- 1 Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
- 3 Wisteria Tunnel, Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Kitakyushu, Japan
- 4 Sea of Stars on Vaadhoo Island, the Maldives
- 5 Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, Gansu, China
- 6 Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
- 7 Colmar, France
- 8 Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
- 9 Spotted Lake, Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada
- 10 Mont-Saint-Michel, Basse-Normandie, France
- 11 The Temples of Bagan, Myanmar
- 12 Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines
12 Places Where You’ll Feel Like a Movie Star
Most sets require a little movie magic (to the tune of $20 million) to make them silver screen stunners. Here, we step away from the CGI and production design to find the world’s most inherently cinematic sites.
Karlovy Vary, Czech Republic
Karlovy Vary is straight out of our kitschy-est, pastel-hued, Wes Anderson-curated fantasies. The Czech spa town has old-world flare in every conceivable form: Baroque grand hotels, twin-steepled churches, neo-Renaissance colonnades, and an endearing funicular, the combination of which inspired the Academy Award nominated The Grand Budapest Hotel. Naturally, any Karlovy Vary itinerary should devote ample time to thermal baths and pampering, and the treatments at Thermal Hotel are no joke. Go for lunch at Le Marche, where renowned chef Jan Krajc welcomes guests to VIP seats at his personal table to sample a special tasting menu, then follow your meal with a stroll through the whimsical Butterfly House. Pass through the gift shop on your way out for an Anderson-esque souvenir – maybe a butterfly frozen in amber? – we can just see the perfectly symmetrical shot now.
We didn’t start the fire – but a smart thinking group of engineers certainly did. The origins of this flaming crater may be less than sexy – the year is 1971 : Soviet engineers go looking for oil and drill a hole without knowing the area is full of poisonous gas, leading the ground to collapse and form an enormous toxic fume-emitting pit. It all turned out pretty cool, though. They lit the ditch on fire, suspecting the gas would burn itself out in a few weeks, but, that baby's been raging ever since, much to the delight of pyromaniacal visitors willing to travel not only to Turkmenistan, but 3 hours north of the capital, Ashgabat, to the middle of the desert. For an experience like no other, pack some supplies and camp out on the crater's edge (miraculously there are no fences or barricades). Or, if that test of fate sounds too risky, there's always the luxury Oguzkent Hotel (with a 15-story marble atrium) waiting back in city limits.
Wisteria Tunnel, Kawachi Fuji Gardens, Kitakyushu, Japan
The Wisteria Tunnel at the Kawachi Fuji Gardens is basically a Monet masterpiece come to life (seriously, have you seen the photos? – they look fake) and while it's easy to obsess over the the romantic 722-foot tunnel, there are plenty of smaller wisteria tunnels, domes and trellises just as worthy of your ogling and 'gramming. When hunger calls, head an hour north to Yoshizuka Unagiya which is billed by locals as the finest freshwater eel in Fukuoka. Full bellies retire at Hotel Marinoa Resort with its minimalist design, and views of the Hakata Bay yacht harbor. JS Tip: Plan your trip for April or early May (Golden Week is best) when spellbinding varieties of violet, lavender, magenta and cream wisteria are in peak-bloom (Warning: a visit outside this window will leave you with sad, shriveled vines.)
Sea of Stars on Vaadhoo Island, the Maldives
Mother nature is pretty cool sometimes, and she definitely pulls out the works on the shores of Vaadhoo Island each night. Under dark skies, loads of bioluminescent phytoplankton wash up on the beach, bathing the sands in neon-blue light. Director Ang Lee borrowed the compelling sight for his film Life of Pi and walked away with a couple of Oscars. We’ll take any excuse to stay in an overwater bungalow, so stow away at the Adaaran Prestige Vadoo for close proximity to the beach and, as if that weren't enough – your own private plunge pool. Since the island is so small, it's worth splurging on an all-inclusive package for the a la carte breakfasts, fresh juices, and ever-revolving blend of Arabic, Mediterranean, Japanese and Western dishes whipped up onsite.
Zhangye Danxia Landform Geological Park, Gansu, China
The surreal peaks and valleys of Zhangye Danxia park’s rainbow-hued sandstone look suspiciously akin to a supersized sand art project (just waiting to be shaken) but the rock is pretty stuck in its ways, having been pushed together over 24 million years, and moored by tectonic plate movement. Shuttle buses zip visitors between platforms and boardwalks for panoramic views, but barring fellow visitors and automobiles, the area could easily pass for martian terrain. Hop a one-hour flight to Lanzhou to stay at the ultra-modern Wanda Vista, a five-star luxury hotel with city-view suites and whatever you do, ignore the Western chains and fill up on the city's famed beef noodles at Mazilu.
Salar De Uyuni, Bolivia
The salt flats of Bolivia are about as close to walking on clouds as we'll probably ever get (though we're crossing our fingers cloud technology finds a way). For most of the year, the dried up prehistoric lake is a vast bed of crusty salt brine, but come wet season – usually January to March – a slick layer of rainwater transforms the horizon into a mirror the size of Jamaica (yes; more than 4,000 square miles). Since the area has become wildly popular, salt hotels have been popping up on the flat's periphery. Hotel de Sal Luna Salada was literally constructed from blocks of salt; but the rustic retreat knows how to please, with goose downs, local fabrics, and of course, unrivaled views. Restaurants on the flats are few and far between, but you can get your fill of Andean and Bolivian cuisine at the onsite Tunupa Restaurant.
If you’re not feeling the major Beauty and the Beast vibes that Colmar is throwing your way, you might be in the wrong place. The village is an amalgam of quaint stucco and timber framing, Gothic German houses and wildly ornate Renaissance churches – and no we're not wearing any rose-colored glasses, the utopian hamlet is truly befitting of the prettiest Disney princess. Admire Alsacian art at the Musee d'Unterlinden, spot the town's most famous house, Maison Pfister (you might have seen its animated rendering in Hayao Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle), or sneak a peek at Colmar's mini Statue of Liberty (the sculptor of the real one was born in town). Stay at the boutique Hostellerie le Marechal perched along the canal in the Little Venice quarter for a quirky but classic taste of Old Town.
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Glenfinnan Viaduct, Scotland
Let’s just get it out of the way now – that’s the Jacobite Steam Train, or what's more commonly become known as the Hogwart's Express, and while present-day passengers may be muggles, the views from Glenfinnan to Fort William or Mallaig are magical as ever. Visit in August (the closest Saturday to the 19th, to be specific) for the Glenfinnan Gathering, a ceremonious day of sack races, sprints, and a whole lot of kilts, that's been kicking since 1745. For the real highland feel – think lounges lit by blazing wood fireplaces, mounted stags, and a drawing room decked out in dark oak and mahogany – check into the cozy, historic Glenfinnan House Hotel, across the loch from Bonnie Prince Charlie's monument. Hang around for dinner as Chef Duncan Gibson stirs up an la carte spread replete with roast quail consommé, young vegetables and black truffles. If you happen to be hanging by the bar, you might just catch the six-piece celtic/psychedelic Jacob's Pillow; they're one of a few local bands known to pop in from time to time.
Spotted Lake, Osoyoos, British Columbia, Canada
Thanks to uber-rich mineral deposits, Spotted Lake in Osoyoos, BC, is like looking into a petri dish sans magnifying glass. The polka-dotted surface is a product of calcium, sodium sulphates and magnesium sulphate, and in the summer months, when water evaporates and the minerals crystalize, the natural design takes on different blue, green, and yellow hues. The First Nations, or aboriginal Canadians, believe the lake has healing properties, but a fence separating visitors from the water's edge prevents us from testing it out. While in Osoyoos, take advantage of the many wineries – La Stella, Moon Curser, Adega Estate – and sip on some local varieties. End your tour at Nk'Mip Cellars for a farm-to-table bistro-style meal on the patio with uninterrupted views of the countryside and for a peaceful sleep, tuck away at the lakeside Watermark Beach Resort.
Mont-Saint-Michel, Basse-Normandie, France
Between the waters of Brittany and Normandy lies the medieval abbey-peaked island of Mont-Saint-Michel. Winding village streets – particularly La Grand Rue – are packed with houses, museums, brasseries and creperies galore (strawberry nutella-induced coma, anyone?). If you plan to stay right on the tiny island (it clocks in under half a square mile), check into the Auberge Saint-Pierre; it's not as luxurious as the five-star dames you'll find in Paris, Bordeaux or Lyon, but exploring the tiny village – at night, when it's void of daytrippers – is a treat worthy of foregoing the standard pillow-top bed and fully-stocked minibar. As you work your way through the tight maze, mark your half-way point with a break at the Saint-Pierre Parish, a modest church with a bell tower and small cemetery. After completing the second leg of your journey, your movie moment will strike as you take those final steps up to the 11th-century Benedictine abbey and look out over the craggy islet's bay.
The Temples of Bagan, Myanmar
Step into 800 AD in Bagan, Myanmar, where more than 2,200 ancient Buddhist temples sit quietly on rolling green plains. Natural disasters coupled with thousands of years of wear and tear saw the original mass of monuments deteriorate, so catch the remaining ones while they’re still standing. An itinerary covering them all would be an impossible feat, so here’s our comprehensive guide to the must-sees: Lawkaoushaung Temple for sunset views, the Shwesandaw Pagoda sometime midday (after morning visitors dissipate), the popular but sensational gilded spires and buddhas of the Ananda Temple, and the Pathada Temple come sunset. Complete your day with a cocktail on the outdoor patio at the Kyaw Kitchen before resting at the luxury bungalows of the Aureum Palace Hotel & Resort where sundown swims at the infinity pool deliver backlit views of the pagodas.
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Chocolate Hills, Bohol, Philippines
Not sure about you, but to us, the 1,268 conical mounds of Bohol Island look like anthills on a grand scale, and more importantly, a potential setting for the fourth installment of the Honey I Shrunk the Kids series. The limestone hills are freakily uniform, with most hovering between 100 and 160 feet in height, but how they formed is somewhat of a mystery, and one that’s surrounded by far more local lore than scientific theory. Once you’ve gotten your Chocolate Hill fill, head for the best stay in Bohol – the boutique luxury Peacock Garden, near the island's only major city, Tagbilaran. We're all about the hotel's Roman spa and infinity pool. Grab a meal at Bohol Bee Farm's organic restaurant and if your sweet tooth strikes, try the housemade lychee or mango ice cream (or go for both, we support you).