Although Italy hardly appeared in the books at all, James Bond has visited the country a number of times in the films, most recently with Casino Royale and Quantum of Solace.
In the short story Risicco, James Bond visits first Rome and then Venice while trying to break up a heroin smuggling operation, meeting Kristatos at the bar in Rome’s Excelsior Hotel (Via Vittorio Veneto), before eating in a restaurant near the Spanish Steps. The next day he arrives in Venice aboard the Laguna Express, after arranging to meet Lisl Baum on the Lido, where Colombo and his men capture him.
Writing in Thrilling Cities, it turns out that Fleming wasn’t much of a fan of Rome, complaining how the Romans resent the tourist and “milks him with the minimum of grace and the maximum of money”. Unfortunately that is a sentiment I’d have to agree with, while many of Rome’s sites are unmissable staying in the city leaves a very sour taste; I’ve visited Italy on numerous occasions, but Rome is one city I’d happily avoid.
007’s first visit to Italy in the film series occurs in From Russia With Love, when he and Tania arrive in Venice after escaping the Orient Express; the final scene of the film sees the pair taking a gondola ride along one of Venice’s famous canals as Bond unreels the film footage shot of them while in Istanbul. Bond returns in Moonraker, where he uncovers Drax’s lab, and Casino Royale, arriving with Vesper aboard a sailing yacht.
The final scene of Casino Royale, where Bond tracks down Mr White and captures him, was shot at Villa Gaeta on the shore of Lake Como, while the hospital that Bond recovers from his ordeal at the hands of Le Chiffre was shot in the grounds of Villa Del Balbianello, also Lake Como; and Quantum of Solace starts with a car chase on the road alongside Lake Garda, before delivering Mr White to M in a supposed safe house in Siena.
The beautiful island of Sardinia featured in The Spy Who Loved Me, staying at the Hotel Cala di Volpe on the Costa Smerelda; it is near here that Bond drove his Lotus Esprit into the Mediterranean after being pursued by Stromberg’s heavies. And he enjoys some winter sports while in Cortina in For Your Eyes Only, a little unseasonal for the sake of a summer holiday though.
Head for Venice rather than Rome, where you can stay in the Hotel Danieli. Bond was directed there to meet Lisl Baum after the operation in Risico (room 86 to be exact) and it is also where Dr Holly Goodhead stays in Moonraker. Make sure you visit St Mark’s Square and take a gondola ride at the very least, while you can follow in Bond’s footsteps in Risico and visit Harry’s Bar (where, in 1953, the Bellini cocktail was invented) and Florian’s for a drink before dining at Quadri. All three are in St Mark’s Square, so you won’t have far to travel.
While you can stay at Villa Gaeta, more affordable might be a road drip that sees you take in the lakes before heading for Siena, famous for the Palio horse race seen in Quantum of Solace, as well as its mediaeval architecture, food, art and museums.
I visited Sardinia many years ago for work, but as it was the beginning of August and I was only required until 2pm; for the rest of the time my Italian colleague and I went to the beach and, hiring a car one weekend, we did a big tour of the island and found some unbelievable beaches, so definitely recommend the island. Head for the northern Costa Smerelda for the full The Spy Who Loved Me experience.
Ryanair flies from Luton and Stansted airports to Alghero in the northwest (where they speak Catalan rather than Italian or the local Sard language), while EasyJet flies only from Milan Malpensa at the time of writing.