Friday, 23 January 2009

James Bond visited Corfu!

Corfu’s splendid natural vistas did not go unnoticed by film producers. In fact, Corfu has figured prominently in high profile and blockbuster movies. Mention must be made of the hit 1981 James Bond movie- For Your Eyes Only. This particular film immortalized Corfu’s rich historical past viz-a-viz the scene depicting an underwater ancient Greek temple wherin a huge turtle is seen moving about in front.

The film’s high profile Casino scene too was shot at Corfu’s renowned landmark Achillion Palace. Additional scenes from the same film were shot in Corfu. For instance, the romantic walk that Melina and James undertake through the town’s colorful streets and the scene of Melina being greeted by who else ! but Bond on the island of Pontikonisi has catpulted Corfu in the big time world movie landscape. The colorful scene of the traditional Greek Wedding too was shot at the picturesque Bouas-Danilia Village.

Ever since Corfu carved out a niche for itself as an ideal destination for shooting films post “For Your Eyes Only”, it was the turn of the BBC to shoot on this island. A Television serial and a movie which in fact was the adapted version of Gerald Durrell’s best selling book “My Family and Other Animals” that was primarily based on the author’s childhood spent in the island of Corfu in the decade of the thirties.

The island of Corfu welcomed Roger Moore as James Bond

Corfu has a lot to offer, from beautiful beaches to magnificent landscapes. For the Bond location hunter, it has even more to offer. In For Your Eyes Only it was used by the filmmakers not only as the island it is, but also as the area around Madrid (Spain) and Albania. Director John Glen wanted to return to the style of the earliest Connery films and present Bond as a more realistic hero who gets hurt every now and then. The storyline was roughly based on two short stories by Ian Fleming, “For your Eyes Only” and “Risico”. The script ultimately written by Michael Wilson and Richard Maibaum, For Your Eyes Only had a budget of 28 million Dollars and called for mainly European locations. Greece was soon decided upon, since it was a country Bond had not visited before. While scouting for possible locations, Michael Wilson and John Glen instantly fell in love with the island of Corfu, realizing its beauty had a lot of potential. Corfu Town is a busy place. In the heart of the city, a pedestrian area called ‘the Old Town’, is crowded with tourists all try to bring home some souvenirs from the many shops. Here you should take your time, sit down somewhere and relax a bit while enjoying a glass of Ouzo, the national drink. In this area you will also find the Agios Spyridon Tower, which could be briefly seen in the film, when Bond and Melina ‘shopping’. A big park on the eastern side of the city is called the Spianada. Here the Greeks play… cricket (!), a sport introduced by the British around 1850. In the park, you can also briefly visible in the film.

One of the most exciting Bond locations in Corfu Town is undoubtedly The Old Fortress, built by the Venetians. This fortress served in fact as a background for more than one action sequence. It is already visible in the beginning of the film, when Gonzales flies Melina towards her parent’s boat. Later in the film, it is supposed to be close to Kristatos’ Albanian warehouse. This ‘warehouse’ is located on the northern side of the fortress, and is in reality a small harbour house. When Bond and Colombo’s men arrive at the warehouse at night, they come from the north.

Time to enter the fortress. The admission fee is only 5 Euro. When you walk into the recently restored area, you will not immediately be reminded of the exciting scenes in which Bond follows Locque on foot. But if you know where to look for, you can find all locations! To avoid unnecessary and time consuming searching, the best thing to do is to go to the left when you are in front of the ‘British barracks’. Following this path will lead you through the tunnels in which Bond was almost ran over by Locque’s Mercedes. There are in fact only two of these tunnels inside the fortress, and again this shows how clever filmmakers can be. It is amazing to see, that they ingeniously used every remarkable spot inside the fortress, and made it look like one big car-foot chase.

The road and tunnels eventually lead to the most eastern side of the fortress, an area where not many tourists show up, fortunately. Here you will find the still very recognisable stone gate from where Bond finally shoots Locque. In the film, Bond appears from the right side of the gate. In reality there is only a very small space here, mostly filled with rubble. Again this space was very cleverly used. After Locque is shot by Bond, the former’s car spins and crashes into a low brick wall. We all remember Locque’s car standing on the edge of a high cliff. This cliff is in fact not in front of the stone gate, but behind it. A security rope prevents us from falling down, but not from stepping over it to take some great photos of this very recognisable cliff… Although in this scene Roger Moore finally brought back something of Bond’s original harshness, he reportedly had big difficulty playing this. In the scene, Bond avenges his murdered Italian contact Ferrara, by showing killer Locque no mercy and finally kicking the latters car off the cliff. This kind of ruthlessness had in fact not been seen since the earlier Bond films. Recently, access to this area has been restricted, but there’s always the possibilty to climb some fences on the south side, or climb some walls and hills on the north side to get to your destination. Be careful though, the area hasn’t been taken care of for a while and is not in a very good state.

The island of Corfu: Kanoni

Only a stone’s throw away from Corfu Town lies the crowded Kanoni peninsula. Once the most beautiful corner of the island, it attracted too many tourists, and now it is almost completely filled with hotels. A small one-way street leaves from the most southern part of Corfu Town’s boulevard and takes you up the hill to some marvellous views. Just follow the road and the signs to Vlacherna and Pondikonissi, better known as ‘Mouse Island’. You will end up at the monastery of Vlacherna. This little church is on almost every postcard and is the most famous site in Corfu.

Here, on the concrete road towards the monastery, Melina arrived by boat, after the action in Cortina d’Ampezzo. Driving back, up the hill, this time taking a sharp turn to the right, you will head towards a great viewing point. Here you have a marvellous view of the monastery and ‘Mouse Island’ in the background. To your right you can see the lagoon of Corfu Town, with the runway of Corfu Airport. It’s hard to imagine why so many hotels offer a room-with-a-view of this dirty lagoon.
Following the road up the hill, you will pass the entrance of the Corfu Palace Hotel, where you can find the casino nowadays. Time to slow down. Immediately past the Corfu Palace entrance, also on your right, you will find a metal fence. Next to it is a name plate: Villa Sylva, one of the most hard to find Bond locations. If you’re lucky, the gate is wide open and it is totally up to you whether you want to ignore the sign “Beware of the dogs” or drive on. I can tell you, it is worth to take a look inside. Driving through the gate, you will find yourself on a bad road, but don’t let this scare you off. Follow the road past a small house on your left, until you enter a small roundabout. In the middle of this roundabout there’s a statue of a dog. Is this the dog you were supposed to beware of?

Park your car somewhere and walk towards the house. Does it already look familiar? When you see the pool, you must finally realize that you have found the ‘Spanish’ villa of hired hitman Gonzales. Here the memorable scenes were filmed wherein ‘Bond had Gonzales perforated by Miss Havelock’. Things have changed a bit around here, but people with a good memory can still recognise the pool area, the diving board, the outside bar and the garden area around the house. If the place is still as abandoned as it was when we got there, take your time for a small walk through the garden and discover some beautiful views. Not a bad place for a villa, right?

Villa Sylva was also used in the film The Executioner, starring George Peppard and Joan Collins, in 1970. Situated next to "Mon Repos", the summer home of the King of Greece and the birthplace of Prince Philip of Great Britain, the villa can be rented if you’re interested through During the high season, the villa rents for just 26,000 Dollars a week. This might give you a clue of the luxury and magnificent views you can expect inside.

The island of Corfu: The north

When you leave Kanoni and Corfu Town and head towards the north, you will pass some very touristic towns, like Gouvia and Dassia. At Gouvia, a few kilometres more inland, lies Danilia Village, a specially prepared village that served as some sort of open air museum. Mainly due to financial problems, the village was closed, and is not accessible for us anymore. This keeps us from visiting the church where Bond met Q, who informs him about the amount of ‘St.Cyrils’ he had discovered in Greece. This scene, as well as the Greek wedding scene, was filmed in Danilia Village. A very funny sign at the entrance gate tells us it will re-open in 200.. The last number has been removed and visitors have taken this opportunity to fill in the gap and leave comments like "September 2004, still not open!"

The stone entrance gate to the village was also used as the gate around Gonzales’ Spanish countryside villa. On the road in front of it, we saw Bond drive his Lotus while passing Locque in his Mercedes. The latter can then be seen turning into the gate and driving on to the premises. Although the area in front of the gate has clearly been altered by mother nature in the past years (trees now almost hide the complete entrance), it is still not hard to recognize the location.

If you keep following the coastal road, driving through Ipsos and Pyrgi, you will also get to Kalami Bay, where marine archeologist Sir Timothy Havelock and his wife were stationed by the British to try to recover the ATAC computer. Here, Melina was dropped off by Hector Gonzales, after which he takes off, flies away and turns his plane around to assasinate the Havelocks. Below, on the right side of the bay, you might be able to see the square white house where writer and poet Lawrence Durrell lived in the ’30’s. Now known as the ‘white house’, Durrell called it Prospero, and it was in this house he wrote his most famous work ‘Prospero’s Cell’. For those interested in staying at historical places, the owner rents the house for a thousand Euros per week.

When you return from Kalami, following the road back to the busy tourist towns, try to find the exit on the right towards Spartilas. On this small corner, you can probably recognise the place where Bond stopped his Lotus to look at his road map, while searching for Gonzales’ villa. Following the road up the hill brings you to an awesome view of Corfu’s east coast. And eventhough you might think the sharp curved road was used in the 2CV chase, this is not the case. These roads will be our next stop.

You will find yourself on a maze of roads, and sometimes there aren’t even any road signs. Best fun you will have at the crossings, where you can always find a couple of people desperately trying to figure out which way to go. As it turns out, most of the time the necessary direction signs are behind some bushes or even a few meters behind the actual crossing! At Kastellani, start following the signs towards Agios Georgios Beach. This is the road used in the 2CV car chase scenes.During their location scouting on Corfu, the film makers noticed the local farmers collecting the olives from the trees, which inspired them to incorporate the winding roads and cascading olives in the car chase. Often, ideas like these are written into the script at the last minute and sometimes whole scenes are changed by coincidental encounters with local habits.

Before we get to one of the most interesting locations on the island, we approach a tiny town called Vatonies. The last curve before town, recognisable from a stone bridge, was used in the first scene after we see Bond leave Moneypenny’s office. Bond drives his Lotus through the (Spanish) countryside and we see him excellerate in to the hills. Two Cypress trees, visible in the film as tiny trees, are still recognisable here in front of the bridge, now 25 years later.

Directly after passing Vatonies, you will enter the town of Pagi. Pagi can easily be called the smallest and least interesting town on the island. Except for us! Pagi overwhelms you when you look at the town more carefully. In this town, Bond and Melina’s yellow Citroen 2CV had its finest hour and raced some mean looking baddies in Peugeots. The roads surrounding Pagi, whirl themselves through the immense fields of olive trees and were also used in that same car chase, brilliantly staged by French stunt co-ordinator Remi Julienne. He would later also work on scenes like the May Day chase around the Eiffel Tower in ‘A View To A Kill’. Filming started on Wednesday September 24th 1980 and took nearly 12 days, using a total of 5 Citroens or the various scenes

The main road through Pagi leads you past some recognisable landmarks, like the town’s church tower. In the heart of the village, you will immediately recognise the famous place where Bond advised Melina to ‘take the low road’, after which the 2CV ended up on it’s roof. Nothing has changed a bit since those days, and it seems as if time has stood still in Pagi. Best thing to do, is to park your car somewhere and stroll around this lovely and quiet place. I can assure you that images of a yellow 2CV will keep on bothering your retina… From Pagi it is only a few kilometres to Agios Georgios, where you can spend some time on the beach. The town itself is filled with hotels, so this could be a good opportunity to relax and perhaps even spend the night.

The Island of Corfu: The Achilleion

Our next goal is to visit the palace of Empress Elisabeth of Austria, better known to the world as ‘Sissi’. Impressed by the beautiful view, she bought the land in 1890 and ordered the construction of her palace ‘Achilleion’, where she was to spend many springs and autumns. In the early 60’s, the Greek government rented the palace to a German consortium, who totally refurbished and remodelled the top floors, and turned them into the island’s first and only casino. It was here where the casino scene in For Your Eyes Only was filmed.

From Corfu Town, you should drive to the south, towards Gastouri and Benitses. The palace is mentioned on the road signs immediately after you pass Corfu Town’s outer areas. Just follow the signs, and you will be taken up a hill, straight to the Achilleion. The admission fee for the palace is about 3 Euro. When you walk through the entrance gate, you will see what many believe is one of the ugliest mixtures of architectural styles. Whether you like it or not, of course, is purely a matter taste, but it sure brings back some memories. The entrance of the building was briefly visible in the casino scene. On the eastern side of the building, you will find a beautiful square, paved with black and white stones. Here Bond had a delicious diner with Kristatos, while observing Colombo and Countess Lisl. Walking northwards you will get one of the best views on the island. A serene balcony terrace offers an absolutely marvellous view of Corfu Town and of Albania and the Greek mainland on the other side of the sea strip. Here, later in the film, Bond and Melina share a romantic moment together, Melina relating how much ‘her father loved this view’. In fact, this view and the gardens surrounding the palace make it very worth while to visit the palace. Take your time.

The island of Corfu: The south

The southern part of Corfu differs from the rest, mainly because it is much flatter.
Only in the most southern corner a small mountain rim is present, but most of the south is reasonably flat. A major touristic area you will find around Kavos. If you like going out to bars and discotheques, you should not forget to visit this town. Another interesting place is Lake Korission. This huge lake provides home to many interesting bird species. A small gap in the dunes leads directly to the Ionian Sea, and it is this gap that divides the area into two parts. The southern part of this area has only recently been discovered by the tourists, the main town there being Agios Georgios.

Although we have mentioned this name before, it is a totally different place
Inthis southern Agios Georgios you will find excellent space for water sports and the beaches are hard to resist. When you walk on the beach, you should walk northwards, towards Lake Korission. Once you will notice the sandy dunes, you should take some time to look around. Doesn’t this area ring a bell somewhere?

Since this is the only place on the island where you will find dunes, it will not take very long for you to realise that here on these dunes Countess Lisl von Schlaf was murdered by Locque. In the film, Bond and the Countess spend the night together and early in the morning decide to go for a walk on the beach. When Locque appears in his dune-buggy, Lisl runs away and gets hit by the buggy. The actual bungalow where Bond and Lisl spent the night was just a fake facade, put there for the filming.You will understand there’s is not a trace left of it.

The Greek mainland: Meteora

When you’re looking for an interesting excursion, you should consider taking the ferry to the mainland. From Corfu Town, the ferry leaves every hour. You can either walk onboard (6 Euros) or take your rental car (27 Euros). The boat trip takes about 1,5 hours and will bring you to Igoumenitsa. From there, it’s a 200km ride to Meteora, mostly on small curved roads over some of the highest mountains of Greece. The ride takes about 3,5 hours, but if the newly constructed Ignatia Road is ready, your ride will be both much more comfortable and faster. At this point of writing, some parts have been opened, others are still on the drawing table. From Igoumenitsa, follow the road to Ioaninna and Metsovo and finally to Kalambaka. There, the real adventure begins the moment it is virtually impossible to miss the mysterious, huge cliffs at the horizon.

Still following the road signs ‘Meteora’, you will be taken through the small town of Kastraki and then immediately up to the mountains. After a lot of curves, you will discover a road sign bearing the names of all the monasteries in the Meteora region. Since EON used Agia Triada (or Agios Trias, the holy trinity) Monastery for the long shots of Kristatos’ hideout, called St.Cyrils in the film, best thing to do is follow the sign that leads to this beautiful site. The moment you see this monastery (or any other monastery you will come across) you will not believe your eyes! From the mountain rim you have a clear view on the valley, and in the middle of this unimaginable landscape stand these huge rocks, like pillars, each carrying a monastery on its top.

In 1334 the monk Athanasios came to this region destined to build a monastery. Together with fourteen other monks he climbed Platys Lithos, one of the rock formations. There he started building the first monastery, Megala Meteora and others were soon to follow.

The reason for building these holy monasteries on top of rocks, was to be closer to god. When the region was attacked by intruders from other countries, the monasteries seemed untakeable fortresses. Their location only became a disadvantage in more recent years, when Nazi bombers found the monasteries very easy targets, and did destroy some of them.

From the road to Agia Triada Monastery you have a beautiful view of the rock. This is definitely the right place to take some photographs! Remember to go there either early in the morning or late in the afternoon, because only then you will have the advantage of not being overran by busloads of tourists, who come in every day around 11.00h to get a quick view and leave around 16.00h to be back on time for their dinner.

From the entrance of the monastery it’s a small walk downhill, until you reach the path they cut out of the rock. Climbing up the stairs, you will have a great view of the base of the rock, the place where the Bond/Colombo party arrived and had a first look on ‘St.Cyrils’. Truth is, John Glen didn’t use much of the actual monastery, but had a more usable monastery-set built on the rock next to Agia Triada. This rock was also used for other close-ups, and is now not accessible for us. To enter a holy monastery requires proper clothing. Women are supposed to cover their legs and shoulders, and the monks have therefore all sorts of skirts and scarfs available. It sure makes great pictures!

During the filming at Meteora, the producers had a very hard time dealing with the Greek monks, as the latter were not too impressed by the violent image of the series main character. Despite the brilliant comment by Roger Moore, who told them politely that he ‘once was a saint himself’, the monks tried to sabotage the filming by hanging out their white laundry as a protest. After some negotiation, the film crew rapidly started working on the dangerous climbing scene, performed by Bond-veteran-stuntman Rick Sylvester, who earlier jumped the Asgard mountain in the pre-credit scene of The Spy Who Loved Me. The smart directing of the stunning climb, made sure that this scene is still being regarded as one of the series’ highlights.

After a small tour of the monastery, you can walk outside to the ‘garden’. You will then also pass the pull-up basket, the monks use to pull up all the items that are too heavy to walk up. Although situated in a similar wooden cabin, this is not the same cabin used in the film. EON reproduced a cabin at the studio for the filming of the sequence where Bond pulls in Colombo and Melina. Outside the monastery is a great look-out. A dazzling cliff without any fence offers a magnificent view of the villages below. It’s this same area where Bond throws away the ATAC, and calls it ‘detente, comrade’.

All in all, Greece is tremendously exciting. Whether you come for the Greek temples, history and culture, the sun, the night life or the beaches, you will not be disappointed by the splendour of this cradle of European civilisation. Greece has a lot to offer. The people are friendly and helpful, and are always willing to tell what they remember of the Bond filming. The filming locations are somewhat scattered across the mainland and Corfu, but touring them like we just described here, will definitely leave an indelible impression on you, and will make sure that you will return to Greece one day.

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