(This is the writing that I do for my day job! I thought you all might appreciate it since it is a post about fantasy! Any feedback is greatly appreciated)
Travel is often about fulfilling a lifelong dream, discovering breathtaking scenery, and experiencing amazing cultures and history. It sometimes starts with a book or a photograph, but nowadays it often starts with a movie (based on a book…) or a TV show that has captivated our heart and leads us to plan our own journey to fantastical places.
I have to start with my own experience that has stuck with me for many years and is a travel dream yet to be fulfilled. I was sitting in a movie theatre with my parents watching The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers. Aragorn is attacked by a Warg riding Orc and falls over the edge of a cliff. Somehow his horse saves him and carries him onward in his journey, about 30 minutes later in the film; a breathtaking, panoramic helicopter view of Aragorn and his horse on a rise overlooking a great brown valley with a huge range of snowcapped mountains and Helms Deep, miniscule in the distance. This was the scene that made me fall in love with New Zealand, particularly the South Island. Of course in Fellowship and later again in Return of the King, I wanted to be a hobbit and live on the North Island of New Zealand. Regardless, I will get there someday and plan to spend at least a month there when I do.
The Hobbit is currently filming in New Zealand and the national tourist board has a section on their website dedicated to directing visitors to ‘The Home of Middle Earth” http://www.newzealand.com/ca/ There are now a number of tour companies that run “Ring” tours so you get the full experience which include a visit to the Weta Workshop museum where all of the prosthetics, weapons, models, and artifacts were designed. With or without the Lord of the Rings hype, New Zealand is a breathtaking, nature lovers paradise that can be enjoyed by travellers of all ages, tastes, and budgets.
Who can forget the iconic scenes of R2D2 and C3PO trudging through the sand to find Obi Wan Kenobi, or the site of the burned and destroyed moisture farm that was Luke’s boyhood home? After a bit of a politically tumultuous year, the real life site of Tatooine is once again stable and open for business. Tunisia is the gem of the north coast of Africa, with fascinating ancient history, colonial French architecture, a cosmopolitan capital city and Mediterranean seaside resorts. The food is an interesting mix of French, Arab, Mediterranean and Berber cuisine unlike anything else in the world.
You can fly into Tunis and take a regional tour (perhaps to ancient Carthage) or pick a cruise that has ports of call along the Tunisian coast. Stay at the Sidi Driss Hotel in Matmata, Tunisia where the hotel still has some of the original set decorations from 1977 movie. The inspiration for the Skywalker home was the local dugout homesteads of the people in the limestone around Matmata. Take a guided hike in the area to try and find Obi Wan’s cave for yourself. With the variety of influences that have crossed over this landscape for thousands of years, you are sure to have a life changing and unforgettable experience. http://www.cometotunisia.co.uk/
King Arthur and his knights currently rule prime time television with two different TV shows takes on the legend. “Camelot” focuses on a very beautiful and dramatic group of people, with a young Arthur under the guidance of an older Merlin. The BBC series “Merlin”, on the other hand, has the title character, Arthur and their friends in their early twenties (also very beautiful people, but somehow more relatable than Camelot) and mixes a fresh dose of buddy comedy into the drama and sorcery. The interior scenes of Merlin are filmed on a set near Cardiff in Wales, but the exteriors are filmed in such magical locations as Puzzlewood forest (http://www.puzzlewood.net/ ), part of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, Brecon Beacons national park (http://www.breconbeacons.org/ ) in Wales and the stunning Pierrefonds Castle (http://pierrefonds.monuments-nationaux.fr/en/ ), which is open to the public even during filming.
The best way to visit Wales is to rent a car and drive the winding, narrow roads yourself. Make sure you have a good map, as many roads are unmarked and unpaved, but that is part of the adventure. Take some time to camp and hike in order to make the most of the remote scenery. In France, Pierrefonds Castle is also best reached by car. Give yourself a full day to explore the castle and the surrounding town. Make sure you check the Merlin filming schedule (available on various superfan websites) if you want a chance to see the actors and production for yourself.
Next stops on our Fantasy Adventure: Stormhold and Wall (Neil Gaimen’s Stardust), Hogwart’s and other magical places (J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series), and Winterfell and the Seven Kingdoms and other Distant Lands (George R.R. Martin’s Song of Fire and Ice series a.k.a. Game of Thrones)