France on Film – Stunning natural movie sets

France has long been a star of the silver screen, not just as the birthplace of cinema itself, but as a location for films from period dramas to popular blockbusters. Here’s a tour of some of the movies filmed amongst the beautiful landscapes, pretty towns and glittering coastline…

Glamour on the Cote d’Azur

The Côte d’Azur is a place where glitz and glamour are as notable as the sunlight on the blue waters of La Baie des Anges. Little wonder then that super-spy James Bond made a celluloid outing here.

Movie magic in Monaco

‘Casino Royale’ in Never Say Never Again (1983) was actually the 19th century Casino de Monte Carlo in Monaco. But you don’t have to evade secret agents to spin the roulette wheel; the main salon is open to everyone – no tux required unless you head for the high stakes Salons Privés.

Other movies set in Monaco include James Bond’s return in Goldeneye (1995), Iron Man 2 (2010) and Mission: Impossible Rogue Nation (2015).

Eze, French Riviera

Hitchcock’s To Catch A Thief (1955) also famously used locations along the Côte d’Azur, including the seafront promenade and flower market in Nice and the hilltop village of Èze, where the police follow Cary Grant and Grace Kelly across the bridge.

The film immortalised the coastal roads of the Riviera. Hire a classic car and recreate their iconic drive round the hairpin bend roads of The Corniche, from Marseille to Menton, for a real 1950s feel. Visit in spring and you have the glamour and glitz of the Cannes Film Festival too!

 The Good Life in Provence

The Vaucluse region provided a suitably rustic backdrop for the classic 1986 drama, Jean de Florette, replacing building facades in the village of Mirabeau with painted polystyrene to age them and create the village of Roumarin.

Sans facades, the village is just as pretty, with gently sloping streets, blue-shuttered houses and ancient chateaux – in fact it’s everything you imagine a Provence village to be. Sommières, where the film’s market scenes were shot, is also worth a visit. Two traditional arcaded squares of stalls offer up honey, lavender or plump Provencal tomatoes on Saturdays.

Chateau la Canorgue
A good year at Chateau la Canorgue

Russell Crowe also found his way to Provence in A Good Year (2005), the story of a city trader who inherits a vineyard and is forced to reassess his life. Chateau la Canorgue, a mile out of the town of Bonnieux stood in for the house and vineyard, but you don’t need to have an existential crisis to visit it yourself – this Côtes du Luberon winery offers tastings and wine for sale if you fancy making the good life even better.

Love letters to Languedoc

The sweeping hills and ancient settlements of Languedoc are the perfect muse for lovelorn letter writers, and Gerard Depardieu’s Cyrano de Bergerac (1990) was filmed largely in Uzés, one of France’s best-preserved medieval towns.

In lieu of honeyed words, the next best aphrodisiacs can be found at its annual Truffle Weekend on the third weekend of January, or in the Wednesday market where stalls seduce with fresh olives and fragrant herbs.

Carcassonne: unlikely site of Nottingham Castle

Languedoc was also a key battleground during the Hundred Years War, and fortified towns or bastides litter the region. The most well-known, Carcassonne, cropped up for a cameo in the 1991 Kevin Costner version of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves, with Carcassonne Castle, a stronghold with fifty-two towers, playing the exterior of Nottingham Castle.

Visit the town in July and August and you can climb right into your own medieval action at the annual Knight’s Tournament, with daily displays of jousting, ground combat and games.

 Duelling in the Dordogne

Beynac: a natural wonder

A visit to the Dordogne feels like stepping back in time, and pretty Beynac is no exception. The town, with its narrow lanes and traditional white and yellow Dordogne stone buildings, spreads along the northern bank of the Dordogne River and up the hill behind to the castle, perched on a rocky promontory.

Luc Besson used the Chateau de Beynac for his film about holy soldier Jeanne d’Arc (1999) and visitors to the castle can admire restored interiors that include dungeons, kitchens and living quarters, rare 15th-century frescoes, 17th century staircase and fine salons hung with tapestries.

The village itself was used for shots in Chocolat (2000) – although the church and main square of the village where Juliette Binoche enchants the locals with her cocoa concoctions were actually filmed nearly 500km away in Flavigny-sur-Ozerain, Burgundy.

In Beynac, take a walk along the Dordogne River along the Rue De L’ancienne Poste in the lower part of town, where the scene in which the hero, Johnny Depp, sails off was filmed, or follow in his wake on a boat trip in a gabarre, a traditional barge, from the main boat landing.

Romantic Loire Valley

Vineyard Loire Valley France
Loire valley: natural film set for daring heroes and epic love stories

With its myriad chateaux and gently undulating scenery, the Loire Valley is a natural film set for daring heroes and epic love stories. Period dramas shot in its sumptuous landscape include The Man in the Iron Mask (1998) and The Three Musketeers (1973), both of which were partly filmed in the Old Town of Le Mans.

Le Mans is renowned for its 24-hour car race held on the second weekend of June and a 1971 Steve McQueen movie of the same name was also filmed here. Need a different fuel for fantasy? Then take your pick of the 300-plus Renaissance castles that fill the region.

Château Chambord : beauty (without the beast)

The fairy-tale spires and romantic setting of the flamboyant Château Chambord were the template for the Beast’s castle in the 1991 animated Disney film Beauty and the Beast (1991) and its live-action remake (2017), while Château d’Ussé was the inspiration for Charles Perrault’s tale of Sleeping Beauty. Both are open for visits, with stunning formal gardens and magnificent interiors to fire the imagination of adults and children alike.

Norman conquests

As the site of the D-Day landings, Normandy’s coast was a natural choice for filming the opening scenes of Saving Private Ryan (1998) – using the beach at Saint Laurent-sur-Mer as a stand-in for Omaha Beach.

Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches
Mulberry Harbour at Arromanches

The real landing beaches, scattered with the remains of German gun emplacements and bunkers, can be visited by car, on foot or by bicycle – or take a tour organised by the excellent Memorial de Caen museum. Normandy’s Tinseltown credentials are further boosted by the Deauville American Film Festival held in September, an elegant, and equally star-studded, alternative to Cannes.

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