the Sorbonne, along the Seine, on the Promenade Plantée, above the old Viaduc des Arts. As they tuck behind the Notre Dame at Quai de la Tournelle, it’s no wonder they didn’t bump into Jason Bourne, who was featured in the same spot in the Bourne Identity. Paris, je t'aime is a beautiful romantic comedy that will inspire travellers, but avoid From Paris with Love, a John Travolta disaster doing no favours for the tourism industry!
This North African country has not hosted many Hollywood movies, but the few that it has have been illustrious. Tunis doubled as Cairo in the Oscar-winning English Patient, along with Sfax on the coast. More famously, Tunisia doubled for Luke Skywalker’s home planet Tatooine in the first Star Wars movie. There actually is a place in Tunisia called Tatooine, but the scenes were actually filmed in Matmata, where people have been living in sandstone caves for centuries. A huge salt flat called Chott el Jerid allowed Skywalker to gaze longingly at two suns, while visitors flock to nearby Sidi Bouhel, now known as Star Wars Canyon, where R2D2 was captured. The series returned to Tunisia for its Tatooine scenes in The Phantom Menace, Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith. Scenes from Monty Python’s Life of Brian were filmed in the Ribat monastery at Monastir. Indiana Jones pops up again, with the “Egyptian” desert scenes in Raiders of the Lost Ark actually filmed around the Tunisian UNESCO World Heritage Site of Kairouan.
Vancouver gets a familiar sci-fi makeover
Vancouver has the third largest film and television industry in North America, and the city often doubles for other locations. Simon Fraser University has been seen in Underworld 4 Spy Game, the X Files and Battlestar Gallactica. The Lions Gate Bridge makes a cameo in Tron: Legacy. The Fantastic Four flew into North Vancouver’s Pier 97, while X-Men: The Last Stand invaded Lynn Canyon Park and its popular local hiking trails. Chinatown doubled for San Francisco in Romeo Must Die, and the apocalyptic future in iRobot. Even the airport gets some screen time. YVR has been featured in Final Destination, Fantastic Four, The Killing, and Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants. More recently, the smash hit Deadpool did something unusual for Hollywood. They filmed in Vancouver, and didn't pretend it was something else.
Fantasy, science fiction and spy movies gravitate to the Czech Republic, so don’t be surprised if some of the scenery looks familiar. Alien vs Predator, The Brothers Grimm, Hellboy, Von Helsing, Mission Impossible, XXX and From Hell were all filmed in locations around Prague.. Casino Royale was filmed at Barrandov Studios as well as in Karlovy Vary. The Bourne Identity pops up again, as Prague doubles for Zurich. Still on Matt Damon, the creepy Bone Church of Kutna Hora made an appearance in the Brothers Grimm, as did Kačina Castle and Kost Castle. In the Chronicles of Narnia, the winter park scene was filmed amongst the odd sandstone formations at Adrspach National Park on the Czech Republic-Poland border.
Please come in. Mahalo for removing your shoes.
After many years running a behemoth of a blog called Modern Gonzo, I've decided to a: publish a book or eight, and b: make my stories more digestible, relevant, and deserving of your battered attention.
Here you will find some of my adventures to over 100 countries, travel tips and advice, rantings, ravings, commentary, observations and ongoing adventures.